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Going too far: Complaining, escalating and disaffiliation

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Publication details

JournalJournal of Pragmatics
DatePublished - Dec 2009
Issue number12
Number of pages15
Pages (from-to)2400-2414
Original languageEnglish


This report, arising from a study of affiliation and disaffiliation in interaction, addresses an apparently 'anomalous' finding in relation to complaint sequences in conversation. In some of the cases we collected in which one speaker was complaining on behalf of the other (their co-participant), taking her side in some matter, the one on whose behalf the other was complaining did not affiliate with the complaint. Instead they resisted the complaint (again, one made on their behalf) and demurred to 'go so far'. This finding is anomalous in the sense that if A is complaining on behalf of B, in respect of some harm done to B, then it might be expected that B would go along with the complaint, and affiliate with A. To account for how it might come about that B demurs from 'going as far as' A, we explore how complaints are frequently introduced in conversation. We show that complaints may emerge through a progression in which 'the complainant' does not initially go on record with a complaint, but instead secures the other's participation in co-constructing the complaint. Hence the 'complaint recipient' may be the first to make the complaint explicit, in a sequence of escalating affiliation. In the 'anomalous' cases, it appears that this escalation goes too far for the putative complainant (B). (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

    Research areas

  • Complaining, Affiliation, Disaffiliation, Conversation, CONVERSATION, EXPRESSIONS

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