This chapter explores what the work of John Gumperz can contribute to our understanding of power relations in the twenty-first century. It does so by emphasising the critical dimension of his work (Rampton 2001; Blommaert 2005) and by considering its relevance to Foucault's notion of ‘governmentality’. As a concept developed in his later work, governmentality has not featured very prominently in explicit appropriations of Foucault in linguistics, but it cries out for interactional sociolinguistic analysis and has been at the centre of discussion among social theorists about the changing character of contemporary power.
To pursue this agenda – consistent with the larger programme sketched by Arnaut (2012) – I shall begin by reviewing the rather different ways in which U.S. linguistic anthropology and (mainly) European critical discourse studies relate to Foucault's thought Section 1). I shall then move into a more detailed consideration of how John Gumperz's work resembles some of the later Foucault's, not just in its discourse constructionism and its attention to discursive technologies of power, but also in its attention to an ‘antagonism of strategies’ and its understated practice-focused politics Section 2). After that, I summarise the shifts in governmentality identified by Fraser, Deleuze, Rose, and others, dwelling in particular on the new forms and functions of digital surveillance (Section 4); in Section 5, I return to Gumperz and interactional sociolinguistics, arguing that their tracking of real-time attention and inferencing, their recognition of discrepant but hidden communicative preferences, and their critique of the legibility of populations all remain highly relevant, although to cope properly with the new digital environments, interactional sociolinguistics will need to be updated with some quite challenging new types of analysis. But even without these, the Gumperzian framework can make an important contribution to understanding subjective experiences of digital surveillance, and the chapter concludes with a sketch of what the empirical sociolinguistic study of contemporary governmentalities might look like.
Foucault in studies of language in society
Foucault's work spans (a) the human sciences, (b) institutions and their ‘dividing practices’, and (c) the formation of subjectivity, with the ‘subject’ understood in two ways: as “subject to someone else by control and dependence” and as “tied to his [or her] own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge” (Foucault 1982: 208, 212; 2003: 55).