Fitting positioning theory into SFL

Reading: van Langenhove & Harré (1999). “Introducing positioning theory.”

I’ve been thinking about positioning theory lately in the context of an analysis I’m doing of casual conversation. Van Langenhove and Harré define it this way: in a social interaction, there are discrete speech acts taking place (e.g., asking a question to test your knowledge), which are meant to fit within an overarching storyline of that interaction or that relationship (e.g., math class). To fit the speech acts within the storyline, people put themselves and others into positions (e.g., teacher / student). Within an institutional context, storylines and positions tend to be pretty clear, but in casual conversation it all gets a bit murkier.

The idea hit me as I was riding my bike to class this evening: since positioning theory includes speech acts within its framework, positioning isn’t operating on the level of language functions — it’s operating on a meta level. So can we map these three elements of Harré’s triad onto Halliday’s three metafunctions?

Storyline is textual; that’s pretty clear. It’s an organizing metafunction that provides context for everything else.

Positioning seems quintessentially interpersonal. As I wrote in my notes once, positioning is Newtonian: every positioning of someone else causes an equal and opposite reaction in which I myself am positioned. If I act as a teacher, it positions you as a student, and vice versa.

So can we say that speech acts are in some sense ideational?

Updated 11/25, 4:48 PM: On further consideration, this is pretty much BS, but it was an interesting thought experiment.

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Posted in SFL

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