LING-789 Institutional Discourse
Spring for 2017-2018

Over the past thirty years or so, scholars of language and social life have investigated discourse within a variety of institutional contexts, most notably within schools, courtrooms, corporations, clinics and hospitals. For some of these scholars, these research sites offer intriguing real-life contexts in which their favorite discourse phenomena can be examined in situ; others are lured by a concrete place in which they can investigate the role of language in the relationship between ideology and practice; still others are attracted by an opportunity to work towards the solution of important societal problems, such as those found in relationships (and discourse) between teachers and their students, judges and jury members, employers and their employees, and health care providers and their patients.

In Institutional Discourse, you will have multiple opportunities to build on your knowledge and practice of discourse analysis by exploring some of the intriguing regions in which institutions and discourse intersect. During the first few weeks of the course, we will read and discuss both classic and current studies by interactional sociolinguists, conversation analysts, ethnographers, and sociologists (see list below for sample readings) in order to familiarize ourselves with the wide range of notions and phenomena addressed by scholars in the field of institutional discourse. Such topics may include: narratives in institutions; intertextuality; identity construction; ‘talking an institution into being’; institutional gatekeeping encounters; ‘total’ institutions; front- and backstage in institutions; frame-shifting; facework and linguistic politeness; epistemic stance; language and power/agency; discourse shaping effects of professional codes of ethics and principles; and the interrelationships between professional and institutional discourses.

Against this backdrop, you will design and carry out an investigation of the discourse associated with a particular institutional context, typically within the areas of education, law, business, or medicine, although others may certainly be explored. Projects may examine discourse along a variety of dimensions, including: 1) inter-professional, intra-professional or professional-lay discourse; 2) face-to-face, computer-mediated/web-based, telephone or snail mail encounters; 3) spoken or written discourse; 4) public or private discourse; 5) monologic, dialogic or multi-party discourse; and 6) type of speech activity or event. You may work on interactions that you have recorded or have identified in an existing data resource, or you may choose to work on interactions that were recorded as part of my own research and/or consulting projects.

Students who are interested in working as a linguistic researcher and/or consultant within institutional contexts will find LING 589/789 Institutional Discourse to be a solid introduction to the challenges of doing discourse analysis across disciplinary boundaries. Throughout the semester we will discuss the challenges and rewards of carrying out discourse analysis in the ‘real’ world, drawing on experiences of guest lecturers, my own consulting experiences, and the emerging experiences of students in the course. In the process, we will consider the influence of different disciplinary paradigms in all phases of our research projects -- including decisions about what research questions are thought to be both answerable and important or useful; what participants and settings can be included in a study; what kinds of language data can be collected and how; what types of theoretical frameworks and analytical units can be brought to the research; what counts as research findings; and, finally, how those findings should be reported and to whom.
Although specific areas of focus and course activities will be attuned to participants’ interests, preparation, and experience levels, it is expected that they will include the following:

• Reading seminal and innovative studies of institutional discourse;
• Identifying how linguistic discourse analysis complements and extends analyses from other disciplines;
• Interacting with guest speakers;
• Learning how to position qualitative work and explain key concepts within discourse analysis and linguistics to scholars and professionals in other fields;
• Designing and implementing a study of institutional discourse

Prerequisite At least one course in discourse analysis or permission of instructor

Requirements Attendance is required; active participation in class discussions
based on required readings and analysis of texts and interactions is expected

Collection of appropriate data set for the analysis of institutional discourse

Preliminary analysis of your data written up in a short paper

Facilitation of one in-class workshop on your data, including leading a discussion of readings you selected;

Reading journal (reflections on readings and guest speaker visits, including discussion of relevance to your own data set)

Brief written responses to other student-facilitated workshops

Final paper

Questions? Email me at

Selected Readings

Agar, Michael. 1985. Institutional discourse. Text 5 (3): 147-168.

Barton, Ellen. 2000. Sanctioned and non-sanctioned narratives in institutional discourse. Narrative Inquiry 10: 341-75.

Drew, Paul and Paul Heritage (eds.). 1992. Talk at Work: Interaction in Institutional Settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Erickson, Frederick and Jeffrey Shultz. 1982. Counselor as Gatekeeper. New York: Academic Press.

Freed, Alice and Susan Ehrlich (eds.). 2009. Why Do You Ask? The Function of Questions in Institutional Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goffman, Erving. 1961. Asylums: essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. Anchor Books.

Gunnarsson, Britt-Louise, Per Linell, and Bengt Nordberg (eds.). 1997. The Construction of Professional Discourse. London and New York: Longman.

Heritage, John and Steven Clayman. 2010. Talk in Action: Interactions, Identities, and Institutions. Wiley-Blackwell.

Linde, Charlotte. 2008. Working the Past: Narrative and Institutional Memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mayr, Andrea. 2008. Language and Power: An Introduction to Institutional Discourse (Advances in Sociolinguistics). Continuum.
Sarangi, Srikant and Celia Roberts (eds.). 1999. Talk, Work and Institutional Order: Discourse in Medical, Mediation and Management Settings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: At least one course in discourse analysis or permission of instructor
More information
Look for this course in the schedule of classes.

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