Utterances and uptakes: accounts of speech as action and the description of discursive events

Andrew Munro (2009). Utterances and uptakes: accounts of speech as action and the description of discursive events PhD Thesis, The School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Andrew Munro
Thesis Title Utterances and uptakes: accounts of speech as action and the description of discursive events
School, Centre or Institute The School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2009-06
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Peter Cryle
Professor Anne Freadman
Total pages 207
Total black and white pages 207
Subjects 20 Language, Communication and Culture
Abstract/Summary In this thesis, I ask about the descriptive purchase on discursive events of some accounts of speech as action. To do so, I turn to speech act theory, which I read at first restrictively, and later more broadly, moving from John Langshaw Austin to John Rogers Searle to Judith Butler, appealing along the way to Charles Sanders Peirce, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jean-François Lyotard and Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin. In so doing, I construe speech act theory as a genre (or set of genres) of theoretico-critical inquiry. By genre I mean a set of differentiated, recurrent forms of practice which have their own functions or ends, their own means, protocols and postulates: their own speaking positions and objects of representation or inquiry. For my purposes, then, speech act theory denotes a capacious genre of inquiry turning on the topic of speech as action. I take this topic to raise a range of rhetorical issues concerning the pragmatic question of discursive linking. To talk of discursive linking, I suggest, is minimally to presuppose notions of semiosis, of rhetorical situation or occasion and of rhetorical agency, with its attendant postulates of intention and responsibility. I thus read speech act theory rhetorically, as an open set of engagements with the question of how we do things with words: how utterances come to count as action, and how utterance action is described as having determinate consequences and effects. I begin in chapter 1 by reading Austin for his two tensively related, if not countervailing, descriptive tendencies: those of illocution and perlocution. In chapter 2, I attend to Searle as an exemplary development of an illocutionary inquiry, before examining Butler’s work on hate speech and performativity as a type of perlocutionary inquiry in chapter 3. Illocution and perlocution, I suggest, comprise distinct engagements with the questions of speech as action and discursive linking. Although postulates of semiosis and situation, and figures of responsibility, intention and agency are put to work in both illocutionary and perlocutionary inquiries, in each they work differently. This differential work, I argue, marks the differing capacities of illocutionary and perlocutionary inquiries adequately to describe a discursive event. Different construals of speech as action tell different tales of uptake or linking, enabling and constraining different accounts of discursive events. With this in mind, I turn by way of an extended example in chapter 4 to the caso Belsunce, a high-profile homicide case begun in Argentina in 2002. I do so to suggest that a focus on utterance actions as semio-discursive events relates the perlocutionary concerns discussed in chapters 1 – 3 to postulates of cultural memory-work, kairos and rhetorical community. Taken together, this range of concerns helps us to describe the mediatic uptake of the Belsunce case as a particular, complex semio-discursive event. But a description of a discursive event is of course itself a sign, something which, as Peirce notes, ‘stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity’ and which strives, in turn, to determine subsequent interpretant effects. In this respect, the critical description of discursive events is itself an instance of speech as action which cannot but continue to raise hermeneutic, rhetorical and semiotic questions of discursive upshot or uptake.
Keyword genre theory
rhetoric theory
speech act theory

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