[ARTICLE] Communicating uncertainly and communicating uncertainty

@ Subjectivity.

Pre-proofread version available here on this blog.

This piece was… entertaining to write, in some inchoate sense. The theoretical points developed essentially from the interview experience, went entirely off track from the initial ‘research questions’, and then fed back in reverse motion into my long-lasting reservations about the discrete and indeed computational ways in which we tend to consider discourse and communicative processes. The entire article is driven by questions a precocious (and infuriating) four-year-old might ask: what do we mean when we say “you know what I mean?” How do I know if I know what you mean – and if I don’t, how do I still live with you? Or, more soberly: what are the micro-level, phenomenological, rhythmic, bodily ways in which we produce this feeling that we know, feeling that we are communicating? 

I have not been able to properly acknowledge everybody that was critical to the completion of this piece. In addition to those named in the article, I must thank – several times – Stephen Epstein, at Victoria University of Wellington for providing me with invaluable contacts to get the interview research started. Hyun-joon Shin, at Institute for East Asian Studies, Sungkonghoe University, was a far too generous host during my time in Korea, and has left me a unique collection of Korean popular music for the years. I must also thank So-hyun Park and Yeon-ok Ko at the same Institute; Dong-yeon Lee, at the Korean National University; Jung-min Hong, at Topyung High School; Kelly Walsh, at Underwood International College, Yonsei University; William Roszell and Jin Suh Jirn, at Sogang University; Alina Barthuly, and others besides.


We communicate uncertainly, and we communicate uncertainty. This essay argues the ambiguous and indeterminate aspects of everyday talk to be crucial to our felt sense of communication. To make this claim, I bring together an affect- and phenomenology-influenced orientation with close analysis of conversational discourse. Hence, this essay also offers one way in which affect theory can be entangled with language and discourse. Analysis of conversational episodes from fieldwork with teenage music listeners yields three key processes: (i) Patronage describes the experiential ‘distance’ between the ‘I’ and my own utterance or gesture, reflecting the intersubjective and improvised nature of conversation. (ii) Zones of indistinction describe transient pockets of ambiguity, which provide a sense of safety as I navigate uncertain waters conversation. (iii) These affective and reactive journeys through everyday conversation constitute the work of position-taking, through which emerges my style of being in the world, my subjectivity.


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