This paper explores the (co-)construction of identities in ritual interaction, by focusing on the choice of interactional styles. ‘Interactional style’ describes a cluster of similar indexical actions within the interaction “frame” (Goffman, 1974) of a ritual. Ritual is a recurrent interaction type, which puts constraints on the individual’s “freedom” to construct their (and others’) identities, in a somewhat similar way to institutional interactions, which have been broadly studied in the field. However, the constraints posed by ritual interactions are different from institutional, and so by examining identity (co-)construction via interactional style choices in ritual contexts, this paper fills an important knowledge gap. I approach interactional style choices through the notions of “role” and “accountability”, and by placing ritual practices within Goffman’s (1981) participation framework. I use examples of heckling at performing arts events as data. By focusing on interactional style, the paper contributes to the present Special Issue dedicated to interactional styles across cultures.
As Turner (1982) argues ritual liberation from constraints can resolve real crises but can also serve as a way to “let off steam”. Indeed the anti-structural ritual performance of heckling can operate as a way to resolve crises (e.g. opposing a politician) and also as a sort of outlet for people’s energy (e.g. in the case of sport matches). Thus following Turner (1982: 28) one can argue that in heckling disorder “gets its raison d’être”.