Ethnic Categorization in Interviews in English as a Lingua Franca

by Agnieszka Nowicka (Author)
©2016 Monographs 204 Pages


The book looks into the in situ organization of ethnic and racial categorization in interviews in English as a lingua franca. It proposes the combined ethnomethodological and conversation analytic approach. The author shows that the negotiation of ethnic identity categories concerns stereotypes and evaluations included in ethnic categorization. She establishes that the ways of negotiating ethnic identity categories are largely systematic, which indicates that talk participants share the norms of construing ethnic identity categories and recognize preferred and dispreferred categorization. The book reveals that ambiguous categorial references are a special challenge for talk participants. Social types and groups are used not only to create but also to avoid prejudiced ethnic categorization.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • 1. Combining ethnomethodology and conversation analysis: Towards macro context
  • 1.1 Social order in interaction
  • 1.1.1 Reflexivity
  • 1.1.2 Intersubjectivity
  • 1.1.3 Social action and norms of social order
  • 1.2 Micro context and the study of macro context
  • 1.2.1 Methods of analyzing data
  • 1.2.2 Recipient design in CA
  • 1.3 Conclusion
  • 2. Ethnic categorization
  • 2.1 Social identity categories
  • 2.2 Relevance of ethnic identity categories
  • 2.3 Evaluation in ethnic categorization: prejudice and bias
  • 2.4 Negotiation of ethnic identity categories
  • 2.5 Categorization in interviews
  • 2.6 Conclusion
  • 3. Analysis of ethnic categorization in interviews in ELF
  • 3.1 Genre-related interactional roles and identity categories in interviews in ELF
  • 3.2 Negotiation of ethnic identity categories
  • 3.2.1 Ambiguous categorial references in ethnic categorization
  • 3.2.2 Dispreferred evaluation in ethnic categorization: shared norms and individual differences
  • 3.2.3 Descriptions of location in ethnic categorization
  • 3.2.4 Cumulative context and dispreferred evaluation in ethnic categorization
  • 3.3 Types, groups and collectivities in negotiating ethnic identity categories
  • 3.3.1 Social types in dispreferred evaluation of ethnic collectivities
  • 3.3.2 Groups and types in the categorization of race
  • 3.3.3 Sex and age collectivities in ethnic categorization
  • 3.3.4 Communities of practice in ethnic categorization
  • 3.4 Extreme ethnic and racial categorization
  • 3.4.1 Biased positive ethnic categorization
  • 3.4.2 Extreme negative ethnic and racial categorization
  • Conclusion
  • References

| 7 →

List of Abbreviations

| 9 →


For the last decade, there has been a growing interest in the study of English as a lingua franca (ELF). Soon also intercultural communication (IC) found itself among a wide variety of research directions and the name of this field of knowledge began to function as an umbrella term for a variety of studies ranging from face-to-face interactions to political discourse and media communication (cf. Kasper and Rose 2002; Kothoff and Spencer-Oatey 2007; Scollon and Scollon 1995; Seidlhofer 2001). These studies have undoubtedly made a significant contribution to our understanding of intercultural communication (IC), especially as regards the main problems faced by talk participants. However, they also encountered major limitations, which seem to be connected to their theoretical assumptions. I refer here especially to their more or less explicit assumption that the differences in language systems, social communication styles and speech acts across cultures are the most significant factors determining IC. This assumption led to the focus on communication problems originating from intercultural differences. While intercultural differences are widely seen as influencing IC, it is less certain that they determine it. It seems to me that still too little is known about the construction of meaning in IC to predetermine and thereby restrict our analytical aims. Nowadays, we should certainly regard IC as a more complex research field than it appeared at the outset of studies. This complexity can be tackled first and foremost by posing new questions formulated on the basis of a possibly unbiased observation of intercultural interactions. In my view, such a perspective is offered by phenomenological studies of social interaction, which see communication as a situated accomplishment of talk participants and carry out a fine-grained interaction analysis. This methodological approach seems to be best represented by two major currents within phenomenological research, i.e. conversation analysis (CA) and ethnomethodology (EM). Both CA and EM tend to formulate conclusions based on the empirical verification of a communicative action in the micro context in interaction. In any communication studies gaining more convincing evidence of how a social action is understood by talk participants themselves appears essential. It seems especially useful though in the analysis of IC in order to find out how talk participants reach mutual understanding despite cultural differences.

One of the crucial achievements of CA and EM is designing the concept of conditional relevance which helps determine how a communicative action is seen by talk participants. These phenomenological approaches developed a definition of micro context or the local context involving adjacent turns and contingent or ← 9 | 10 → related actions in a sequence. The speaker’s action creates a condition for the next action or reaction to happen, so actions need to be conditionally relevant or mutually connected to constitute a micro context for one another. Talk participants share social norms concerning the sequence of actions, and they understand what actions typically precede or project and ensue other actions. Thus talk participants recreate social order in conversation seen as the primary form of social interaction. The talk participants’ knowledge of such structures of interaction as turn-taking and repairs is certainly one of the prerequisites of mutual understanding. I believe though that mutual understanding also depends on a shared macro context, i.e. the norms of interpreting social categories such as identity categories, social relations and cultural concepts. Phenomenological studies face the challenge of defining the relevance of macro context, i.e. how talk participants demonstrate their understanding of macro-social categories in the micro context. There seems to be an urgent need for observation criteria allowing to gather evidence for the relevance of macro-social context from the perspective of talk participants. I believe that combining CA and EM in order to elaborate these criteria would increase our possibilities of understanding communication in general and especially IC. The time seems to have come for such an undertaking not only for strictly methodological reasons but first of all in order to gain a general perspective on IC

Taking into account the above-mentioned aims, the present project begins by exploring the methodological differences and similarities between CA and EM in order to redefine the analytical concepts proposed by these two approaches with the aim of arriving at the observation criteria integrating micro- and macro-social contexts. This stage of methodological reflection is necessary because even though CA and EM have a common origin and their analytical objectives appear to be very similar, they often prove to be methodologically disparate or even incompatible. CA emerged from EM and that is why both of them share their key analytical terms such as intersubjectivity, reflexivity, indexicality and conditional relevance. However, since views on social context differ in CA and EM research, these two approaches tend to interpret their shared analytical terms in a different way (cf. Boden and Zimmerman 1993; Schegloff 1997). In contrast to CA, EM shows greater interest in the macro-social context and its branch, membership categorization analysis (MCA), investigates social categorization processes which focus on identity categories in interaction. Both EM and MCA cope with the methodological difficulties of obtaining sufficient evidence for the conditional relevance of macro-social categories (particularly social identities) in social practice (cf. Kitzinger 2009; Stokoe 2006). In my view, one of the reasons for these ← 10 | 11 → methodological difficulties is too narrow a focus on the sequential dimension of communication. However, being deeply immersed in the socio-cultural context, communication cannot be defined as driven mainly by interactional mechanisms. In my view, communication develops between persons who have particular social identities and who co-create communicative actions in social-communicative practice.

IC has only recently drawn the attention of CA and EM researchers, who notice the universal aspects of this kind of communication. Since talk participants tend to orient to universal interactional mechanisms in IC, intercultural differences do not need to cause communication problems (cf. Firth 1996, Kasper 2006; Wagner and Gardner 2004). These studies formulate a broad definition of interactional competence, which involves not only the universal or transcultural expertise (including communication skills and knowledge of interactional mechanisms) but is also a dynamic and situated accomplishment of talk participants (cf. Wagner and Pekarek-Doehler 2006). Yet these studies especially emphasize interactional universals, which brings the problem of the macro-social context in IC up for discussion. Communicative cooperation in IC in ELF shows that talk participants share not only norms concerning interactional mechanisms but also the norms of the macro-social context. English has been used in the media and face-to-face interactions as a language of international communication, so talk participants are likely to share some norms of construing their identity categories and shaping their mutual relations.

Relatively numerous phenomenological studies of IC face the problem of finding evidence for the relevance of interculturality in communication, and specifically how talk participants distinguish IC from other kinds of communication. I believe this problem can be tackled by focusing on social identity categories relevant in IC and specifically on ethnic identity categories. Most research approaches tend to agree that social identity is one of the essential determinants of any communication (cf. Antaki and Widdicombe 1998; Ochs 1993; Potter and Wetherell 1998; Watson 1978). They disagree, though, as to the definition of social identity, its construction in talk and to what extent it predetermines communication. Social categorization studies, such as MCA, focus on identity categories and view them as co-created in interaction. MCA argues with etic approaches which make assumptions about identity categories do not treat them as a situated accomplishment. MCA assumes that there is a multitude of identity categories which can be relevant and talk participants treat only some of them as appropriate in the local context of talk. As for CA, it claims that an analysis performed within an etic sociolinguistic framework can formulate intuitively correct hypotheses concerning ← 11 | 12 → the validity of identity categories in talk even if it does not find evidence for their relevance (cf. Sacks 1992; Schegloff 2007). Proving the conditional relevance of identity categories, though, constitutes a major methodological challenge for such studies as MCA. MCA studies are specifically criticized for confusing the topic of talk with an interactional resource and, in general, for their difficulties in showing how the co-selection of an identity category influences the micro-sequential architecture of talk (Schegloff 1993; 2007). In my view these critical remarks seem to be only partially justified because identity categories are not only a topic of talk and they may largely shape the interactional format of talk. In general, as Sarangi (2006) observes, the distinction between topic and resource is not clearly delineated and they often merge.

Some MCA studies demonstrate that ethnic identity category may be a crucial determinant of the interculturality of talk (cf. Hinnekamp 2001; Mori 2003; Zimmerman 2007), but their findings seem to focus on types of ethnic categories (such as a cultural expert or a guestworker) which do not seem to be relevant for all intercultural interactions. The increased negotiation of meaning concerning lexis and grammar suggest that native speakers (NSs) and non-native speakers (NNSs) may be relevant categories in IC in ELF (cf. Kurhilla 2004). Cultural and language expertise can hardly be seen as a ubiquitous determinant of IC. In general, it seems that the specificity of IC cannot be easily established without looking into the problem of ethnic categorization.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (July)
Ethnomethodology and conversation analysis Membership categorization analysis Intercultural communication English as a lingua franca Macro and micro context Ethnic and racial categorization
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016. 204 pp.

Biographical notes

Agnieszka Nowicka (Author)

Agnieszka Nowicka is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Applied Linguistics at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. Her research focuses on ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, membership categorization analysis, communication in English as a lingua franca, English and Polish media discourse and teaching and learning English as a foreign language.


Title: Ethnic Categorization in Interviews in English as a Lingua Franca