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Elements of Hermeneutic Pragmatics

Agency and Interpretation


Tahir Wood

Can linguistic pragmatics be developed without the need to formulate rules, criteria or maxims? The author argues that rules as they have been conceived of within pragmatics, particularly speech act theory, are limiting and out of step with the linguistic science of recent decades.
Using a hermeneutic approach to pragmatics, this book seeks to bring pragmatics closer to the cognitive paradigm that has transformed the other branches of the linguistic and communication sciences, with the help of developments in certain neighbouring disciplines such as philosophy, sociology and narratology. The elements that are opened up to pragmatics in this approach include some new conceptions of intentionality, intertextuality, communicative action and literary authorship, as well as the subjectivity of interpretation, which by its very nature ceaselessly transforms all forms of communication in its historical spiral.
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Chapter 5: Agency, Habit and Genre



Agency, Habit and Genre

Habit and habitus

Habit, and more specifically Bourdieu’s habitus, serves as an explanatory device to account for the iterational (and therefore generic) aspects of language and communication. Emirbayer and Mische have already very usefully linked the concept of habit with that of intention, thus enabling me to make the necessary connections between the earlier discussion of intentionality and that of habit. These authors point out an unfortunate tendency that has bedevilled discussions of habit: ‘In much of social and psychological theory, habit has unfortunately been seen as little more than a matter of stimulus and response, an orientation that shifts attention away from human agency and toward the structural contexts that shape action’ and the effect of this has been ‘to remove habit from the domain of social action’ (Emirbayer and Mische 1998: 976). They cite a range of thinkers from Aristotle and Aquinas to Dewey and Merleau-Ponty to show that there has long been an alternative notion of habit that is not based on mechanical stimulus and response and which is entirely compatible with notions of agency; this is the notion of habit that is most similar to Bourdieu’s habitus.

Recalling the earlier discussion of intentionality, let us consider one of the aspects of iterative behaviour discussed by Emirbayer and Mische, which they call ‘recognition of types’; this is the means by which actors ‘identify typical patterns of experience and predict their recurrence in the...

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