AAA 2012 CFP: =?UTF-8?Q?=E2=80=9CWhat=E2=80=99s_your_point=3F=E2=80=9D_?=The political-economy of discourse topic

Matthew Wolfgram mwolfgram at UA.EDU
Tue Mar 27 04:16:41 UTC 2012

“What’s your point?” The political-economy of discourse topic

Discourse topic is a key concept in the socio-cultural analysis of language.  It is central to theories of language use in the philosophy of language (Grice 1975), in psycholinguistic approaches to the relationship language, culture, and consciousness (Chafe 1994; Du Bois 1980), and to the conversational analysis of institutional talk (e.g., Drew & Heritage, eds. 1993), where authoritative persons often employ “agenda projections” (Schegloff & Sacks, 1973) to control the use of language by proscribing and delimiting particular topics as appropriate to social roles, institutional locations, and turns in the interactional sequence.   In spite of its relevance to fundamental approaches to language use, discourse topic is not often an explicit focus of social theory in linguistic anthropology and the topic of “topic” is conspicuously absent from disciplinary textbooks, for example, the compendious lexicon Key Terms in Language and Culture (Duranti, ed. 2001).  However, conflict over discourse topic and the negotiation of topic introduction, control, and shift feature prominently in the ethnographic literature on ritual speech (Kuipers 1990), conflict adjudication (Brenneis 1984), political oratory (Duranti 1994), and institutional talk (Drew & Heritage, eds. 1993). Thus, there is ample evidence that an explicit theorization of the role of discourse topic in different scales of sociopolitical process is in order.  The goal of this panel is to integrate the multiple approaches to discourse topic and expand them through a political-economic approach that coordinates research on the local management of discourse topic with larger encompassing scales of context.  Thus, the papers on this panel present ethnographic and discourse evidence of the socioeconomic and political consequences of topic management.  The ultimate goals of the panel, then, will be to (1) develop our understanding of topic by integrating the multiple approaches taken in the disciplines engaged with the study of discourse and (2) provide ethnographic cases documenting the relevance of the local management of discourse topic to understanding large scale social and political process.

Please send inquires and/or abstracts to the session organizers:
Matthew Wolfgram, mwolfgram at
Mark A Sicoli, msicoli at

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