Facework in coercive interactions: Evidence from police field interrogations
Sheffer, Anne Colette
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This dissertation examines the relationship between the exercise of coercive authority and the use of facework. With conversational data from 151 police-suspect interactions, I analyze the use of face maintenance, including linguistic politeness, during police field interrogations and argue that it is a strategic means of countering resistance from suspects. The control of aggression is a function of politeness that has received less attention than its role as a means of expressing consideration for others. The question I pose is the following: How does this strategy work? The key to understanding the role of facework in coercive interactions, I argue, is the reconfiguration of the concept of face applied to the analysis of linguistic politeness. While the most commonly applied conceptualization of face is that of Brown and Levinson (1978; 1987), i.e. a permanent aspect of an individual's construction of self, Erving Goffman's original description presents face as "diffusely located in the flow of events in [an] encounter" (1967: 7). Applying Goffman's theory, I argue that face is intersubjectively constructed during the course of an interaction; it is dynamic and contextually determined by the social roles of participants and their goals for the interaction. To support this claim, I demonstrate its effectiveness in explaining the strategic facework performed by the police during patrol calls. I argue that facework is part of constructing a 'socially acceptable face' for the suspect, one which pressures him or her to maintain a demeanor that is deserving of deference from the police. This refinement of the concept of face allows for an explanation of the use of deference in interactions both in which it expected as well as those in which it is unexpected, such as coercive encounters between individuals whose relationship is marked by the unequal distribution of power.