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Applied Linguistics Review

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Microaggressions as speech acts: Using pragmatics to define and develop a research agenda for microaggressions

Kristen di Gennaro / Meaghan Brewer
Published Online: 2018-04-17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0069


In an effort to explain why we found certain exchanges among colleagues troubling, the current study draws on Sue’s (2010a) microaggressions framework to reveal hidden hierarchies within an academic speech community. We complement Sue’s theoretical framework with empirical, pragmatic approaches to analyzing every-day, unrecorded interactions to both strengthen and refine the microaggressions construct and research agenda. Based on our analyses, which highlight the hierarchical relationships between participants, we propose revising the microaggressions construct to attribute their existence to revelations of (overt and covert) hierarchies, and not marginalization. Where Sue attributes microaggressions to an individual’s or group’s marginalization, our analyses suggest, in fact, that marginalization is the result (rather than the cause) of microaggressions. The analysis and discussion focus on hierarchical relationships common to many university English departments, but parallels can be drawn with other fields, such as language and linguistics programs within larger departments, and thus are relevant beyond a single discipline. We also propose restricting the microaggressions construct to unintentional slights and snubs (rather than both intentional and unintentional as in Sue’s framework), since part of what makes microaggressions so troubling is their unexpected appearance in conversations and friendly discussions among colleagues.

Keywords: hierarchies; microaggressions; microinvalidations; pragmatic analysis; speech acts


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About the article

Published Online: 2018-04-17

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0069.

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