Getting service at the constituency office: Analyzing citizens’ encounters with their Member of Parliament

Emily Hofstetter 1  and Elizabeth Stokoe 1
  • 1 Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, LE11 3TU, Loughborough, UK
Emily Hofstetter
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  • Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, LE11 3TU, Loughborough, UK
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  • Emily Hofstetter is University Teacher in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, UK, and Research Associate at University College London in Neonatology. She recently completed her doctoral thesis on how Members of Parliament interact with constituents at MP “surgeries” in the United Kingdom. Her research interests are in conversation analysis across both institutional and mundane settings.
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and Elizabeth Stokoe
  • Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, LE11 3TU, Loughborough, UK
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  • Elizabeth Stokoe is Professor of Social Interaction in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, UK. Her current research interests are in conversation analysis, membership categorization, and social interaction in various ordinary and institutional settings, including neighbor mediation, police interrogation, role-play and simulated interaction. She is the co-author of Discourse and Identity (with Bethan Benwell, Edinburgh University Press, 2006) and co-editor of Conversation and Gender (with Susan Speer, Cambridge University Press, 2011).
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Abstract

In this paper, we present an analysis of how constituents procure services at the constituency office of a Member of Parliament (MP) in the United Kingdom. This paper will investigate how several previously documented interactional practices (e.g. entitlement) combine at the constituency office in a way that secures service. From a corpus of 12.5 hours of interaction, and using conversation analysis, we examine constituents’ telephone calls and meetings with constituency office staff and the MP, identifying practices constituents use. First, constituents opened encounters with bids to tell narratives. Second, constituents presented lengthy and detailed descriptions of their difficulties. These descriptions gave space to manage issues of legitimacy and entitlement, while simultaneously recruiting assistance. Third, we examine ways in which constituents display uncertainty about how the institution of the constituency office functions, and what services are available. The paper offers original insights into how constituency services are provided, and how constituency offices give access and support to ordinary citizens, while expanding the conversation analytic literature on institutional service provision.

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Text & Talk (founded as TEXT in 1981) is an internationally recognized forum for interdisciplinary research in language, discourse, and communication studies, focusing, among other things, on the situational and historical nature of text/talk production; the cognitive and sociocultural processes of language practice/action; and participant-based structures of meaning negotiation and multimodal alignment.

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