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The Structure of Gossip: Opportunities and Constraints on Collective Expression among Adolescents

Donna Eder and Janet Lynne Enke
American Sociological Review
Vol. 56, No. 4 (Aug., 1991), pp. 494-508
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2096270
Page Count: 15
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The Structure of Gossip: Opportunities and Constraints on Collective Expression among Adolescents
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Abstract

Previous studies of gossip among adolescents have found a strong tendency toward consensus and negative evaluation in gossip episodes. However, few attempts have been made to examine the actual structure of this common speech activity. We recorded and analyzed 16 gossip episodes that occurred in adolescent conversations in a middle school setting. We used a combination of ETHNO and sociolinguistic analysis to examine the overall ordering of acts in the gossip episodes. Our findings reveal a gossip structure among adolescents that promotes the expression of negative evaluations--there are many opportunities to express support and limited opportunities to challenge a negative evaluation. We also find that gossip has a flexible structure but that the ordering of acts is critical. In particular, the first response to an initial evaluation strongly influenced subsequent responses. These findings highlight the importance of examining how evaluations develop in gossip and encourages a broader approach to the study of power in discourse which includes the power inherent in responses.

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