More polite/less polite: The discourse of politeness in Japanese interaction
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In my dissertation I would like to introduce the concept of the "discourse of politeness" to explain how the use of politeness is foregrounded in social life in Japan and how it is part of the complex sense-making processes. Scholars in cultural and linguistic anthropology and in related disciplines have argued that the use of politeness constitutes the critical aspect of everyday interaction in Japan, and it is fundamentally related to the ways both the self and society are structured and maintained. The literature on politeness has been criticized, however, for it assumes the "appropriateness" or the situationally "proper" manner should be shared between the participants in consensual way. In other words, the literature on the Japanese sense of self holds the view that those who belong to the same group internalize the same habituated normative behaviors and thus have the same expectations and same criteria when they see others. In my dissertation I focus on the process of interpretation and see how people mobilize the planes of comparison, more polite/less polite, and variously assess the situation of interaction in which they are located. I will rather show the discourse of politeness is embedded in and interacts with other potentially conflicting discourses, and how people invoke and variously manipulate the tensions through the discourse of politeness. In order to show the complexities and openness of the ways people mobilize the discourse of politeness, I conducted the fieldwork at beauty salons in Japan in 2004. In particular, through an analysis of hair salons in Japan, I demonstrate how through the use of politeness people in an interactive situation define the sense of social distance between each other and attach various meanings to them. In my analysis of the interactions at hair salons in Japan, I thus use this concept, the discourse of politeness, to chart out the creative and emergent ways people mobilize the contextually specific planes of comparison, work on to locate each other and give meaning to their relatedness in and through the process of interaction.