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Information withholding as a manipulative and collusive strategy in Nukulaelae gossip*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2008

Niko Besnier
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, Yale University

Abstract

This article examines the organization and function of information-withholding sequences, a conversational strategy used by participants in gossip interactions on Nukulaelae, a Polynesian atoll of the Central Pacific. A withholding sequence is a three-turn sequence whereby a piece of information is withheld in the first turn, an other-repair is initiated in the second turn, and the withheld material is provided in the third turn. Information-withholding sequences thus involve moves that in other contexts would be construed as face-threatening. They have a dual function: they provide speakers an opportunity to manipulate their audiences into becoming coproducers of the gossip, and they reinforce the status of their initiator as controller of the floor. Withholding sequences illustrate how ambiguity and repairs can be exploited to meet the communicative demands of particular interactional contexts. They also illustrate how gossip may be framed simultaneously as group-cohesive behavior and self-serving behavior. (Conversation analysis, ethnography of speaking, gossip, conversational repair, Polynesia, Nukulaelae Tuvaluan)

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1989

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