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Identities and Discourse

Charles Antaki


Subject Communication Studies » Language and Social Interaction

Key-Topics discourse, identity

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Extract

Social scientists are not interested in identity in the sense of an individual's unique name and address. They are interested in identity in the sense of the category that an individual belongs to (or is made to belong to). All languages have explicit names which allocate people to a category of person (e.g., madre in Spanish, umm in Arabic, or mother in English), an occupation ( ingeniero , mohandass , enginee , respectively), or a position in society that has loose definitional criteria ( gamberro , ' ozbagui , hooligan ). Much quantitative social science was (and is) devoted to “cover-sheet” identities like those, or still more general ones like gender, race, and class, and how they correlate with such variables as income, health, education, and crime. Social scientists who do qualitative research, however, take another tack. They believe that what is interesting about identities is how they are constituted – how society invents and perpetuates them. The way that society categorizes people, the laws it draws up, the visual images it promotes, the jokes it allows – all these are discourses of identity . These discourses can be mapped in a descriptive way, to make a list of the features that society ascribes to any given identity category (one could, e.g., count the number of times the word “teenager” co-occurs with references to education, sex, television, and so on ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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