"... and does Ciaran smoke?" The negotiation of category incumbency in the everyday talk of smokers

Catrin S. Rhys, Grace Burke,

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


This paper applies MCA (Sacks 1974, 1992) to the everyday talk of smokers to reveal members’ tacit sociological knowledge of smoking and locally constituted categorisations of smoker. The analysis examines how speakers treated smoking as a category-bound activity (CBA), particularly when talking about non-present others. However, when speakers began to discuss their own smoking behaviours, complex category work ensued. Rather than smoking being taken-for-granted as a CBA attached to the category ‘smoker’, speakers were seen to orient to the activity of smoking as accountable (Jayyusi 1984) and to negotiate the boundaries of the activity to accept/resist incumbency of the category.We reveal how speakers collaboratively negotiated the relevance of predicates in situ by drawing on tacit knowledge of smoking and smokers. By dismantling the co-production of predicates and inferences we expose the kinds of things members orient to as relevant in ‘smoking talk’. Hence, we demonstrate the routine way members negotiate the boundaries around the activity of smoking and treat their production as a smoker as negotiable, local and occasioned (Hester and Eglin 1997; Fitzgerald and Housley 2002).Where, when and how often someone smokes recur as resources through which speakers position themselves on a barometer of degrees of incumbency of the category ‘smoker’. The notion ‘predicate modifier’ is introduced to capture these resources and reveal how speakers are able to ‘do’ the category- bound activity (smoke) but delimit some of the taken-for-granted knowledge normatively associating the activity with the category ‘smokers’. The notion of ‘modifier’ originates with Sacks’ observations of “attempts to provide that what it is that may be said about any member is not to be said about the member at hand” (Sacks 1992 p.44), i.e. the resources by which speakers neutralise social knowledge inferentially triggered by a category label. Whereas Sacks’ notion of modifier blocks inferencing from a stated category incumbency, the predicate modifier in our data blocks inferences of category incumbency from an activity by neutralising the applicability of any presumptive knowledge associated with this CBA. Nonetheless both notions of ‘modifier’ identify the shared sociological knowledge displayed through the use of the modifier evidenced by the noticeable absence of challenge by co-participants. This paper thus examines smokers’ talk in order to bring to light taken-for-granted Members’ knowledge of smokers and smoking as a sociological phenomenon. It examines the demonstrable relevance of the category ‘smoker’ and reveals both the situated nature of this category work and the implicit normative assumptions relating to the activity of smoking that speakers draw on as they negotiate, accept or reject category incumbency.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
PublisherInternational Pragmatics Association
Number of pages0
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 9 Sept 2013
Event13th International Pragmatics Conference - New Delhi
Duration: 9 Sept 2013 → …


Conference13th International Pragmatics Conference
Period9/09/13 → …


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