Citing Marx’s socioeconomic base/social superstructure metaphor, Norman Markel proposes that “conversation style” is a social superstructure that reproduces and reinforces a socioeconomic base. Specifically, a conversation style that is High Hierarchy and Low Solidarity mirrors the capitalist socioeconomic base and contributes to an unconscious acceptance of the idea that autocratic and alienated interpersonal relationships are human nature.
This book describes the research establishing Address, Self-disclosure, Seating, Eye-Contact and Touch as the most significant behaviors communicating Hierarchy and Solidarity. The author suggests that being conscious of the meaning of these five behaviors, we are free to choose an alternate conversation style - Low Hierarchy and High Solidarity - that provides a foundation for democratic and compassionate interpersonal relationships.
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By Carl Davidson
Oct 10, 2013
Norman Markel’s ‘The Politics of Conversation’ Reviewed By Milton Tambor In “The Politics of Conversation” Norm Markel identifies aspects of conversational style- address, self disclosure, seating, eye contact and touch-that can either promote solidarity or hierarchy in interpersonal relationships. Social status differences, for Markel, can be reinforced (hierarchy) or broken down (solidarity) by how we address each other, what we reveal about ourselves, where we sit, how we make eye contact and who we touch. His in depth description and examination uncovers the social functions of speech and body language in everyday conversation. Markel provides a theoretical framework for his analysis by employing Marx's conception of society as anchored in an economic base and a social superstructure. It is the learned social behavior in the superstructure- speech, roles and interpersonal relationships-that reproduce and reinforce the relations of production in the economic base. Since these... More > conversational modes impact upon individual, group and organizational behavior, Markel's book will be useful to students across a wide range of disciplines. In fact, he approaches conversational analysis by drawing on research from the fields of linguistics, anthropology, sociology, psychology and communication. Social workers, counselors, psychologists and community organizers could all find the application of these basic human interaction principles beneficial in their ongoing work with individuals and groups. Seating provides the clearest example-easily recognized by anyone who has sat in a classroom or meeting hall. Sitting in a circle, rather than in rows, creates an informal and friendly tone. Eye contact can be made with all members in the circle and no one seat is associated with higher status. Other examples come easily to this reviewer's mind. Markel's analysis offers useful hints for building solidarity ties with individuals, groups and organizations. His conversational frame can also be applied to challenging formal structures with hierarchical forms of status and control. Labor management negotiations are a case in point. For the union facing a formal hierarchical management style, presenting a strong united front serves to strengthen its position in bargaining. By putting readily observed conversational styles under the microscope, Markel has made an important contribution to the study of human interaction.< Less
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