This is Rufus & Chaka Khan’s Sweet Thing

28 02 2009

Some wines are made to be drunk to the conversation analytic rhythm of slowness and smallness. The 2003 Dufouleur Gevrey-Chambertin I savored in the fine company of the ‘130 massive’ is a case in point. I won’t bore you with the top-heavy register of wine language, instead I’ll let Rufus and Chaka Khan express their appreciation.

Rufus feat. Chaka Khan – Sweet thing (ABC Records, 1975)

When Barbara Forrest comes to town

27 02 2009

When done well, critical discourse studies offer biting critiques of power in society, showing how dominant discourses, i.e. taken-for-granted or commonsensical assumptions, world views and ideologies, shape and are shaped by text and talk.

The Wedge Strategy is an interesting and topical example of an alternative discourse (Intelligent Design) seeking to challenge *the* dominant one (Evolution). Published in 1999, the Wedge Strategy is a Discovery Institute (DI) manifesto which aims

To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God (p4)

“Materialistic explanations” refer to evolutionary science, which Intelligent Design disqualifies as “atheistic”. The Wikipedia entry on the Wedge Strategy is well worth reading. In The Wedge at Work, Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Lousiana University,

does not analyze the philosophical and scientific arguments (such as they are) of DI’s intelligent design proponents. Others are doing that quite capably; rather, the present study analyzes the nature of the wedge strategy, providing a framework from which to move at any point into the philosophical and scientific analyses.

Forrest’s analysis shows how the DI attempts to

  • “cultivate a facade of academic legitimacy”;
  • “influence college students, too many of whom are ignorant of genuine science, thus recruiting them into the wedge movement”;
  • “cultivate the support of university administrators and financial donors”;
  • “acquire physical bases of operation, with access to all the advantages this brings”
  • “exploit their presence in higher education, using their credentials to “snow” the public”.

On Tuesday, March 3, Barbara Forrest will give a talk about her research at Ghent University, entitled ”Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse: A Closer Look at Intelligent Design” (auditorium C, Blandijnberg 2, Ghent, 8pm). Attendance is free and highly recommended.

No shake, all bake transcription tools

26 02 2009

In discourse analysis, transcribing audio or video data is a necessary evil. In this process of entextualization and recontextualization, recordings become transcripts – the textual simulacra discourse analysts rely on to analyze what and how people ‘do things’ with language.

There are number of commercial transcription tools available but if you’re looking for a basic (Windows only) speech transcription utility, I recommend VoiceWalker (if it’s bells and whistles you want, try Transana). VoiceWalker was designed by University of California linguists John W. Du Bois and Mary Bucholtz and can be downloaded freely.

In addition, a somewhat more ambitious tool is SoundWriter. This (beta) software is designed to link a transcription to the audio source file, “to help the researcher hear and visualize relationships between utterances in conversational interaction”. Download for free here.

Indexical orders of commoditized identity

24 02 2009

Today I  learned that you are what you say about what you eat. Michael Silverstein drove this point home in his paper on indexical orders. Without going into much detail, indexicality is the meaning relation which links language use to a particular context.

Consider the catchphrase  ‘Fire in the hole!’, a warning which most people would associate with particular kinds of speakers (soldiers) or contexts of speaking (detonating an explosive device). It is this association between discourse and context which we call indexical, i.e. pointing to a meaning (an imminent explosion).

Indexical meanings are ordered – they are not unstructured – and such ‘indexical orders’ can become emblematic of particular social categories. Case in point is the register I have an on/off relationship with: wine talk. Silverstein argues that wine talk is indexically iconic of (i.e. bears resemblance to) yuppoisie (a 1990s term, we would now speak of ‘millenials’). There is indeed an undeniable link between describing a wine as having ‘a balanced ménage à trois of aroma, depth and finish’ and an elitist/snobbish/posh consumerist social identity. Talking wine indexes socially valued traits in the speaker. So, in Silverstein’s words (2003: 226):

As we consume the wine and properly (ritually) denote that consumption, we become, in performative realtime, the well-bred, characterologically interesting (subtle, balanced, intriguing, winning, etc.) person iconically corresponding to the metaphorical “fashion of speaking” of the perceived register’s figurations of the aesthetic object of connoisseurship, wine.

Note that Silverstein refers to wine as a “perduringly constant prestige comestible”. Scrabble, anyone?

Silverstein, Michael (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication 23 (3-4): 193-229.

Large Amount of Soul from Finland

22 02 2009

Gilles Peterson played a drum & bass track in his set last week at Het Depot which blew me away. It’s from Finland with soul for days. An epic track.

L.A.O.S. – Beautiful (Defunked, 2007)

“As a medium and as an institution”

21 02 2009

the newspaper is going through an age of transition in excelsis, and nobody can confidently say how it will end or what will come next.
– Joseph Epstein

More uplifting quotes on print journalism at, a website featuring

a collection of the alarmist, bombastic and otherwise humorous quotes about why journalism is dead. The future of media may be grim, but according to some, you’d think it was a sign of the apocalypse.  Check it out, have a laugh, and keep in mind the medium may change but journalism is here to stay.

The public service ideal of newspapers

20 02 2009

In What Newspapers Do, Have Done and Will Do, NY Times journalist Eduardo Potter defends the societal role of newspapers. Potter argues that if “newspapers go bust there will be nobody watching city hall”:

corruption will rise, legislation will more easily be captured by vested interests and voter turnout will fall.

That newspapers are the ‘social cement’ of democracies is old news. The public service ideal of newspapers – exposing wrong doing, providing unbiased information, mobilizing the public – is articulated in a variety of nicknames (the ‘fourth estate’, the ‘watchdog’ of society) and adages (‘to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted) about the press.

I agree mostly with what Potter writes. In spite of my optimism about citizen journalism and pessimism about the future of print journalism, I too, remain sceptical about the Internet’s potential of enabling “a better-informed citizenry”.

The investigative track record of FiJo

19 02 2009

Financial journalism (FiJo) – coverage of financial markets and corporate finance – remains a largely unexamined field of professional journalism, despite its prestige (cf. the cricital acclaim of The Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal), widespread concerns about its role and responsibility and a weak investigative track record. For example, no reporter uncovered the Enron collapse a few years ago. And also, how did we miss the 2008 credit crisis?

This question will be addressed during a POLISmedia panel discussion on Feb. 23 at LSE, entitled: “Why did nobody tell us? Reporting the Global Crash of ‘08”.

“I’m ready to be released. Release me.”

18 02 2009

Right before Texas death row inmates are executed by lethal injection, they are given the floor to say their ‘last words’. It is a little known fact that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice makes these statements publicly available on their website. These data are as gripping as they come, and Janelle Ward and Andreas Schuck really made them speak for themselves during a compelling DiO workshop last week.

Resisting the temptation to turn their analysis into a political statement, Janelle and Andreas ignored inmates’ demographics (ethnicity, age, sex, criminal record) and instead drew on terror management theory and 283 final statement texts to show how inmates employ strategies of self-presentation. In doing so, they coin a hitherto unexplored genre: that of death row discourse (my term, TVH).

Janelle and Andreas strip the genre down to its basic features. Surprisingly, their discourse analysis brings out a dynamic degree of stability in inmates’ final words which patterns in six sequential discourse functions:

  1. Self-referencing, followed by an expression of intention or denial (‘I’d like to…’)
  2. Addressing relevant others (‘To my family’)
  3. Expressing internal feelings (‘I am sorry for…’)
  4. Framing their situation in terms of acceptance or denial (‘I know I allowed the devil to rule my life’)
  5. Dealing with situation: a show of agency, i.e. self-comfort, self-punishment, asking for forgiveness and accusing (‘you are murdering me’)
  6. Closure (‘Send me home’)

In essence, these data show inmates’ attempts at constructing a positive self-image. Apparently, when facing a certain death, humans image manage. At another level of theoretical abstraction, these data force attention to the heteroglossic nature (layering of voices) of genres. In inmates’ final statements, there are for instance micro-narratives (e.g. expressing denial), conversational bits (closure), presentations (self-referencing), etc.  And as an aside, I happened upon a number of websites devoted to capital punishment, ranging from the respectful to the very distasteful.

Like music to my ears: EASA e-seminar

17 02 2009

The Media Anthropology Network’s latest e-seminar is of particular interest to anyone with an interest in newsroom ethnography. These e-seminars take the form of email discussions, initiated by a nominated discussant’s comments on a working paper. The seminar closes March 3, 2009.

Jay Gabriel´s working paper is titled “Independence, Autonomy and Recursivity in a Journalistic Field.” and is available as a pdf document. The discussant is Per Stahlberg (sic). Here is Jay’s abstract.

Journalists in the United States, as elsewhere, train to resist influence. This interest is evident when they talk about their profession. This article concerns the relationship of journalistic ideals of independence to the broader autonomy of the journalistic field in the United States. It proposes a framework to understand the relevance of independence to autonomy that I have adapted from sociolinguistic studies. This work draws on participant observation and interviews with journalists in two U.S. cities.