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The delicate business of identity

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    Rights statement: "“The final version of this paper has been published in Discourse Studies, Vol/Issue, June/2017 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © Sue Widdicombe, 2017. It is available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1461445617707011

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)460-478
JournalDiscourse Studies
Issue number4
Early online date4 Jun 2017
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2017


Identity has often been approached by asking questions about it in interviews. However, speakers sometimes reject, resist or modify category membership because of the sensitive inferential and interactional issues invoked. This paper aims to provide a systematic analysis of category-eliciting question-answer (Q-A) sequences from a large corpus of Syrian interview data concerning several identities. Using conversation and membership categorization analysis, four Q-A sequences are identified: minimal confirmation of questions seeking the hearably demographic fact of membership; modifying membership claims in response to factual-type questions by rejecting some not other category-bound attributes; characterising membership as fact and nominating an alternative identity in contrast to questions about feelings; and, in response to questions seeking confirmation of a category implicated through the prior talk, warranting the denial of membership. The analysis therefore highlights a paradox: asking direct questions about category membership is used to generate talk about the topic of identity that would be difficult to collect otherwise, but this may in turn provide for a reluctance to self-identify, thus making identity a delicate business.

    Research areas

  • identity, membership categories, conversation analysis, membership categorization analysis, interviews, interaction

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