LE in practice: managing 'face' in custody

Police officers interviewing suspects in custody must deliver information about the right to silence by reciting and, if necessary, explaining an official wording, the police caution (Pace Codes of Practice, Code C, Note 10d, 2013). The caution must be delivered irrespective of whether the suspect claims to know its content. One might expect that a wording so common and obligatory might be delivered with little personal attention. However, in this section I show that pragmatic concerns, in this instance around face, figure prominently and demonstrate the value of linguistic and ethnographic insights on this, following Copland (2011).

The concept of face, or the 'positive social value' that we claim for ourselves through our 'line' in interactions, was introduced by Goffman who advanced a 'rule of self-respect' indicating speakers' attempts to develop their social value and a 'rule of considerateness' indicating that they do the same for others (1955: 323). Brown and Levinson added two dimensions to this valuing or 'attention to face': positive face (desires to be liked and approved of) and negative face (desires to be unimpeded) (1987: 13). In the intervening years, face has received extensive attention (for example Haugh and Bargiela- Chiappini 2010). Some recent discussions explore the place of an emic, insider perspective (for example Arundale 2013), which is considered below.

My data collection around the police caution illustrates my shift towards the ethnographic. I began the research by seeking naturally- occurring talk - examples of police officers delivering and explaining the caution in investigative police interviews. I gradually moved towards the emic by conducting research interviews with officers and suspects about their experiences of cautioning and detention. Ultimately I undertook various forms of observation and shadowing in custody, producing fieldnotes and photographic records. The discussion below reproduces this layering.

I begin with naturally-occurring data from police interviews. Excerpt 1 shows the official wording of the police caution and its typical delivery. All names are pseudonyms:

Excerpt 1: The police caution

  • 1 Phil you do not have to say anything (.) but it may harm
  • 2 your defence if you do not mention (.) when
  • 3 questioned (.) something which you later rely on in
  • 4 court anything you do say may be given in evidence
  • 5 do you fully understand that caution?
  • 6 Steve I do yes

The caution (lines 1-4) is followed by a question, about the suspect's self-assessed comprehension (line 5), and an affirmation (line 6). Despite the claim of the suspect (Steve) to understand, the officer (Phil) immediately goes on:

  • 7 Phil I'm gonna ask you some questions (.) it's up to you
  • 8 whether you answer some or all of them the ones
  • 9 that you do answer are recorded ...

This turn (lines 7-9) might be somewhat perplexing to Steve who, having just stated that he understands the wording, is treated to an explanation anyway. The explanation is not preceded by any orientation to its presence, rather the officer just begins. Without this introduction, Steve may not realise that the officer is reiterating the caution. If he does realise, he might feel somewhat offended because Phil has failed to address Steve's face needs, suggesting, by explaining, that Steve does not understand or cannot assess his own understanding (threatening positive face) and impinging on him with explanation (threatening negative face).

Even if officers do orient their addressees to an impending explanation, they may still ignore face, like the officer cited below also speaking after a suspect has claimed understanding:

I'll just explain it to you anyway (.) it mean- the first bit means that if you don't want to say anything you don't have to ...

Here, the suspect's claim to understand is greeted with the non sequitur 'I'll just explain it to you anyway' which simultaneously dismisses and distrusts his claim. To use Brown and Levinson's terminology, these are bald-on-record explanations (1987: 94), ignoring, or perhaps playing on, the suspect's face needs.

These two officers could have framed their explanations differently, as Paul, a different officer shows in an equivalent turn:

Excerpt 2: I don't want to insult your intelligence

  • 1 Paul I'll just give you a brief explanation of that caution (.)
  • 2 I don't want to insult your intelligence
  • 3 but it keeps uh (.) lawyers fully employed sorting out
  • 4 uh words like that (.) okay (.)
  • 5 so I'll tell you what I understand by it (.)
  • 6 'cos it is important (.) that you do understand it

Paul spends considerable time introducing his upcoming explanation of the caution by mitigating face-threat (lines 2-6) (Goldsmith and MacGeorge 2000: 235). He begins by acknowledging the potential of explanations to offend (line 2) and implying that the suspect is intelligent enough to need no explanation, attending to positive face. Nonetheless Paul is clearly intent on explaining and throughout lines 3-6 he pursues two mitigating themes. First, that the wording is complex, even to trained specialists ('it keeps lawyers fully employed sorting out ... that') and thus misunderstanding does not index stupidity. This complimentary talk minimises threat to positive face. Secondly, that the wording 'is important' which justifies any potential imposition or negative face- threat (after Brown and Levinson, 1987: 66). He also hedges around the likely quality of his own explanation casting it as being merely 'what I understand' (line 5) rather than definitive. This subtly addresses positive face by uniting him and the suspect in potential incomprehension. Compared to the first two officers, his mitigation is exhaustive.

Officers present diverse grounds for mitigation when cautioning (Rock 2007: 210-214). One factor employed repeatedly is the suspect's level of familiarity with detention. Suspects who are new to detention, in particular, are told that they will hear an explanation 'because you've never been ... interviewed ... before' or because 'it's the first time that you've been brought into custody'. Naturally-occurring data can tell us that mitigation happens and can indicate how and when. Yet without ethnographic data, we cannot get much further. Paul might just be a very nice chap who wants to avoid offending someone already in a difficult situation. On the other hand, legal commentators attribute such mitigation to sham concern underpinned by a desire to downplay the importance of rights information and thus of invoking rights (for example Leo 1998: 216). An LE approach enables us to go beyond simply noting attention to face, or hypothesising about its causes, by using more data in richer ways.

For Malinowski, an ethnographic stance permits examination not merely of 'how human life submits to rules' but also how 'rules become adapted to life' (Malinowski 1926: 127). In analysing legal settings, a tight focus on language can make rules appear overly influential. Ethnography permits a view of life's fit around law's rules. In cautioning, the 'rule' is that the caution must be stated and delivered. Life submits to rules in that officers caution and explain. However, rules become adapted to life when officers add things which are not provided for in the rules, in the case of the officers just discussed, attending to face through mitigation.

Copland (2011, and this collection) has shown how LE enriched her examination of face. She interviewed the very speakers who had engaged in potentially face-threatening interactions soon after those interactions. This approach was not possible for me. I had collected naturally-occurring talk from 800 authentic police interviews but did not have access to follow-up with any of those speakers, a restriction of the legal setting. However, as cautioning is standardised, I saw value in combining the naturally-occurring data from police interviews with research interviews with different officers, not featured in the naturally- occurring material. This meant that making connections between the data from police interviews and research interviews was not something to accomplish during research interviews (cf. Copland 2011: 3840) but rather when analysing the two sets of data - it became an analytic rather than data-collection activity. The disconnection of the naturally- occurring and elicited interviews turned out to be methodologically useful. It allowed officers to give their perspectives on their language use, rather than only their responses to specific data that I had selected and allowed me to recognise links between matters which I identified as important in naturally-occurring data and matters which officers flagged, independently, in research interview data. One of these was face, as I now show by illustrating how research interviews provide perspective on naturally-occurring data.

In research interviews, officers claimed that they found explaining the caution interpersonally problematic. This is important because it suggests that what looks like attention to face by officers during police interviews like those cited above. Police officers in research interviews appeared aware of the potential for face-threat. For example, Tom noted "I'll explain it to suspects but without trying to be patronising'.

Maggie, another officer, asserted 'I think [explanation] just humanises it a little bit more'. We cannot know whether these officers are sincere; genuinely intending to reassure without demeaning suspects or whether they are merely performing thoughtfulness as an in-interview identity. However, this is not what ethnographic research seeks to discover. Rather these speakers' words show that police officers at least recognise the potential for the interpersonal in moments of total regulation.

Excerpt 3 is from a research interview in which an officer, Pat, describes making decisions about explaining the caution. He presents explaining as a potential threat to positive face in that it might imply negative evaluation of one's interlocutor:

Excerpt 3: Almost on first name terms

  • 1 Pat the next question after [cautioning] is 'do you
  • 2 understand' now if he's a regular and you're
  • 3 almost on first name terms sort of thing I find it
  • 4 sufficient to say 'do you understand' because if
  • 5 he says 'yes' and if I then decide to describe the
  • 6 caution to him I'm insulting his intelligence
  • 7 because I've done it before

The notions of 'insulting' suspects' 'intelligence' (line 6) and attending to suspects familiarity with detention (line 2) both feature here as they did in the naturally-occurring data presented above. Pat suggests that these factors influence his decisions about whether to explain and how explanation impacts on face. Thus, in the naturally-occurring data, we saw officers selecting between various forms of mitigation and bald- on-record strategies and in the research interview data, we see officers exploring those selections. Even these few, short interview fragments show connections between forms of data, providing questions to pursue across data sets.

Some officers embrace opportunities to engage with suspects through cautioning, such as one who told me that explaining in her own words was to her 'not something that the job allows me to do (.) I choose to do it' (Caroline). For others, stating and explaining the caution was a miserable experience, like Nathan who told me that he did not understand the caution because 'nobody's ever said to me this is actually what it means it's been left to me sort of thing' (Nathan) and therefore rarely explained it. He interpreted procedure in the context of his potential loss of positive face through explaining poorly. Through such comments in research interviews, we come to see cautioning as not merely a bit of procedure, but something that officers take positions on and take into their practice, internalising or rejecting, doing or avoiding, with face as part of their considerations.

The naturally-occurring data and research interviews were augmented through six months of observation in one police custody unit and 20 'go-alongs' (Kusenbach 2003) with police officers to arrests and interviews. These generated fieldnotes, photographs and unexpected insights. For example, one officer revealed that he kept copies of past versions of the caution in his locker like a stamp-collector (cf. Cameron and Kulick 2003: 102). These data enhanced my understanding of cautioning as socially situated practice. Figure 8.1, showing the suspect's seat in one police interview room, illustrates how the artefactual impacts on face.

The arrangement in Figure 8.1 was typical of interview rooms when I conducted fieldwork. Ostensibly the coloured carpet was provided to indicate the correct placement of the suspect's chair for visibility on video. Video-recorded interviewing was not compulsory at the time yet the chair was always positioned this way. Suspects were put 'on the

On the spot spot', as one suspect put it

Figure 8.1 On the spot spot', as one suspect put it (Fieldnote 10). This positioning creates a spatial form of negative face-threat, imposing on the suspect by separating her visually from others in interview, including any of 'her' personnel such as a solicitor, and pinpointing her for attention. Some suspects would apparently note this negative face-threat and seek redress by edging out of the square, a minor act of defiance, which attracted comment during my research. Through combining forms of data, we begin to see cautioning contributing to multimodal institutional control of talk and movements. We also see attention to face involving not only talk but also artefacts and space.

In examining custody, I accessed rich data in wide-ranging formats which worked collectively to burst the bonds of linguistics, as I have briefly exemplified in relation to face. Following the custody research my work moved onto different aspects of police procedure and to data that might be considered less rich; so much so that I began to wonder whether LE was still part of my work. In the next section of this chapter, I present some of this material. I examine how, even if data is less diverse, an LE 'perspective' (as described by Blommaert 2009: 261) can still figure. He explains that this 'perspective' comes from adopting LE's theoretical direction by (i) recognising language as 'deeply and inextricably' situated in social life and (ii) taking an LE stance towards what we can know about language (ontology) and how we can find it out (epistemology) (2009: 263). My approach, when facing data access restrictions, common in legal settings, has not been to disregard LE but to consider these two aspects. In the example below, I describe how a concept which is central to LE, crosstalk, provides insight despite the dearth of data, bursting bonds in a different sense.

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