stance (communication process)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

stance in the communication process
According to Joan Mulholland and Chris Turnock, "Passive body language would be the classic 'victim' stance of hunched shoulders and avoidance of eye contact, while an aggressive stance is one with clenched fists, glaring eyes and intrusive body language" ( Learning in the Workplace, 2013). (H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images)


In the communication process, stance refers to verbal and nonverbal ways in which speakers position themselves in relation to their listeners and to the information they're providing. The person conveying a stance is called a stancetaker.

"More recently," says Elise Kärkkäinen, "stance styles and stance have begun to be regarded, not as static phenomena residing within individual speakers, but responsive to interactional requirements and social contexts within which speakers and recipients interact.

Thus, the focus has moved from the individual speaker towards a more dialogic approach, and towards the social construction of meaning" (Epistemic Stance in English Conversation, 2003).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


Examples and Observations

  • "Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer."
    (Winston Churchill in his first wartime address, September 4, 1914)

  • "I think when you spread the wealth around it's good for everybody."
    (Barack Obama, 2008)

  • "I paused. "You'd better not get too pushy with that wasp. One of us is going to get stung.'

    "'I have that disease where you don't feel any pain.'

    "I stared at him. 'No, you don't.'

    "'You're right, I don't,' he laughed.

    "What is this guy's problem? I wondered, blinking with irritation. I was starting to feel a little warm too. The morning run probably wasn't going to happen.

    “'Sorry,' he said. 'Sometimes I say things that are supposed to be funny, but no one can tell that I'm joking.'

    "'Keep trying,' I said. 'But only with the people who know you well.'"
    (Christine Sneed, Little Known Facts. Bloomsbury, 2013)

  • "'I went to a shooting range once,' Terman said. 'It was a place for members only but Max knew the people in charge and so got us access. They had silhouettes of people and if you hit one in a vital part it would keel over.'

    "Tom laughed nervously. 'Did you get off on it, Dad?'

    "'It was like eating forbidden fruit, had that fascination. Still, we were only playing.'

    "'You were doing research, right?'

    "'Are you being ironic with me?'

    "'If I am, it wasn't intentional,' said the disingenuous shadow. 'Do you think I was being ironic, Dad?'

    "The smarmy sincerity was more offensive to him than the irony, though he choked back his disapproval.

    "'I'm really sorry if it sounded that way,' Tom said. 'Forget it, okay?'

    "'Perhaps I'm being over-sensitive or projecting my own view of myself on to you.'

    "'Let it go,' Tom whispered."
    (Jonathan Baumbach, My Father More or Less, 1982)

  • Resources for Stancetaking
    "At a very basic level, stance can be seen as a form of contextualization, because stancetaking indicates how the speaker's position with respect to a particular utterance or bit of text is to be interpreted; contextualization cues are thus basic, culturally specific tools or resources for stancetaking. . . .

    "[F]ocusing on ethos allows us to see that stance-taking has to do with indexing one's orientation to the propositional content of discourse, to one's interactional partners, or to conventional social identity categories, but also with indexing one's orientation to the nature of individual identity and its enactment in language. . . .

    "Stance is generally understood to have to do with the methods, linguistic and other, by which interactants create and signal relationships with the propositions they utter and with the people they interact with."
    (Alexandra Jaffe, Stance: Sociolinguistic Perspectives. Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • A Dialogic Approach to Stance: Listening
    "[A critical compassionate listening stance] is characterized by a focus and emphasis on dialogue and dialogic communication. . . . Performance scholar Dwight Conquergood (1985) argues that dialogic performance is 'one path to genuine understanding of others' (p. 9). Critical compassionate listening is a stance or way of relating to others that is informed by this commitment to working toward genuine understanding. Conquergood explains,
    This performance stance struggles to bring together different voices, world views, value systems, and beliefs so that they can have a conversation with one another. The aim of dialogical performance is to bring self and other together so that they can question, debate, and challenge one another.
    ["Performing as a Moral Act: Ethical Dimensions of the Ethnography of Performance," 1985]
    The concept of dialogic performance is important for developing a stance of critical compassionate listening because these are both approaches to creating and maintaining relationships across differences in communication."
    (John T. Warren and Deanna L. Fassett, Communication: A Critical/Cultural Introduction, 2nd ed. Sage, 2015) 

  • Accommodation in Intergroup Contexts
    "Accommodative stance is expressed in accommodative strategies employed by speakers. These include approximation--changing communication to be more like the other person or emphasizing one's own group markers; interpretability--communicative behaviors intended to make the encounter easier or harder for the other person to participate in; discourse management--whether each person communicates to share the conversation; interpersonal control--whether each person treats the other as an individual of equal status; and relational expression--intended to maintain or threaten the relationship or another's status and face. Overall, stance is aimed toward a more or less intergroup interaction."
    (Cindy Gallois, "Intergroup Accommodative Processes." The Concise Encyclopedia of Communication, ed. by Wolfgang Donsbach. Wiley, 2015) 
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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "stance (communication process)." ThoughtCo, Dec. 10, 2015, Nordquist, Richard. (2015, December 10). stance (communication process). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "stance (communication process)." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 24, 2017).