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Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

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Volume 34, Issue 5


“Christians” and “bad Christians”: categorization in atheist user talk on YouTube

Stephen Pihlaja
Published Online: 2014-08-29 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2014-0020


This article presents an investigation of the use of social categories in talk about Christians in a small community of users discussing religious issues on the popular video-sharing site, YouTube. The article focuses on how self-proclaimed atheists employed and modified the category of “Christian” to describe others in a series of antagonistic debates – called “drama” by users. Three video pages, including video talk and comments, were analyzed using membership categorization analysis (Housley and Fitzgerald 2002) to focus on how users, and in particular atheists, employed and modified the category of “Christian” to talk about others. The analysis shows the category of “Christian” was used in different ways to evaluate the actions of others, often leading to conflict about the use of the category. The study shows how the meaning of categories is dynamic in talk, and how local, specific uses emerged as stable on different timescales in the drama. Findings also show that categorization often revealed user beliefs and expectations about social interaction, particularly when the categorization led to moral judgments.

Keywords: computer-mediated communication; membership categorization analysis; community; conversation analysis; YouTube

About the article

Stephen Pihlaja

Stephen Pihlaja is Senior Lecturer in Stylistics at Newman University in Birmingham, UK. His interests include stylistics, metaphor, computer-mediated communication, and religious studies. His monograph Antagonism on YouTube: Metaphor in Online Discourse (Bloomsbury Academic) explores a single instance of YouTube “drama” in a community of Christians and atheists arguing online.

Published Online: 2014-08-29

Published in Print: 2014-09-01

Citation Information: Text & Talk, Volume 34, Issue 5, Pages 623–639, ISSN (Online) 1860-7349, ISSN (Print) 1860-7330, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2014-0020.

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