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The discourse of resistance: Social change and policing in Northern Ireland


Modern social theory highlights the role of language in social change/reproduction, yet rarely draws on actual linguistic resources or theory. Equally, sociolinguistics situates linguistic practice within the social domain, but only weakly makes links to social theory. Using a linguistic analysis of policing discourses in Northern Ireland, this article considers how such analyses can both inform and be informed by broader social theories. Policing is a contentious issue for nationalists, and despite recent reforms, many continue to regard the (new) police force with suspicion. Data from nationalist women in Belfast are used to explore the thematic frameworks and interactional/pragmatic strategies (pragmatic blocking) through which the speakers jointly produce a “discourse of resistance,” effectively blocking acceptance of the new service. The analysis is discussed in relation to theories of social change (with particular reference to Bourdieu's habitus). Considered are implications for sociolinguistics, social theory, and policing policy in Northern Ireland.This article derives from an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded study (Award No. RES 00-22-0257).

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