Creating inequality: Breaking the rules in debates

Carole Edelsky, Karen Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


As both unabashed contests for power and forums for political candidates who, presumably, already have relatively substantial societal power, political debates offer a site for investigating the creation of more powerful language use for some, less powerful for others. Since the canonical debate form promises an equal distribution of turns and topic control to all debators through prespecification of practically everything that might vary in conversation (Sacks, Schegloff & Jefferson, 1974), the instances within actual debate which violate rules for prespecification are prime sites for revealing gender issues. The out of order and oddly functioning talk in six televised political debates was analysed, holding the promise of fairness of canonical debates as a yardstick. Un-rule-y talk violated rules for who was to speak (uninvited and out of turn order UNs) and what was to be happening (unexpected and oddly functioning MOVEs). UNs and MOVEs were categorised, sorted, and analysed as to where they occurred, who did them, what special features they had, and what consequences they had for subsequent topics, turns, and event structuring. The analysis has implications for the study of gender and language as well as the study and conduct of political debates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-190
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Language and Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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