How can ethnography contribute to understanding (im)politeness?

Márquez Reiter, Rosina (2021). How can ethnography contribute to understanding (im)politeness? Journal of Politeness Research: Language, Behavior, Culture, 17(1) pp. 35–59.



This article presents an invitation to explore the benefits of adopting an ethnographic approach to (im)politeness research rather than an introduction to, or overview of, a well-established method in anthropology. It unfolds in four parts. In the first, I discuss some of the different ways in which (im)politeness scholars have grappled to reconcile lay and analyst understandings of (im)politeness with varying degrees of success. In the second, I offer the background of two examples which were gathered as part of ethnographic fieldwork in a contemporary migratory context. The examples deal with two classic topics in (im)politeness research: greetings and indirectness. The analysis demonstrates how insights from ethnography can enrich (im)politeness analysis by helping us to close the gap between lay and theoretical understandings of the practice. In the final section, I address the importance of delimiting the value of (im)politeness practices in the social reality of the speakers under study and invite colleagues to reflect on the societal impact of the discipline, including the expansion of the discipline beyond its middle-class milieu.

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