Toward a Performative Understanding of Politeness

C. Kyle Rudick, Danielle Dick McGeough


In this article, we argue that critical communication scholars have largely overlooked the study of politeness as a constitutive component of identity, culture, and power. We offer a critical-performative framework for critical scholars interested in studying politeness as a political, discursive, and embodied act. To develop this agenda, we first outline Brown and Levinson’s postpositivist theory of politeness. We then review three challenges to their use of intentionality, Grice’s cooperative principle, and Goffman’s concept of face. These challenges are located in interactional, traditional critical, and discursive understandings of politeness (respectively). Next, we show how a performative understanding of politeness both encompasses the three challenges and offers a way to understand the role of politeness in identity formation. We conclude by suggesting that ethnographic methods, informed by performance ethnography, provide analytical tools consistent with a performative understanding of politeness.


politeness theory, performativity, critical studies, face, facework

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