Vocatives as rationalized politeness: Theoretical insights from emerging norms in call centre service encounters

Hultgren, Anna Kristina (2017). Vocatives as rationalized politeness: Theoretical insights from emerging norms in call centre service encounters. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 21(1) pp. 90–111.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12224

Abstract

This study offers an extension of existing politeness theories by illuminating how changes in politeness conventions come about as a result of contextual specificities. Despite a surge in mediated service encounters, few studies to date have considered the linguistic enactment of politeness in call centres, mainly due to restrictions on access. Drawing on a linguistic ethnography of an onshore call centre in Scotland and data in the form of authentic service interactions, interviews, on-site observations, and institutional documents, the study combines quantitative and qualitative discourse analytic techniques to explore how the call centre-specific tension between efficiency and customer care is managed in theory and practice. It is found that while the institution accords equal importance to efficiency and customer care, in actual service interactions, agents prioritize efficiency. Furthermore, in the few cases where agents do orient to customer care, vocatives appear to be used as a shortcut; documenting the emergence of a novel – rationalized – type of politeness. The study contributes the theoretical insight that new politeness conventions emerge, not so much because of the imposition of one culture on another, but because they are shaped by the particular context in which they arise.

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