This paper explores the interface between interactional conduct and sociopolitical change, and makes the case for social action design as an underutilized and unobtrusive index of change. This approach is exemplified through the case of same-sex marriage, whose social standing shifted from marginality to mainstream acceptance within a relatively short period. Using journalistic interview data and in particular question-response sequences addressed to U.S. politicians regarding their position on same-sex marriage (e.g., Do you support legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide?), the paper charts measurable shifts in the manner in which positioning questions were broached and pursued by journalists across more than two decades, and considers how such behavioral shifts both reflect and contribute to the mainstreaming of marriage equality in the U.S. Political positioning questions and their sequelae thus provide a novel window into perceptions of the evolving sociocultural landscape on controversial issues of public importance.
Steven E. Clayman is Professor of Sociology at UCLA. His research addresses the structures and practices of human interaction, and their interface with social institutions. He has written extensively on news conferences and journalistic interviews, using question design and response as a window into journalistic norms, press-state relations, and the sociopolitical landscape. He is the co-author (with John Heritage) of Talk in Action: Interactions, Identities, and Institutions (Wiley-Blackwell), and The News Interview: Journalists and Public Figures On the Air (Cambridge).
Sponsored by the IHC’s Language, Interaction and Social Organization (LISO) Research Focus Group