Cynthia Gordon, Syracuse University

  • What one piece of writing was most inspirational to you as an LSI researcher?

Goffman’s “Footing” was (and continues to be) an inspiration for me. I first read it as an undergraduate enrolled in a discourse analysis course taught by Deborah Keller-Cohen at the University of Michigan. I recall being struck by the scene described in the essay and Goffman’s analysis of it: After an Oval Office bill-signing ceremony, news reporter Helen Thomas is interactionally transformed; her footing changes from journalist to fashion model. While as a sophomore in college I was perhaps most alarmed by the sexism of the encounter (Helen Thomas being asked to perform a pirouette? For President Nixon? In the Oval Office?), I also recall being impressed by the power of footing as an analytic concept.

Later, as a graduate student in Georgetown University’s Department of Linguistics, I re-encountered “Footing” in courses taught by Deborah Tannen and Deborah Schiffrin, and more fully realized its utility in analyzing meaning making, relationship negotiation, and identity construction; as Goffman points out, “linguistics provides us with the cues and markers” that are critical to footing (1981, p. 157). Footing (and especially the related notion of framing) prominently figured into the analyses of family discourse I undertook at Georgetown; these eventually led to my book, Making Meanings, Creating Family: Intertextuality and Framing in Family Interaction (OUP, 2009).

In including Goffman’s “Footing” in the courses I presently teach in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Syracuse University, I get nostalgic for the time when I was a nineteen-year-old just discovering discourse analysis. But even more enjoyable is witnessing how my students react to the essay, and how they use Goffman’s ideas in their own research pursuits.

  • What question you are currently trying to explore? How?

When I’m not exploring the question “How can I get tenure?” my research centers on investigating the following: “How are identities created and negotiated in discourse as people put learned information into practice?”

I am presently examining interactions in two (quite different) contexts to explore this question. I have been collaboratively analyzing email exchanges between experts and novices in the context of counselor education and training (with Melissa Luke, my colleague at Syracuse in the School of Education); we are interested in how professional identity socialization occurs through email supervision. I have also been investigating nutritionist-layperson interaction on a lifestyle makeover reality television show that focuses on issues of parenting (Honey We’re Killing the Kids). I am especially interested in the discursive juxtaposition of expert (nutritionist) and parental identities, and how the advice and information provided by the nutritionist is depicted as impacting family members’ social interactions. While I am currently focused on email and reality television discourse, my ultimate interests are in everyday face-to-face talk; I am thus in the planning stages of a new study that will investigate how family-based nutrition education affects family interactions and the identities family members discursively create.