Relationship Thinking Agency, Enchrony, and Human Sociality

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2013-11-26
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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In Relationship Thinking, N. J. Enfield outlines a framework for analyzing social interaction and its linguistic, cultural, and cognitive underpinnings by focusing on human relationships. This is a naturalistic approach to human sociality, grounded in the systematic study of real-time data from social interaction in everyday life. Many of the illustrative examples and analyses in the book are a result of the author's long-term field work in Laos.

Enfield promotes an interdisciplinary approach to studying language, culture, and mind, building on simple but powerful semiotic principles and concentrating on three points of conceptual focus. The first is human agency: the combination of flexibility and accountability, which defines our possibilities for social action and relationships, and which makes the fission and fusion of social units possible. The second is enchrony: the timescale of conversation in which our social relationships are primarily enacted. The third is human sociality: a range of human propensities for social interaction and enduring social relations, grounded in collective commitment to shared norms. Enfield's approach cuts through common dichotomies such as 'cognitive' versus 'behaviorist', or 'public' versus 'private', arguing instead that these are indispensable sides of single phenomena. The result is a set of conceptual tools for analyzing real-time social interaction and linking it with enduring relationships and their social contexts. The book shows that even - or perhaps especially - the most mundane social interactions yield rich insights into language, culture, and mind.

Author Biography

N. J. Enfield was trained in Asian Studies and Linguistics at the Australian National University (ANU) and Melbourne University, before joining the Language and Cognition Group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, in 2000. His research on language, culture, cognition, and social interaction has been based on regular fieldwork in mainland Southeast Asia, especially Laos. He has coordinated numerous large-scale comparative research projects testing human diversity in a range of domains. His books include Ethnosyntax (OUP 2002), Linguistic Epidemiology (Routledge 2003), Roots of Human Sociality (with SC Levinson, Berg 2006), A Grammar of Lao (Mouton 2007), The Anatomy of Meaning (CUP 2009), and Dynamics of Human Diversity (Pacific Linguistics, 2011).

Table of Contents


1 Relationships
1.1 The data of relationships
1.2 Context
1.3 Relationship thinking
1.4 Enacting relationships and relationship types
1.5 Relationship-grounded society

2 Sociality
2.1 Human social intelligence
2.2 Social motivations
2.3 Tools for assessment and management
2.4 Semiotic process
2.5 Norms and heuristics
2.6 Communication as tool use
2.7 Two primitive imperatives for communication

3 Enchrony
3.1 Enchrony and its scope
3.2 Causal frames for understanding meaning
3.3 Normative organization

4 Semiosis
4.1 Anatomy of the semiotic process
4.2 Flexibility in semiotic processes
4.3 Inference as a semiotic process
4.4 Cultural epidemiology as a semiotic process
4.5 Elements of the semiotic process and their possibilities
4.6 Payoffs of this framework
4.7 The Saussurean sign: a convenient untruth
4.8 A frame-content dynamic
4.9 Meaning as a public process

5 Status
5.1 Status predicts and explains behavior
5.2 Entitlements, commitments, enablements
5.3 Relationships as statuses

6 Moves
6.1 Moves are composite signs
6.2 Composite utterances are interpreted as wholes
6.3 Turn-taking: moves in linguistic clothing
6.4 The move as a privileged level of semiosis

7 Cognition
7.1 Behavior-reading
7.2 Cognition and language
7.3 Psychology as interpretative heuristic
7.4 Fear of cognition?

8 Action
8.1 Natural action versus social action
8.2 Courses of action
8.3 Speech acts and actions-en
8.4 Categories of action-en?
8.5 A composite notion of actions-en
8.6 Ontology of actions-en
8.7 A generative account of action-en

9 Agency
9.1 Flexibility and accountability
9.2 Agent unity heuristic
9.3 Joint agency
9.4 Distributed agency

10 Asymmetry
10.1 Propositions and the relativity of knowledge
10.2 Epistemic Authority
10.3 Distribution of agency in practice
10.4 Sources of Asymmetry
10.5 Our imperfect communication system

11 Culture
11.1 Cultural systems
11.2 The Kri house as a system context for social relations
11.3 Ritual in communication
11.4 Kri residence
11.5 Practical interpretation of the Kri residence: to follow a norm
11.6 Spatial distribution and diagrammatic iconicity
11.7 Sanction of norms: making the tacit explicit
11.8 Everyday ritual and social relations

12 Grammar
12.1 Language as a system
12.2 Syntagmatic relations: grammar for turns
12.3 Paradigmatic relations in linguistic grammars
12.4 Markedness: special effects of choice within a system
12.5 The Lao system of person reference
12.6 Default reference to persons in Lao
12.7 Pragmatically marked initial references
12.8 Grammar expresses social relations under the radar

13 Knowledge
13.1 Common ground
13.2 Sources of common ground
13.3 Fuel for Gricean amplicative inference
13.4 Grounding for inferring
13.5 Audience design
13.6 Affiliation and information
13.7 From information to social relations


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