Hegemony, social class and stylisation

Ben Rampton

Abstract

Focusing on issues of class identity, this paper explores the relationship between sociolinguistics and Raymond Williams’ view of hegemony as “relations of domination and subordination… [that saturate] the whole process of living…: Our senses and assignments of energy, our shaping perceptions of ourselves and our world” (1977: 109-110). It assesses the kinds of insight afforded in both variationist and interactional sociolinguistics, and then turns to an analysis of London adolescents putting on exaggerated ‘posh’ and ‘Cockney’ accents in situated interaction. Underpinning the contingencies of particular instances, there was a set of well-established dualisms shaped in relations of class inequality (high vs low, mind vs body, reason vs emotion), and the resonance and reach of these was attested both in corporeal performance and in the fantastical grotesque. Can theories of interactional ‘identity projection’ do justice to this, or can sociolinguistics accommodate the cultural analyst’s wider concern for ‘subjectivity’? The paper looks at ways of drawing these perspectives together, and concludes with an emphatic rejection of claims that in late modernity, class identities are losing their significance.

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