Citizen talk in participatory discourse on GMOs

H.C.W. Padmos, H. Mazeland, H.F.M. te Molder

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingAbstractAcademic


    Only recently, the notion of citizenship is studied as an empirical phenomenon in studies of talk-ininteraction. The present study is part of a broader research project that aims at establishing the ways in which participants in interaction discursively work up a citizen identity and draw upon this identity to perform particular interactional work. In this paper, we focus on special instances of citizen talk in participatory discourse in which participants explicitly refer to the category label ‘citizen’. Our data consist of debates and discussions between experts, politicians and the public on the subject of genetically modified food as part of a government sponsored public debate in the Netherlands (2001/2002). We will show how participants who initially present themselves (or are presented) as an expert or politician may subsequently describe themselves ‘as a citizen’. We illustrate how the category ‘citizen’ enables this type of speaker to distance himself from his official identity while at the same time preserving it. It is argued that referring to this category allows the speaker to formulate ‘private’ thoughts and feelings towards public issues, in such a way that the participant cannot be held accountable for them in terms of his "official" identity. At the same time, the citizen category is associated with the performance of ‘psychological’ activities, such as thinking and feeling, which enable the speaker to emphasise his personal and active involvement. By introducing the citizen category, speakers suspend their official identity, thus creating interactional space in order to perform ‘unofficial’, ‘personal’, ‘informal’ business. In doing so, participants add a personal touch to a public issue, while excluding official accountability for their views. At the same time, they preserve their official identities by formulating the citizen category as a role (as a citizen) or as an alternative category in addition to others (also a citizen), thereby indicating that the subsequent interactional work is being done in a temporary or optional capacity. The device temporarily excludes the official and/or expert identity for doing this kind of informal business, thereby - retrospectively - defining it as interactionally unsuitable for displaying personal ommitment or concern. This type of citizen talk thus carefully preserves and controls the traditional boundary between professional assessments and private opinions. In our presentation we will demonstrate this type of citizen talk as an identity-suspending device, discuss the interactional business this device performs and conclude with discussing the theoretical consequences of studying the notion of citizenship as an empirical phenomenon.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publication9th International Pragmatics Conference, Riva del Garda, Italy,, 10-15 July 2005
    Place of PublicationAntwerp
    Publication statusPublished - 2005
    Event9th International Pragmatics Conference, Riva del Garda, Italy -
    Duration: 10 Jul 200515 Jul 2005


    Conference9th International Pragmatics Conference, Riva del Garda, Italy

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    Padmos, H. C. W., Mazeland, H., & te Molder, H. F. M. (2005). Citizen talk in participatory discourse on GMOs. In 9th International Pragmatics Conference, Riva del Garda, Italy,, 10-15 July 2005 (pp. 278-279). IPrA.