In the last chapter I considered the role of texts in helping to ‘technologize’ social practices and social identities around health and risk. In this chapter I will focus on the sites of engagement (Jones, 2005c; Scollon, 2001a) into which these social practices and social identities are appropriated to take concrete, real-time actions. A site of engagement is a moment when particular kinds of people and particular ‘cultural tools’ come together to make certain kinds of social actions possible. Sites of engagement are not static ‘contexts’ in which interaction takes place. They are actively constructed moment by moment by participants as they make use of the texts and other tools that are available to them. Much of what occurs at sites of engagement is determined by the ‘technologized’
social practices and social identities that we bring to them. People who enter doctors’ oﬃces do so with a pretty good idea about the sorts of social practices that will occur in them, the sorts of texts they will be required to produce and consume, and the sorts of social identities they will be expected to assume. At the same time, every medical encounter is diﬀerent, and doctors and patients must be prepared to engage in diﬀerent kinds of practices and assume diﬀerent kinds of identities as contingencies change. All sites of engagement have these two dimensions: they are, as Sarangi and Roberts (1999, p. 18) put it, both ‘brought along’ – determined by the social practices and social identities that people bring to them – and ‘brought about’ through the strategic ways people use language and other tools to perform social practices and enact social identities in real time. All sites of engagement depend upon how participants accomplish the two basic
tasks of negotiating ‘what they are doing’ and ‘who they are being’ (Scollon, 1998). I will be referring to the ways in which people strategically manage social practices and social identities in their interactions as ‘framing’ and ‘positioning’. ‘Framing’ refers to the metacommunicative management of social practices in interaction, and positioning refers to the metacommunicative management of social identities. It is through
these two processes that participants in encounters open ‘windows of opportunity’ that make particular kinds of actions and relationships possible (Scollon, 2001b). Opening these windows of opportunity is not always easy. There are situations
in which, for any number of reasons, the expectations that diﬀerent people bring to the interaction about what they should be doing and who they should be being are diﬀerent, due to their access to diﬀerent repertoires of social practices and social identities. There are also situations in which participants put forth framings and positionings that are at odds with each other because of diﬀerent goals or agendas. Finally, there are sites of engagement which are themselves ambiguous – sites like genetic counseling sessions (Sarangi, 2000), commercial sex encounters (Jones, 2002a, 2007), and health promotion events in public places (Jones, 2002b) in which multiple ‘activity types’ (Levinson, 1979; Sarangi, 2000) and social identities mix in rather complex ways. I know this from personal experience in my capacity as a volunteer for an AIDS
service organization in Hong Kong. Every year on World AIDS Day the organization I belong to gets its volunteers to hand out AIDS prevention information and condoms to people on the streets. Sometimes on these occasions my social identity is an issue, with passersby who are not familiar with the practice looking quizzical when I hand them a condom. The social identities of the recipients of these items are also an issue. When handing out condoms, for example, certain passersby (children, Buddhist monks) are intentionally overlooked. This became problematic one year when our organization decided to package the condoms in red envelopes of the kind used during Chinese New Year to give ‘lucky money’ to children. On this occasion small children took to following me with outstretched hands, requiring me to explain to their angry parents why I was withholding these ‘red packets’ from their sons and daughters. Applied linguists have dealt with the dual problems of framing and positioning
using a variety of analytical frameworks, and the fact that the terms I am using are associated with ‘interactional sociolinguistics’ should not be taken to limit their deﬁnitions to those narrowly associated with this approach. Rather, I mean the terms to apply broadly to the processes by which people in interaction negotiate their activities and their identities at multiple levels. The way activities are framed, for example, might be seen in the rather broad terms favored by ethnographers of communication to mean the sets of fundamental assumptions that govern how diﬀerent kinds of speech events should be structured. Or it might be seen in the narrower perspective of how people strategically ‘bring about’ activities in actual encounters, using a variety of ‘contextualization cues’ to negotiate ‘what’s going on’. Or, it might be seen from the micro-analytical perspective of conversation analysts for whom a single utterance creates the ‘frame’ for how the next utterance is to be interpreted. Similarly, the question of social identity can be approached on many levels: on the broader level of ﬁxed social roles, as a more strategic matter of ‘performance’ (Goﬀman, 1959), as the discursive negotiation of relational issues like power and solidarity, and as the turn-by-turn procedures through which people in conversation make themselves ‘recognizable’ to each other.