Flirtatious sequences in Indonesian : a conversation analytic and membership categorization analytic approach
Oktarini, Kadek Ratih Dwi
Date of Issue2017
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
This thesis reports on an investigation into the activity of ‘flirting’ as it unfolds in the course of an interaction. Flirting, defined in the OED as “behave[ing] as though sexually attracted to someone, but playfully rather than with serious intentions”, is a social activity that is highly intriguing in that it is readily discernible, at least to members of the same community, and yet not easy to pin down. In spite of its obvious interest (at least to students of human interaction), relatively little research has been done on the phenomenon. This thesis offers for the first time a close analysis of a collection of conversational sequences in which the co-participants may be seen to be flirting. The data on which the investigation is based is in the form of a set of video recordings of naturally occurring interactions obtained from the island of Bali in Indonesia. Specifically, one particular two-party conversation about 50 minutes in length was focused upon for close, line-by-line analysis for the many flirting sequences that it contains. This study employs an Ethnomethodological approach. In particular, the methods of Conversation Analysis (CA) and Membership Categorization Analysis (MCA), both pioneered by Harvey Sacks, are used to carry out the investigation. This choice is strategically motivated. CA provides a platform to approach flirting from a sequential perspective, instead of single actions, or a simple action-reaction standpoint. MCA provides a means of explicating co-participants’ use of categories and categorization devices to construct veiled displays of sexual interest or attraction. In this thesis, an attempt is made to integrate CA and MCA in the service of unpacking the verbal and embodied resources that go into the making of turns that form the flirting sequences in the data. Our analysis of the data shows that flirting can be characterized as an affiliative joint activity which is achieved through a combination of overt displays of humour and playfulness and embedded displays of sexual interest or attraction. Displays of sexual interest or attraction are ‘embedded’ in the sense that flirting-relevant elements are usually ‘buried’ in actions which are otherwise ‘natural’ and ‘unremarkable’ in an ongoing sequence, e.g., as normal next to a prior. Turn by turn the participants reciprocate displays of sexual interest, while topicalising materials that have a distinct (non-sexual) orientation. An examination of the flirting sequences in the data reveals that flirting-relevant elements may be attended to and developed into flirting sequences in one of two main ways. The first is one in which one of the participants issues, what may be called, a ‘flirting invitation’. In the following turn, the interlocutor may respond in a variety of ways, from providing a clear uptake or a non-verbal appreciative token (e.g., a smile) to disattention or reprimand. When the two latter options occur, this may lead to a termination of the flirting. In the other method, an apparently innocuous element in a prior turn is ‘picked up’ and turned retrospectively into a flirting-relevant component which is then used to ‘grow’ a flirtatious sequence. When this happens, we may speak of sexual or romantic innuendo ‘creeping into’ an interaction, or flirtatiousness entered in stepwise manner in an interaction. Attending to membership categorization allows us to appreciate the many ways in which ‘gender’ is used as a category device in the data. A close analysis of the use of gender (as a categorization device) in the data reveals an interesting asymmetry between the two participants, in their perception and treatment of each other. While there is a preponderance of ‘gender’ in the male participant’s turns (where flirting is a relevant activity), the female participant hardly if at all uses ‘gender’ in her flirting. When she does assign categories to her male interlocutor, categorization devices other than gender will be used, e.g., occupation. The data shows that while flirting can be ‘fun’, it may on occasion also carry with it a dubious or unpleasant undertone, where the female participant is treated by her interlocutor in a potentially derogatory way.