‘Collaborative Competition’ Stance-taking and Positioning in the European Parliament

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköping University Electronic Press

Abstract: The European Parliament (EP) is the scene where certain issues concerning over 500 million ‘Europeans’ are publicly debated and where politically relevant groupings are discursively coconstructed. While the Members of the Parliament (MEPs) pursue their political agendas, intergroup boundaries are drawn, reinforced, and/or transgressed. Speakers constantly take stances on behalf of groupings in relation to some presupposed other groupings and argue what differentiates ‘Self’ from ‘Others’. This study examines patterns of language use by the MEPs as they engage in the contextually and historically situated dialogical processes of intergroup positioning and stance-taking. It further focuses on the strategic and competitive activities of grouping, grounding, and alignment in order to reveal the dynamic construction of intergroup boundaries.The study is based on a collection of Blue-card question-answer sequences from the plenary debates held at the EP in 2011, when the Sovereign Debt Crisis had been stabilized to some degree but still evoked plenty of controversy.Theoretically the study builds on Stance Theory (Du Bois, 2007), Positioning Theory (Davies & Harré, 1990), and several broadly social constructivist approaches to discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1995).The analysis shows that intergroup positioning in the EP emerges as what I call a ‘collaborative competition’ between contradictory ideologies and political agendas. The MEPs strategically manipulate their opponents' prior or projected utterances in order to set up positions for self, a grouping he or she stands for, and thereby its adversaries. All participants engage in the maintenance and negotiation of intergroup boundaries, even though the boundaries hardly ever coincide between the different speakers. They discursively fence off some imaginary territories, leaving their adversaries with vague positions.When asking Blue-card questions, the MEPs use a particular turn organization, which involves routine forms of interactional units, namely addressing, question framing and question forms, each of which is shown to contribute to stance-taking. A dynamic model of stance-taking is suggested, allowing for a fluid transformation of the stance object as well as the discursively constructed stance-takers.While Blue-card questions are meant to serve as a structured procedure for eliciting information from a speaker, the analysis demonstrates that the MEPs accomplish various divergent actions that serve intergroup positioning. The dissertation thus contributes to the understanding of the discursive games played in the EP as the MEPs strive to construct social realities that fit their political ends.

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