Accomplishing attitudes: Fact and evaluation in racist discourse

Potter, Jonathan and Wetherell, Margaret (1988). Accomplishing attitudes: Fact and evaluation in racist discourse. Text - Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Discourse, 8(1-2) pp. 51–68.



This paper explores some of the distinguishing features of a discourse approach to analysis of racism. A contrast is developed with attitude research in social psychology and we demonstrate how the concept of attitude inevitably neglects social and rhetorical context. In particular, attitude theory ignores the way respondents construct evaluations through their varying ‘factual’ accounts of attitudinal objects. The argument is illustrated through the detailed analysis of a section of interview transcripts concerning ‘Polynesian immigrants’. Overall, it is suggested that research concerning ‘attitudes’ to such contentious issues as race and gender has failed to appreciate the pressure on respondents to construct evaluative versions as out-there-in-the-world to avoid the blame we attached when those versions are seen, not as features of the world, but as a consequence of their own psychology or special interests.

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