Construction of institutional identities by male individuals in subordinate positions in the Japanese workplace

Junko Saito


This study qualitatively examines how male individuals in subordinate positions in a Japanese workplace construct institutional identities in superior-subordinate interactions in the workplace. The analysis demonstrates that the male subordinates’ use of the masu form (the addressee honorific form) in conjunction with their epistemic stance contributes to the display of different facets of institutional identities. It also shows that individuals in subordinate positions draw on various discourse strategies, such as incomplete phrases and the plain form (the non-honorific form), so as to obscure the social relationships between superiors and themselves, as well as to avoid performing the role of buka ‘work subordinate’, who is obligated to obey superiors. Confirming the findings of previous research on identity construction, this study demonstrates that by strategically manipulating their linguistic resources, male subordinates can display different institutional identities on a moment-by-moment basis in a given context. Furthermore, the study contributes to the examination of power relations in workplace discourse, as well as touching upon a gender difference in language use.

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