Towards a typology of conflict situations: with an attempted application

Jim O'Driscoll

University of Huddersfield, UK

WS211: Language in Conflict

Starting out from the self-evident facts that (1) conflict, in order for it be recognised as such, has to be enacted and (2) in being enacted it is, like all communicative behaviour, situated (and that it is by virtue of these facts that sociolinguistics might have something to say to conflict studies) this contribution explores the communicative parameters of situations of conflict. It offers an inventory of such parameters in the same spirit as, and inspired by, the SPEAKING mnemonic of Hymes (1974), Preston’s (1986) attempted comprehensive coverage of sociolinguistic variation and Goffman’s architecture of situated interaction (e.g. 1963, 1971, 1984).

The intention of the inventory is to circumscribe all the possible variety of conflict situations, to provide a vocabulary for this variation, to offer a checklist of situational features which could have a bearing on the nature, development and outcome of a conflict, including prognoses for various means of intervention, and, finally, to take a first step towards a possible typology (in which certain settings on some parameters would entail, or be found empirically to implicate, certain settings on others).

The inventory was originally conceived ‘in the abstract’. This contribution also describes the additions and modifications that were required when it was applied to conflict within a specific kind of setting and circumstance, namely disputes in British HE institutions where, driven principally by financial considerations (the desire to avoid litigation), a funded project is currently under way to find alternative means of resolving disputes. This application raises questions about what is common to all conflict situations. It also demonstrates the inseparability of the conflicts themselves from attempts to resolve them

Goffman, Erving (1963). Behaviour in Public Places. New York: The Free Press.

Goffman, Erving (1971). Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order. London: Allen Lane (Penguin Press).

Goffman, Erving (1981). Forms of Talk. Blackwell.

Hymes, Dell (1974). Foundations in Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach, pp.53-62. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

Preston, Dennis (1986). The fifty some-odd categories of language variation. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 57:9-47.

Session: Workshop: Language in Conflict
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 18