Pre-imposition vs. in situ Negotiation of Group and Individual Identities: Spanish and English in US Service Encounters

Laura Callahan


This paper examines the supposed opposition between essentialist or positivist approaches to identity—which categorize group and individual members by a priori properties of sex, race, ethnicity, and native speakerhood—and constructionism, which views such properties as relational and negotiable. Even when categories such as sex, race, ethnicity, and native speakerhood are considered to have been imposed a priori, there nonetheless persists a general recognition that these are at least to some extent social constructs—if not the categories themselves, the ideas we have about them. Using data from previous empirical work in Spanish and English code-choice in US service encounters, this paper argues that 1) the social constructs of ethnicity and native speakerhood can be either preimposed on a given interaction or formed in situ, that 2) that these two processes are not incompatible, and that 3) these practices perhaps even necessitate one another.


sociolinguistics; identity; essentialism; constructionism; service encounters; code-switching

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