Power through Participation: A sociolinguistic approach to identifying leadership in executive education classroom discourse
Studies of power in professionals’ relationships are generally situated in the workplace (e.g. Holmes & Chiles, 2010; Schnurr & Chan, 2011). Inspired by this work, I extend the study of power to interactions between professionals enrolled in a graduate business school’s executive education leadership program (EELP). I employ interactional sociolinguistics’ (Gumperz, 1982) analytical tools to explore linguistic strategies used to enact power.First, I investigate students’ uptake of powerful and status-oriented positions (Bamberg, 1997) relative to professional colleagues, classmates, and the EELP when recounting past professional experiences during class discussions. I show that referencing past experiences in class discussions allows students to enact power by making the influential roles they hold in their workplaces visible to other students. Next, I report on dialogic voicing (Bakhtin, 1986; Tovares, 2010) as a strategy for creating power in an analysis of the texts students select as persuasive evidence. I introduce persuasion as a type of directive discourse used by leaders in professional contexts to enact power and control (Saito, 2010; Cialdini, 2013). My examination of the texts students draw on to persuade finds that students animate voices through constructed dialogue (Tannen, 2007), recount personal narratives, and reference authoritative figures as strategies to influence their classmates’ actions. Third, I draw on Goffman’s (1974) notion of frames to explore how knowledge about entrepreneurship is brought discursively into the classroom in question-and-answer sessions. My analysis of intra-turn organization of questions finds that an advice-giving frame emerges in Q&A sessions and creates asymmetries of knowledge between questioners and recipients. Giving advice alongside requests for information transforms questioning into an opportunity to enact power and status.My work contributes to an understanding of how power, as a relationship of control between professionals, can be created discursively. In broadening the contexts available for studying professionals’ discourse, I am able to explore the complexities of workplaces where the ability to act powerfully is relevant to professionals in leadership positions. My work supports management education’s perspective that business schools provide opportunities for developing identities for the workplace (Petrigleri & Petrigleri, 2015), and extends the tools of discourse analysis into this community.
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