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Poststructuralist theory and sociolinguistics: Mapping the linguistic turn in theory
Language and Linguistics Compass (2013)
  • Phillip M Carter, Florida International University
Poststructuralist theory has been broadly influential throughout the humanities and social sciences for two decades, yet sociolinguistic engagement with poststructuralism has been limited to select subfields. In this paper, I consider the possibilities for richer cross-disciplinary work involving sociolinguistics and poststructuralist social theory. I begin by describing the place of social theory within sociolinguistics, paying attention both to the possibilities of interdisciplinarity and the resistance to it. I then introduce the basic tenets of poststructuralism, focusing primarily on its two main constructs, ‘performativity’ and ‘discourse,’ and briefly discuss the discontentment with structuralism that resulted in ‘the linguistic turn’. I outline the sites in the literature where sociolinguists have already made use of poststructuralist approaches, and conclude by suggesting new possibilities for cross-disciplinary collaboration. Though the paper focuses primarily on variationist sociolinguistics in the U.S. academy, I also make reference to other fields that work with non-static, anti-essentialist approaches to sociality, such as critical discourse analysis. I contend that poststructuralist approaches to social theory are useful for sociolinguists, especially variationists, in that they resist the false dichotomy between agency and structure and provide a comprehensive way of thinking about identity that ignores neither practice nor subjectivity.
Publication Date
November, 2013
Citation Information
Phillip M Carter. "Poststructuralist theory and sociolinguistics: Mapping the linguistic turn in theory" Language and Linguistics Compass Vol. 7 Iss. 11 (2013)
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