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Accounting Research

Richard Buttny

Subject Linguistics
Communication Studies » Language and Social Interaction

People Goffman, Erving

Key-Topics language, narrative

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Research on verbal accounting examines how language is used to retrospectively explain or make sense of events. Citing one's motive or describing the context may serve to portray events in a different way – as understandable, excusable, or less culpable. An accounting can range from a lengthy discourse (a narrative or courtroom cross-examination) to a single word or nonverbal substitute, e.g., a shoulder shrug. In routine circumstances accounts are not necessary; persons, actions, and events speak for themselves. The need for accounts typically arises when something problematic or out of the ordinary occurs. Another's question, challenge, or blame makes an account relevant from the actor ( Goffman 1971 ). A distinction may be drawn between “accounts for actions” and “accounts of actions.” Accounts for actions arise in response to some troubles or blame; accounts attempt to remediate (→  Apologies and Remedial Episodes ) the incident or one's responsibility for it ( Scott & Lyman 1968 ). Excuses are a paradigmatic kind of account. Accounts may serve as a reason for why one did what one did. Accounts of action involve a person's sense-making for events such as relationships, personal crises, or life-course changes. A story-like account or narrative would be the paradigmatic form. Narratives can account by conveying a temporal sequence of events, the cast of characters, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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