Edited by Gitte Rasmussen, Catherine E. Brouwer and Dennis Day
[Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 225] 2012
► pp. 211–234
This paper presents a study of how teenage boys with learning disabilities evaluate co-participants’ ‘cognitive’ or ‘mental’ state competences in interaction (“you are sick in the head”). The evaluations emerge out of disputes and disagreements about social experiences and end these disputes by excluding the co-participant from further talk on current topics. The study shows thus how ‘mental’ state evaluations become insults: In and through the use of ‘mental’ state evaluations in actions in which the boys triumph over, or ‘win’ the dispute as they exclude others from participation in on-going talk. The paper presents the boys ‘mental’ state evaluations as observable, recurrent and recognizable methods for sense-making. Hence, the paper analyses how co-participants deal with initial actions of ‘mental’ evaluation by responding to them in systematic sequentially organized ways. In and through these responses, a sequence emerges that is exclusively designed for dealing with such insulting matters – in this case, with the exclusion from participation in ongoing talk on the basis of ‘mental’ or ‘cognitive’ (dis)abilities. The paper holds that the teenage boys (with learning disabilities) in constructing these sequentially organized sequences are being “occupationally ordinary” (Sacks 1984: 414). They treat such ‘mental evaluating’ insults as straight forward practical ways of dealing with an interactional and social problem; insults that may have consequences for social relationships in a long term. Based on this analysis, the paper discusses then how these boys being ascribed to the social category ‘mentally disabled’ are however not entitled to tell people when they are “sick in the head” or “stupid”.
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