There are times when I keep saying to myself “This is me!” when reading some articles. This is especially true when I was in the counseling theory class, one focus of which was dysfunctional interpersonal patterns. At that juncture, I suspected that the authors possessed some sort of magical power to heck into my life and observed my interaction with other people. For the reading this week, I was struck by this sense of deja vu–the six ways of “treating data” pointed out by Antaki and colleagues (2003) were clearly a recap of what I have been doing with the transcript of Miller and Mike’s counseling session. Because this is the last blog post for the class, I decided to dig a bit deeper into the data and see if I can go beyond the six shortcomings and actually produce some meaningful results.
I would like to talk more about the management of face, broadening its scope to include labeling in counseling. More specifically, I argue that our client, Mike, oriented to face when labeling becomes salient in the conversation. Given the negative connotations of the labels “alcoholic” or “addict,” the strategies that Mike employed to manage label and construct a favorable identity in line with the dominant cultural discourse on an ideal person were foregrounded. Central to this analysis are: (1) labels created reality to which Mike responded emotionally and (2) Mike eschewed a socially prescribed deviant identity through positioning himself as a rational and autonomous person. In other words, in spite of his alcohol and cigarette use, Mike portrayed himself as an individualistic person in control of his behavior, which differentiates himself from other people struggling with the same problem.
My first argument is that labeling (or the anticipation of being labeled) creates a reality that triggers people’s emotional responses. The management of face is important, as I discussed in the previous post about how the management of face was interactionally achieved by Miller (the counselor) and Mike to build rapport. However, the construct of face is not enough. Saving face is the flip side of stigma, and stigma is inherently tied to negative meanings bestowed on various labels in a society or culture. These undesirable labels are usually inconsistent with discourses on normality. For example, in the United States nowadays, the label of mental illness is often linked to weakness that stands in contrast to the dominant discourse of being a self-reliant individual. Therefore, labels carry with them the cultural meanings, which the targets maneuver to accept or reject depending on the valence. Mike was oriented to what it meant to be an “alcoholic,” as evidenced by his emotional reactions. Take a look at the following excerpt.
- MIKE: Well, I always heard in AA too, is the dumbest things I ever heard. Some of the
- comments I heard that were just god awful stupid. And these people were just complete
- idiots. We alcoholics don’t like to be told what to do. I’m thinking wait. We alcoholics.
- What are you some special breed of people ‘ No one likes to be told what to do. You
- know what, I really got tired of that kind of like we’re special because we have this
- disease or come feel sorry for us because we have a disease. And quite frankly, the
- more I read about alcoholism, no one knows what the hell it is. So I’m not going to say I
- am cause until there is a definitive area that we can agree on, you know, I could say
- alcohol dependent. Now that makes sense. It’s a bit more clinical
- MILLER: That you can understand.
- MIKE: Yeah, That’s understandable, but that’s one of the things I didn’t like
- about AA is they wore it like a badge. It’s nothing to be proud of, but it’s nothing to
- be ashamed of. But you certainly don’t do some reverse pride on it, and you know,
- we’re special because we’re this. We’re different. I didn’t see any difference between
- those people and normal people.
In this Excerpt, Mike’s anger was arguably driven by shame associated with the label of alcoholic. Mike discredited the comments he heard in AA as “stupid” and counselors in AA as “idiots.” He went on to establish his nomality by evoking what he perceived as a general truth: “No one likes to be told what to do.” In addition, Mike pushed back against shame explicitly in Line 6 where he linked shame to alcoholism and subsequently negotiated the meaning of alcoholism. He accepted the label of “alcohol dependent” because it makes more sense to him and is more “clinical.” Notice that this label was accepted as a result of his understanding of it and the label being “clinical.” By constructing “alcohol dependent” as clinical and a product of rationality, the feeling of shame was diffused. As a result, Mike worked up his claim of being the same as “normal people.”
- MIKE: Well, who do you think it works for? Apparently highly religious people who
- believe in higher powers and miracles and some deity is going to come down and save
- them anytime they have problems. I’m not that type of person.
In Excerpt 2, Mike distanced himself from other people with alcohol use problem, such that he could escape the identity of alcoholic and the negative attributes attached. Mike built up his uniqueness by labeling other people in AA as “highly religious” who rely on higher powers to help them. Other members in AA were positioned as weak, but Mike is “not that type of person.” This suggested that Mike oriented to the dominant discourse of a normal individual who is strong and self-reliant.
I am still struggling with articulating my thoughts, so I am not sure whether or not I escape the six shortcomings proposed by Antaki et al. (2003).
Thank you for reading my blog post #1 to #10 and all the inspiring feedback!
Antaki, C., Billig, M., Edwards, D., & Potter, J. (2003). Discourse analysis means doing analysis: A critique of six analytic shortcomings. Discourse Analysis Online, 1. Retrieved from http://www.shu.ac.uk/daol/previous/v1/n1/index.htm