'I don't mean necessarily absolutely intelligent': Accountability concerns in a discussion of mate preferences

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


There is, today, a powerful social norm against prejudice (Billig, 1988). Speakers orient to possible attributions of prejudice and protect their identities through rhetorical and pragmatic strategies, e.g. disclaimers, mitigation, denials and reformulations (Augustinos & Every, 2007; Goodman & Burke, 2010; van Dijk, 1992; Verkuyten et al., 1994). Research in this area is predominantly undertaken from a Critical perspective and focuses on structural inequalities (particularly race and gender). Such studies show how ‘new’ or ‘modern’ forms of discriminatory discourse allow speakers to express prejudiced viewpoints (i.e. to say the ‘unsayable’) without negative identity repercussions; thereby bolstering the very structures and inequalities that the speakers ostensibly deny. However, speakers may also demonstrate sensitivity around unexpected issues which lack overt prejudice connotations (Condor, 2000). This paper examines how five young female academics problematise and resolve their preference for an ‘intelligent’ romantic partner. This preference is wholly uncontroversial in relationship/mate selection terms (Greitmeyer, 2007; Furnham, 2009), but here, in the academic context, it is clearly treated as accountable. The data show functional and lexical features of new discriminatory discourse. The speakers orient towards attributions of intellectual elitism and use various discursive means to deflect these, including: disclaimers, hedging, mitigation of claims, particularisation, justifications, explicit denials, self-positioning and alignments with others, deflection of responsibility, personal examples, and extensive reformulation of intelligence both as a general concept and as a factor in a romantic relationship. Ultimately, the speakers maintain and indeed, reinforce, their stated preference for an intelligent partner, but simultaneously, they present their own identities as reasonable, practical and egalitarian. The analysis demonstrates how the anti-prejudice norm extends across settings/topics and how accountability is occasioned and context-specific. In turn (and particularly because here, the speakers are not seen to be expressing the ‘unsayable’), this has implications for how prejudice itself, as a discursive construct, can be empirically identified and evidenced. Specifically, it might be argued that analysts only have empirical access to accountability (as occasioned in specific contexts), rather than to exclusionary or prejudiced ideologies per se.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 26 Jul 2015
Event14th International Pragmatics Association Conference - University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium
Duration: 26 Jul 201531 Jul 2015


Conference14th International Pragmatics Association Conference
Internet address


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