Essay Prompt: In this program we have been exploring the argument that we construct our identity, in part, through conversation. Our identity is not something that we develop internally, but a construct that we create and maintain moment by moment through everyday talk by drawing on linguistic resources, including silence. Look back at our readings and choose at least three chapters or journal articles that you find particularly useful because of the evidence provided. Then, present an argument for the social construction of identity drawing on the evidence you have chosen.
1: Being one of the dudes: something humans are striving for on a daily basis, whether we know it or not. Showing solidarity with people is something that is so inherently important to us that we don’t realize we’re doing it simply by saying the word “dude.” Studies have shown that students, both male and female, use it for commiseration and confrontation (Kiesling, 2004). Indexing masculinity is very important to a man’s identity, both in what his peers think of him and what he thinks of himself. In fact, Scott Kiesling even coined the term “cool solidarity” to refer to the ways the men use the word “dude” to talk to each other (p.286). Kiesling states, “Dude thus carries indexicalities of both solidarity (camaraderie) and distance (nonintimacy) and can be deployed to create both of these kinds of stance, separately or together” (2004, p. 286).
Barbara Johnstone makes a more general observation that, “People constantly create and renegotiate their relationships with each other in the process of interacting, via discourse moves that make claims to equality, inequality, solidarity, or detachment” (2008, p. 139). In transforming our identity, we are always analyzing how we are similar to and different from others, and using our analyses to shape our discourse. For instance, the more differences we notice about another person from the beginning, the more likely it is that we will form a detached relationship with them through our conversations.
It is these interactions that base further conversation, which is where we build even more ideas about “equality, inequality, solidarity, or detachment.” We find more that we have in common, push boundaries, and make more choices about what to say or not say. Johnstone says, “…however people’s linguistic resources and choices are limited by the ways in which their behavior forms part of the whole ecology of human social life – the fact that participants in discourse are individual human beings means that discourse is fundamentally creative” (2008, p. 157). Our creativity embodies our identity, and vice versa; even if we limit our creativity by conforming to social norms (like saying “dude”), we are able to make that choice and are therefore using creativity to develop an identity.
Using the word “dude” and repeating other catch phrases, which Ferrara (2004) is quoted by Johnstone as calling “mirroring” and “echoing,” and which is also called backchannelling, “can create rapport, the feeling of harmony among interlocutors which, it can be argued, is one of the primary functions of conversation” (Johnstone, 2008, p. 173). This feeling of harmony is, if not the real goal for any conversation, a genuinely rewarding byproduct of discourse that indicates solidarity. We learn to generate this harmony, thus creating identity.