Conversations are significant, but often overlooked cultural sites where attitudes, beliefs, and values about race are both reified and challenged. As such, these sites deserve increased scholarly attention (Allen, 2007). We employed Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory as a framework to examine the discursive strategies used by 11 interviewers in a research context as they asked 115 patient participants (taking part in a larger study of patients at a community-based family medicine residency clinic) to identify their race, as well as to identify the discursive strategies used by patient participants who answered this question. Our analysis revealed that in their attempt to temper potential face threats from patient participants when asking the “race question,” interviewers used a number of discursive strategies including clarifying the question, grounding the question, and disarming the participant. Our analysis also revealed that in answering the “race question,” patient participants used various levels of face-threatening strategies, including joking, derisive humor, and bald, on-record face threats. In our discussion, we use our own research experience as a springboard to emphasize the need for researchers to examine critically the often taken-for-granted research convention of including race as a demographic variable in their work.


Race Discourse, Race in Research, Politeness Theory, Interviews, Qualitative Research, Focus Groups

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