The interactional ventriloquization of written records in the service of authority

In: International Review of Pragmatics
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  • 1 KU Leuven, Belgium
  • 2 Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina

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In this article, we analyze three cases in which subordinates’ oral claims are refuted by superiors who draw on written documents of which the subordinates are the (in)direct authors. In this ventriloquization process (Cooren, 2012), the superiors construct these written documents as facts, which have institutionalized the evidential status of the claims. In particular, we use courtroom data and data from performance appraisal interviews in a medical organization. This comparison revealed that the latter allowed for a more flexible handling of written documents, while the former displayed a much more rigid structure in which the ‘incorporation’ of written records immediately entailed a number of interactionally non-negotiable implications. Overall, it became clear that by drawing on the different ontological status of written records, superiors subject subordinate participants to their authority, as such constituting the organization in the name of which they are acting and which reflexively entitles them to act in this way.

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    In this respect, Cooren (2012) also refers to the agency of the texts themselves, which is a matter that we will not zoom in on here as this requires a different research perspective from the one we adopt in this article.

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