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Lecture | Sociolinguistics & Discourse Studies Series

Sexuality and the interactional micro-politics of belonging

Monday 20 November 2023
Sociolinguistics & Discourse Studies Series
P.J. Veth
Nonnensteeg 1-3
2311 VJ Leiden


Like all communities, nations are defined as much by who is normatively licensed to be a member of the national community as by who is excluded. Everyday bordering practices (Yuval-Davis, Wemyss, and Cassidy 2019) play a crucial role in this regard, continually (re)adjudicating who is allowed in and who is to be kept out of the national community. In doing so, bordering practices help to perpetuate myths of national homogeneity and coherence. 

While much work on bordering has focused on the way external boundaries are enacted, in this talk I consider how bordering also organises the internal structure of (imagined) national communities and, consequently, how individuals navigate these internal boundaries in everyday interaction. I do this by drawing on Anderson’s (2013) understanding of nations as communities of value, that is, symbolic marketplaces in which different ways of embodying national belonging are ranked and evaluated, ultimately serving to distinguish “good” citizens from their “failed” or abject counterparts. I apply a more processual understanding to Anderson’s original account, treating the value associated with a given identity not as a fixed and stable property but as something that is dynamically negotiated in interaction. In other words, I examine how talk-in-interaction can function as a commodity situation (Appadurai 1986), a contextually bound moment in which particular ways of being are commodified and take on value in a symbolic market. I argue that through such local acts of commodification, individuals are able to navigate normative boundaries of nationhood and engage in an interactional micro-politics of belonging. 

I illustrate my arguments through an analysis of how a gay couple in Athens, Dimitris and Fotis, narrate their understanding of a normative conflict between gayness and Greekness. I demonstrate how, during an interview, the men work to resolve this conflict via the interactional construction and commodification of a specific person-type, the “bear” (see Barrett 2017). I describe how the men deploy a series of specific interactional strategies, particularly variation in production formats and narrative footing (Goffman 1981), to resignify the value associated with different articulations of Greekness in order to position “bearness” within the normative Greek community of value. Ultimately, my goal is to demonstrate the benefit to be had by examining the commodification of identity as process, not product, and one that is negotiated in the micro-dynamics of situated interaction. 

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