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Using Ethnography in Politeness Studies: A Discursiveness-based Approach


Article ID: 1081
Vol 1, Issue 1, 2019, Article identifier:

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The current study points out the methodological limitations of contemporary discursive politeness research and suggests that in-depth ethnographic data provides a potentially crucial solution. Discursive politeness studies advocate a data-driven, bottom-up analytical approach that stresses the importance of participants’ own contextual assessments. Analysis of such kind requires the corresponding methodological design which allows researchers to obtain the defining information that can be seemingly absent in the on-going interaction. However, in the current body of literature, politeness research focuses on theoretical discussion without specifically organised consideration regarding methodology. Therefore, aiming at providing a more valid methodological approach, the current study proposes to consider ethnography as the foundational data-collection method for discursive politeness research, stressing ‘long-term’ and ‘in-depth’ as the core features in conducting fieldwork.

In order to clarify this view, the current study demonstrates a case study via examining an interaction naturally occurring among several family members during dinner time in China. This interaction is examined on two levels respectively (i.e., based on demographic data and in-depth ethnographic data). This paralleled analysis reveals that in complicated real-life interactions, lacking of thorough contextual information of both cultural norms and individually shaped cognition can be misleading in analysis. Therefore, understanding (im)politeness as an interactionally situated contextual/cognitive judgement, long-term ethnography is needed and that the fieldwork should be conducted carefully and patiently in order to gain access to comparatively more solid data and achieve more valid conclusion.  


Ethnography; Discursive Politeness; Framing

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