Joined: Mar 2006 Posts: 62 Location: Portland, OR
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["...Ordinary conversation is like a session of tete-a-tete diplomacy, in which the parties explore ways of saving face, offering an "out," and maintaining plausible deniability as they negotiate the mix of power, sex, intimacy, and fairness that makes up their relationship." (p. 23)]
During my undergraduate years, I studied the field of sociology as my minor. One of the courses I took was social theory and application. The above quote reminded me of a lecture I sat through during the course. My professor talked about how there are certain behaviors and customs we expect people to follow when engaged in conversation. When we don't live up to our partner's expectations in the conversation, we not only "lose face" in their eyes, but also we confuse them, make them uncomfortable, and anger them in the process. I can't remember by whom, but someone did an experiement where everytime his friends or family would try to start a dialogue with the person, he would fiegn confusion or answer them with literal translations of everyday small talk. For example, when his friend asked him "What's up?" He would reply with "What do you mean by that?" When asked "Beautiful day, isn't it?" he would ask for clarification by saying, "What excatly do you mean by beautiful?" He refused to follow the socially aceptable norms of having a conversation with another person and the reactions of the people showed a range of emotions from discomfort, annoance, and anger.
Even the most mundane of conversations requires that we follow a doctrine of social norms and expectations. In addition to words, language --what we say, how we say it, and how we use it --are governed by socially agreed upon expectations. When we don't follow them, we are seen as awkward --a social misfit --and are often avoided or picked on by others. Case in point: The lonely, nerdy, awkward, foreign exchange student back in high school. Because he doesn't know how to communicate as fluently and effectively as his native counterparts, he acquires an unfortunate rep and spends most (if not all) of the rest of the year watching life on the sidelines.[/quote]
Joined: Mar 2005 Posts: 433
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tlpounds, that quote caught my eye as well. It struck me as so fraught with meaning that I almost didn't dare think about it! I appreciated his whole discussion around this piece -- esp. because in my work I have to be very careful about the words I use, the hats I wear, in any given conversation, be it on the phone, in person, or via email.
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Joined: Nov 2007 Posts: 1543 Location: France
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I read your posting with interest, and I also had a look at later chapters of The Stuff of Thought because I was curious about the subject of conversation.
I also checked amazon, but could not find what I was looking for, as everything was specialized, ie:
- self-help books for shy people, how to start conversations ("and make everybody love you in 90 seconds"), conversation and conflict.
- the history of conversation, starting with the Socrates, Swift and Mme de Sevigne.
I wanted to read about good conversationalists in the modern time, but apprently nobody is interested in writing about it (or perhaps there is no such thing!).
If anybody has reading suggestions please let me know.
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