Natalia Ganuza*, David Karlander and Linus Salö
A weave of symbolic violence: dominance
and complicity in sociolinguistic research
Abstract: This paper discusses symbolic violence in sociolinguistic research on
multilingualism. It revisits an archived recording of a group discussion between
four boys about their chances of having sex with a female researcher. The data is
rife with symbolic violence. Most obviously, the conversation enacted a hetero-
sexist form of symbolic violence. This was, however, not the only direction in
which violence was exerted. As argued by (Bourdieu & Wacquant. 1992. An
invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge: Polity), symbolic violence involves
two fundamental elements –domination and complicity. In the case at hand,
the boys’sexist banter conformed to dominant expectations about their linguis-
tic behavior, imbued in the research event. This is symbolic complicity of the
kind that the Bourdieusian notion foresees. Yet another subordination to the
dominant vision occurred when the researchers captured the conversation on
tape, but decided to exempt it from publication. Here, we argue that giving
deepened attention to sociolinguists’own run-ins with symbolic violence during
research is valuable, because it provides an opportunity to reflexively consider
the social conditions of the research practices, in relation to the data produced
and analyzed. Ultimately, this reflexive exercise may help sociolinguists sharpen
their tools for understanding the give and take of dominance and complicity
unfolding in their data.
Keywords: multilingualism, sociolinguistic methods, symbolic violence, non-
*Corresponding author: Natalia Ganuza, Department of Scandinavian Languages, Uppsala
University, Box 527, Uppsala 751 20, Sweden, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
David Karlander, Society of Fellows in the Humanities, School of English, University of Hong
Kong, Hong Kong, E-mail: email@example.com
Linus Salö, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH Royal Institute of
Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Multilingua 2020; 39(4): 451–473
Open Access. © 2020 Ganuza et al., published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.
In 2002, the first author of this article was a PhD candidate in the SUF project, a
large research project interested in Swedish linguistic variation in multilingual
neighborhoods. The SUF project (see detailed account below) intended to
“describe, analyze and compare language and language use”(Boyd 2010: 4).
Its design encompassed a range of methodological techniques to gather relevant
data from the language practices of certain recruited participants: adolescents
from ethnically and linguistically diverse areas in Sweden’s three largest cities.
A central concern was to “find out how people talk when they are not system-
atically observed”(Labov 1972: 209), with self-recordings and group-conversa-
tions being used to this end. During one of these sessions, which involved four
16 to 17 year-old male students at a Stockholm upper-secondary school, the
following recording was made:
ENGLISH TRANSLATION ORIGINAL
1. Karwan: Hey if we baxar [steal] her
number # and then we call her and
then maybe we can bazz [fuck] her.
Karwan: Asså de om vi baxar hennes
nummer # å sen vi ringer henne å sen vi
kanske kan bazz henne.
2. Ekmel: Who? Ekmel: Vem?
3. Karwan: This Maria Andersson. Karwan: Den hära Maria Andersson.
4. Ekmel: I don’t think she gives [%gives
sex] len [dude].
Ekmel: Jag tror inte hon ger len.
5. Mohammed: <[>] She gives she gives she
Mohammed: <[>] Hon ger hon ger hon ger.
6. Karwan: <[>] Yes, believe me that she +/. Karwan: <[>] Jo tro mej att hon +/.
7. Ekmel: She gives # she gave to you huh? Ekmel: Hon ger # hon gav till dej hah?
As can be noted in this excerpt, contextualized in detail in Section 4, the four
boys engaged in a discussion about their chances of having sex with “Maria
was printed on a label on the mp3 recorder placed on
the table in front of the boys, and they accordingly assumed that “Maria
1A key to the transcript is found at the end of the article.
2“Maria Andersson”is a pseudonym, as are all other names of individuals used in the article.
The actual name printed on the label of the mp3-recorder was a relatively common Swedish
name, and the name of one of the SUF research assistants.
452 Natalia Ganuza et al.
Andersson”was one of the SUF researchers present at their school. This was a
somewhat unexpected turn of events in the recording. Having gauged the sexist
character of the transcript, the researchers decided to withhold it from publica-
tion. As the SUF project was concerned mainly with linguistic features, for
example lexical register shibboleths (e. g. baxar,bazz; see Kotsinas 1994) or
lack of subject–verb inversion (e. g. XSV-order; å sen.X vi.SUBJ ringer.VERB
henne; see Ganuza 2008), less offensive examples were easy to find. This
decision was also reflective of the SUF project’s attempt to overcome the prev-
alence in earlier research (e. g. Kotsinas 1994) of stereotypical representations of
the “speech of multilinguals”(see Boyd 2010: 3). These are understandable
considerations that we do not seek to criticize. Yet, the unease that this tran-
scription caused among the SUF researchers is nevertheless worthy of analytical
attention. This is what we seek to provide in this article.
We maintain that Excerpt 1 points to a number of issues of general interest to
sociolinguistics. In the following, we argue that giving deepened attention to
research situations that cause unease in researchers is valuable for grasping
some central epistemological and sociological issues in sociolinguistic research.
When put to scrutiny, such situations, and the textual products they yield, may
offer an understanding of the ways in which representation, domination, and
subordination unfold in the relationship between researchers and the researched
in sociolinguistic research (see also Briggs 2003; Cameron et al. 1993; Jaspers and
Meeuwis 2013). We contend that through the practice of epistemic reflexivity
(Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, see also Salö 2018) the subtle modes of domination
that are at play in the research design and practice can become more readily
visible to the researcher. In this paper, we show how the data in Excerpt 1 can be
viewed as a responsive product of symbolic violence in Pierre Bourdieu’s sense –
that is, as an effect of the participants’compliance with and reaction to the order
of dominance presupposed by the SUF research design (see Bourdieu 1991,
Bourdieu 2007; Bourdieu and Passeron 1977; Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992).
2 The SUF project revisited
The project “Language and Language Use among Young People in Multilingual
Urban Settings”(the SUF project for short, see Boyd 2010)
, was a research
3The acronym SUF is based on the Swedish title of the project, “Språk och språbruk bland
ungdomar i flerspråkiga storstadsmiljöer”. The project was funded by the Swedish Foundation
for Humanities and Social Sciences 2001–2006 and led by Professor Inger Lindberg.
A weave of symbolic violence 453
initiative bringing together over a dozen Swedish researchers. It formed part of a
large-scale attempt to get a firmer grasp on the “new”urban varieties of Swedish
presumably spoken in socio-linguistically diverse, highly multilingual neighbor-
hoods in Sweden’s three largest cities: Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö. In
several regards, the SUF project aligned with a number of other, mainly
European, sociolinguistic studies of urban multilingualism (for an overview,
see, for example, Nortier and Svendsen 2015; Quist and Svendsen 2010). It
examined late-modern urban vernaculars, the interrelatedness of multilingual-
ism and linguistic variation, and the prevalence of such ways of speaking in the
linguistic practices of adolescents. In Sweden at the time, Rinkebysvenska
(“Rinkeby Swedish,”henceforth RS)
was a popular, but also increasingly con-
tested, way of labeling a purported non-standard register held to be emblematic
of youths from multilingual peripheral urban areas (e. g. Kotsinas 1988). In the
media, RS was often depicted and discussed as something “bad,”“deviant,”and
“un-Swedish,”and over time it also came to be increasingly linked to trans-
gression, criminal behavior, sexism, and the like (Bijvoet and Fraurud 2012;
Jonsson 2007; Milani 2010; Milani and Jonsson 2011, Milani and Jonsson 2012;
The research interests of the SUF project were paired with a firm interest in
empirical depth and detail. Seeking to create a comprehensive basis for primar-
ily linguistic analyses, the researchers produced more than 400 hours of audio
material. In total, 222 adolescents were recorded in a number of settings, such as
classroom activities, interviews, peer group conversations, and self-recordings.
Data also encompassed field notes, written assignments and various types of
language tests. With that design followed a range of methodological consider-
ations. For example, the reason why the participants in Excerpt 1 were left alone
with the recorder had to do with the underlying aim of avoiding the “observer’s
paradox”(Labov 1972). If the presence of researchers was minimized, or so the
reasoning went, the recorded material would come out as close as possible to
“natural discourse.”However, as argued in previous research (e. g. Jaspers and
Meeuwis 2013) and as evidenced in Excerpt 1, the physical non-presence of the
researchers did not always correlate with their discursive non-presence in the
recorded conversations. As will be shown throughout this paper, the students
relatively often reflected on the research situation and the researchers in ways
that also revealed their sense of themselves as research participants. Aided by
the recording equipment, which they fully controlled, they sometimes addressed
researchers semi-directly in the microphone. In Excerpt 1, indicatively, the
4Rinkeby is emblematically known as a densely populated “immigrant”urban area on the
outskirts of Stockholm.
454 Natalia Ganuza et al.
students spoke on the assumption that “Maria Andersson”would listen to their
conversation at a later stage. Furthermore, as will be illustrated below, such
moments often encompassed sequences of verbal performance (cf. Bauman
2004; Rampton 2006; Jaspers and Meeuwis 2013). These instances of perform-
ance, we hold, are rife with what Pierre Bourdieu denotes symbolic violence,to
which we now turn.
3 Unpacking symbolic violence
Sociolinguistic research, as Heller and McLaughlin (2017) note, has developed
a thorough understanding of prevalent relations of power and domination in
multilingual educational settings. In the current paper, we argue that the
Bourdieusian notion of symbolic violence offers a particularly strong vantage
point for developing a reflexive gaze on the workings of relations of power and
domination at the level of practice. The core theme in Bourdieu’sworkon
symbolic violence concerns the suffering of people who seemingly have come
to terms with their position as symbolically or materially dispossessed and, in
a sense, have accepted their fate as dominated (e. g. Bourdieu 2007).
Acceptance is thus viewed as a fundamental component of violent relations.
Violence, he reasoned, is not only exercised physically but also symbolically.
According to Bourdieu, symbolic violence is “theviolencewhichisexercised
upon a social agent with his or her complicity”(Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992:
167, emphasis added). Complicity thus forms an essential element of the
formula of symbolic violence. Present in virtually all social relations, though
often veiled, symbolic violence relies on the tacit acceptance of inequity, which
is perceived as natural and inescapable by both “the victims”and “the
Oftentimes, the exercise of symbolic violence is conceptualized in overtly
unidirectional terms, as “a kind of violence being perpetuated on those not
belonging to the dominant social groups”(Grenfell 2012: 267). While this general
conception indeed holds true in some contexts, for example, in a large-scale
overview of the educational system (e. g. Bourdieu and Passeron 1977), the
patterns and directions of symbolic violence are less clear at the level of
practice. This is so because a social agent can at once belong to both a dominant
and a dominated group; for instance, a person may occupy a dominated position
vis-à-vis one order (e. g. class or ethnicity) but a dominating position vis-à-vis
another (e. g. gender). As Cameron et al. (1993: 88) argue, sociolinguistics have
been prone to treat power as a reified object that can be possessed by individual
A weave of symbolic violence 455
agents. In relation to ethical and advocacy concerns, the researcher is typically
seen as the one in power and the research participants as those without power.
While this is often the case, it overlooks the fact that symbolic power is not
allocated to a fixed set of social positions, and power is essentially relational. In
a particular research situation, relations of domination may, thus, be continu-
ously imposed, reworked and negotiated in interaction between researchers and
the researched (Cameron et al. 1993: 87).
Accordingly, through the theoretical lens adopted in this article, symbolic
violence is seen as working in multiple, yet ordered, ways. By speaking of “a
weave”of symbolic violence we seek to draw attention to the back-and-forth
pattern of such ordering. A given act of domination might constitute a first act of
violence, but such an act might provoke retaliation, and be responded to by the
dominated, not through resistance but through acts of counter-violence; that is,
a new mode of domination can be triggered by the first one. The resulting weave
of symbolic violence appears seamless, but in fact consists of a sequentially
layered pattern of symbolically violent acts.
4 Revisiting omitted data: Inroads toward
grasping symbolic violence
4.1 Contextualizing the data
Below, we analyze a 24-minute audio recording of a peer group conversation
between four boys (Ekmel, Karwan, Metin and Mohammed, all pseudonyms).
Parts of the recording center around a discussion of the short-story Elixir (Leiva
Wenger 2001, see below), which the students had been assigned to read as
homework for a Swedish class. At the time of the class, three members of the
SUF research team were present in the school. The students discussed the text in
groups and were presented with a set of questions about the story, which they
were told could be used as a point of departure for their discussion. Hence, the
short story and the questions act as some key features in the framing (Goffman
1974) of the overall conversation. The SUF researchers set up the recording
equipment (mp3 players and microphones), but were not present during any
of the discussions.
A brief introduction to the story Elixir is needed. It is eight pages long and
was published in 2001 in an edition of Leiva Wenger’s collected short stories.
Upon publication, the short story collection was widely praised. Many literary
456 Natalia Ganuza et al.
critics lauded the author’s innovative language use, which some early reviews
described as a successful portrayal of “authentic suburban youth slang”(e. g.
Källström 2005; Smalley 2012). In a lightly magical realist fashion, it comments
on the marginalization of male immigrant youths. Its narrative centers on
a group of Latino friends who one day mysteriously receive a package in the
mail. The package contains a bottle of soda, an elixir, which supposedly turns
anyone who tastes it into a “real Swede.”Although the protagonists take pride
in being –as they say –svartskallar
,they are unable to resist trying the
contents of the bottle. After drinking it, they notice how they gradually morph
into a stereotypical “Swedish”appearance –their hair getting blonder, and their
eyes bluer. Their behavior also changes –they start acting like “typical Swedes.”
Suddenly, they are able to concentrate in school, barely remember any Spanish,
and even find themselves unable to jump the turnstiles at the metro station. In
the text, Leiva Wenger thus plays with two widely circulated stereotypes: the
badly behaved boy with a dark complexion and immigrant background who
underperforms at school, and the Nordic-looking, standard Swedish-speaking
The hyper-reflexive language of the story reinforces this dynamic. As
described elsewhere (e. g. Källström 2005), the story is replete with stylized
colloquial language, scarce punctuation, a mix of upper- and lower-case letters,
idiosyncratic spelling, and non-conventional loan words, as well as expressions
and constructions associated with urban vernacular Swedish and multilingual
speakers. The SUF research team was responsible for choosing the Elixir story
and presenting it to the teachers in the schools. The story was chosen as it was
deemed beneficial to the purpose of eliciting interesting discussions about youth
language. However, in retrospect, little thought was put into how this choice of
text might affect the participants’perception and understanding of the research
objectives. While the intent of the research design was to create minimal
interference, the choice of text seems to have revealed and accentuated the
researchers’interest in non-standard urban Swedish.
4.2 Complying with dominant representations of “Rinkeby
The participants’heightened awareness of the research objective is evident
throughout the recording. Already prior to the part of the recording presented
5Svartskalle (svartskallar in plural) is a racist term in Swedish pointing to non-Nordic bodily
features, literally referring to a “black head”or a “black head of hair”.
A weave of symbolic violence 457
in Excerpt 2, it was apparent that Ekmel suspected that he and his friends had
been typecast as a group able to perform being “speakers of RS.”While the other
boys tried to recapitulate the gist of the short story, Ekmel continuously inter-
jected a variety of expletives and slang words into their ongoing account, such
as “horunge”(son of a whore), “abou”(hey, wow), “bögjävel”(faggot, fag),
“gitta”(get out of here), “len”(dude, mate), “amcık”(little cunt; not included in
the excerpt). At one point, he exclaimed “I know cool language man, backward,
forward, consonants and vowels.”Through these interventions, Ekmel seemed
to perform compliance with the presumed expectation that he can produce non-
standard RS linguistic forms, and shared with the researchers a glimpse of a
social reality that agreed with this expectation (cf. Slembrouck 2004). This
performative meta-commentary continued throughout the recording.
A short while after his initial outbursts, Ekmel read the fifth question
presented to them on the question sheet, which asked: “Why do you think the
author has chosen to write the way he does?”(Excerpt 2, line 1).
ENGLISH TRANSLATION ORIGINAL
1. Ekmel: Why do you think the author has
chosen to write the way he does? He
wants to be a wannabe svartskalle that’s
Ekmel: Varför tror ni att författaren har
valt att skriva som han gör? Han vill bli
wannabe svartskalle därför, eller?
2. Metin: I don’t know. Metin: Jag vet inte.
3. Karwan: Yeah. Karwan: Ah.
4. Ekmel: He can’t even spell bre [man].
Can’t you see how he has spelled guz
[girl]? Guz with one Z. That doesn’t work.
It’s with two Z’s. Göt [ass] that’s not with
one T it’s with two T’s.
Ekmel: Han kan inte ens stava bre. Ser du
inte hur han har stavat guz? Guz med ett
zäta. Det går ju inte. De e ju med två zäta.
Göt det e inte med ett t de e med två t.
Having read the question aloud, Ekmel immediately claimed that the author wrote
the way he did to give the (false) impression of being an authentic svartskalle.
Ekmel motivated his claim by pointing out some misspelled slang words used in
the story (see line 4). Implicit in his account is that if the author had been a real
svartskalle, like them, he would have known how to spell these words correctly.
Hence, the author’s misspellings were taken as signs of his inauthenticity.
Notably, Ekmel motivated this by using a normative language ideology argument.
At this point in the recording, the boys started to discuss the actual meaning
of the word “elixir,”initiating a long sequence where Ekmel improvised an
458 Natalia Ganuza et al.
elaborate account of the origins of the word (not reproduced in the excerpt).
Speaking in what he labeled “philosophical terms,”he jokingly invoked the
image of an “Iranian installing an electrical appliance.”He repeatedly pro-
nounced the Swedish word for the electricity (“elen,”['e:len]) in a supposedly
Farsi fashion, producing a drawn-out final syllable with a raised, elongated and
nasalized vowel (i. e. [e:'lĩ:]). As the joke proceeded, the Iranian electrician
increasingly distorted the original word, lacing it with various other lexical
elements and flawed pronunciations, eventually morphing it into elixir (see
also Werndin 2010). The other boys were not amused by Ekmel’s long excursus,
after which Karwan volunteered an alternative explanation, with direct reference
to the content of the short story (reproduced in Excerpt 3, lines 1 and 3).
Nevertheless, Ekmel dismissed this explanation and concluded that he had
never heard the word “elixir”before, since “it doesn’t exist in Rinkeby
Swedish”(see line 8).
ENGLISH TRANSLATION ORIGINAL
1. Karwan: [%laughs] But # but honestly
wait, do you know where elixir comes
Karwan: [%laughs] Men # men ärligt
vänta, vet du var elixir kommer ifrån?
2. Ekmel: No. Ekmel: Näe.
3. Karwan: It’s that bottle that he got that
he drank # surely it’s that.
Karwan: Det e den där flaskan som han
fick som han drack # säkert det där.
4. Ekmel: That they drank? Ekmel: Som dom drack?
5. Karwan: That he, yeah. Karwan: Som han, ah
6. Ekmel: Ah but it said nothing about that. Ekmel: Ah men det stod ingenting om det.
7. Karwan: Well I don’t know, but let’s
make a guess.
Karwan: Men jag vet inte, men vi chansar
8. Ekmel: What does the word mean and
what is it? I have never heard about elixir.
It doesn’t exist in Rinkeby Swedish elixir.
Have you heard about elixir?
Ekmel: Va betyder ordet och vad är det?
Jag har aldrig hört talas om elixir. Det
finns inte med i rinkebysvenska elixir.
Har du hört talas om elixir?
9. Mohammed: No. Mohammed: Nej.
Both Excerpts 2 and 3 illustrate how the participants’representation of the
research objective clearly included an explicit focus on RS, despite this not
being mentioned by the SUF researchers, and how they anticipated a focus on
their ability to discuss, perform and identify with the non-standard form of
A weave of symbolic violence 459
Swedish. In effect, they also complied with these expectations through their
interactions. Furthermore, as exemplified in the next Excerpt (4), the boys
anticipated an evaluation of their language use in relation to standard
Swedish. In response to the question “What do you think about the story?”all
four participants agreed that it was “not good.”They agreed it should be
awarded a failing grade. However, when Metin suggested that the reason was
that the language was not good (see Excerpt 4, line 7), he was immediately
heckled by the other participants. They contested the legitimacy of Metin’s
attempt to criticize the quality of the language, on the grounds of where he
comes from. When Metin insisted that the author did not use “real Swedish”
(line 12), Ekmel countered that Metin was trying to act smart, or, in Karwan’s
words, that he was trying to pass as a “pure-speaking Swede”(line 14), despite
merely being a “chat Turk”(a derogatory label for immigrants quite commonly
used at the time, see line 15).
ENGLISH TRANSLATION ORIGINAL
1. Ekmel: What do you think of the story? Ekmel: Vad tycker du om berättelsen?
2. Karwan: Okey it wa:s it was keff [bad] it
Karwan: Okej den va: den va keff den va
3. Metin: It gets IG [%failing grade] honestly. Metin: Den får IG ärligt talat
4. Ekmel: <[>] IG right? Nailed, totally. Ekmel: <[>] IG va? Spikat, galet.
5. Mohammed: <[>] Yeah IG.Mohammed: <[>] Yeah IG.
6. Ekmel: IG yeah. Ekmel: IG a:h.
7. Metin: It’s not good language. Metin: De e inge bra språk.
8. Ekmel: <[>] Yeah butwhat do yousa+ where
do you come from len [dude] [%laughs]
Ekmel: <[>] Ah men va sna+ var kommer
ru ifrån len [%skrattar]
9. Metin: <[>] [%laughs] Metin: <[>] [%skrattar]
10. Ekmel: <[>] Where do you come from? Do
you live in Bla+ Bla+ what it’s called eh
Blackeberg [%name of neighborhood in
Ekmel: <[>] Var kommer ru ifrån? Bor ru
i Bla+ Bla+ va heter re öh Blackeberg [%
namn på område i Stockholm].
11. Karwan: <[>] But it’s not good language
[%laughs and ironically imitates Metin’s
Karwan: <[>] Men de e inge bra språk [%
skrattar och upprepar ironiskt Metins
12 Metin: <[>] He doesn’t use Swedish a real
Metin: <[>] Han använder inte svenska
en riktig svenska.
460 Natalia Ganuza et al.
13. Ekmel: Yeah but the bloke is acting chok
[really] smart, right?
Ekmel: Ah men snubben han leker chok
14. Karwan: He is a pure-speaking Swede. Karwan: Han e rentalande svensk.
15. Ekmel: He is a pure-speaking Swede #
Ekmel: Han e rentalande svensk # han e
It is not too far-fetched to interpret Metin’s comment about the language not
being correct or real Swedish as a demonstration to the researchers of his
mastery of acknowledged standard registers of Swedish, in opposition to the
presumed expectation of their being able to perform as speakers of RS. Hence,
all of the participants, albeit in different manners, responded to what they
perceived to be an implicit evaluation of their linguistic competence imbued in
the research event. At this stage in the conversation, however, Metin was the
only one who did not comply with the assumption that they would be able to
align and identify with the language used in the short story. Nevertheless, as
Excerpt 4 has illustrated, he was an accomplice in reproducing the common idea
that non-standard Swedish is neither “good”nor “real”Swedish.
4.3 Dominating the researcher, dominating the researched
As soon as the boys had finished discussing the questions about the short story,
Metin asked if he should turn off the recording device (see Excerpt 5, line 1). This
comment clearly marked the end of the previous activity. With a sigh, Ekmel
objected, suggesting that they should let the recording continue instead (line 2).
As evidence of the transition from a more to a less monitored activity, Karwan
suggested they could now sing (line 4), but then also daringly asked the others if
they should steal the recording equipment (see line 7), to which he added “she’s
recording it,”with a thrill in his voice. This comment shows how the recording
device, through the pronoun “she,”was conceived of as a mechanical incarna-
tion of a female individual, presumably one of the female researchers (and
future listeners, cf. Heller 2011). There are various instances in the SUF database
where participants talked about stealing the recording device (see also Madsen
2015, in Denmark). It thus appears to be a relatively common reaction to the fact
that the recorder physically represents the on-going surveillance of their
At the end of Excerpt 5, in response to Mohammed’s suggestion to erase the
comments about stealing the recorder (line 13), Ekmel once again insisted that
they should just leave it on. This comment can be seen as an overt manifestation
A weave of symbolic violence 461
of the boys’performance for the overhearing audience. Overall, Excerpt 5 exem-
plifies how the physical non-presence of the researchers during the recording did
not hinder their discursive presence, as materialized through the recording device.
ENGLISH TRANSLATION ORIGINAL
1. Metin: Well, ok, should we stop? Metin: Men ah okej ska vi stoppa?
2. Ekmel: No, leave it on [%sighs]. Ekmel: Nej, låt den va på [%gäspar].
3. Metin: Okay. Metin: Okej.
4. Karwan: Okay, now we can sing. Karwan: Okej, nu vi kan sjunga.
5. Ekmel: Yeah [%sighs loudly]. Ekmel: Ah [%gäspar högt].
6. %com: someone starts drumming loudly
on the table.
%com: någon börjar trumma hårt på
7. Karwan: Should we bax [steal] this.
She’s recording it [%laughs].
Karwan: Ska vi bax den här. Hon spelar
in det [%skrattar].
8. Ekmel: <[>] Son of a whore we bax [steal]
it and then we sell it [%laughs at loud]
they hear us, you know that, right?
Ekmel: Horunge vi bax den å sen vi säljer
ren [%skrattar högt] dom hör oss du vet
9. Metin: <[>] [%laughs] Metin: <[>] [%skrattar]
10. Karwan: No, really? [%ironically] Karwan: Nej, ä re sant? [%ironiskt]
11. Mohammed: <[>] What do they hear us
now right away?
Mohammed: <[>] Va hör dom oss direkt
nu på en gång?
12. Ekmel: <[>] Son of a whore yeah they +/.
<arre> [?] what, do you think they hear us
now right away? Do you think it’s a wire-
less thing? They will listen len [dude].
But then when they listen and then they
will spräcklish [destroy] us.
Ekmel: <[>] Horunge ah dom +/. <arre> [?]
tror ru dom hör oss nu direkt på en gång?
Tror ru det e en trådlös grej? Dom ska
lyssna len. Men sen när rom lyssnar å
sen dom ska spräcklish oss.
13. Mohammed: But we erase. Mohammed: Men vi tar bort.
14 Ekmel: What should we erase len [dude].
Leave it alone. Let them hear bre [man].
Ekmel: Vad ska vi ta bort len. Låt den va.
Låt dom höra bre.
Following this exchange, Karwan acknowledged the sticker attached to the mp3
player, which had the name “Maria Andersson”written on it (see Introduction).
The sticker also gave her mobile phone number and her current workplace: the
Rinkeby Language Research Institute. After Karwan matter-of-factly noted that the
recorder belonged to “Maria Andersson,”Ekmel commented on the researcher’s
appearance (see Excerpt 6, line 2), after which Karwan simply asked him “Is she a
462 Natalia Ganuza et al.
cat?”(line 3). Here, and in Swedish non-standard registers more generally, “cat”is
used adjectively to denote (female) attractiveness. At this stage, however, Ekmel
evaded the concealed sexual remark by answering “No, she is human”(line 6).
The exchange in Excerpt 6 can be interpreted as the boys’first attempt to shift
the observing gaze away from themselves and onto the researcher (cf. Jaspers and
Meeuwis 2013: 736). It also marked the beginning of a reversal in the direction of
symbolic violence, where the female researcher, rather than the boys and their
language use, slowly became the discursively dominated object.
ENGLISH TRANSLATION ORIGINAL
1. Karwan: It’s Maria Andersson’s. Karwan: Det e Maria Anderssons.
2. Ekmel: A:h # ah Maria that’s her, you
know, with brown brown hair len [dude].
Ekmel: Å:h # ah Maria det e hon den
dära du vet med bruna brunt hår len.
3. Karwan: Is she a cat? Karwan: E hon katt?
4. Ekmel: # U:h what did you say [%laughs]. Ekmel: # Ö:h vad sa ru [%skratt].
5. Karwan: Is she a cat? Karwan: Är hon katt?
6. Ekmel: Uhm no, she is human [%laughs]. Ekmel: Öh nä, hon e människa [%
7. Karwan: Really, so boring. Karwan: Asså vad tråkigt.
When Karwan observed that the female researcher’s mobile phone number was
written on the mp3-player (see Excerpt 7, line 1), Mohammed suggested they
should use it to make a prank call, which then led Ekmel to start formulating a
fake personal ad for the female researcher (line 6). This was the first time in the
recording that an explicitly sexual remark was made about the researcher; which
was further expanded when Mohammed added that “she is a schlajn [slut]”(line
9). After making sure that Mohammed was aware of whom they were making fun
(line 11), Ekmel stated that “Maria Andersson”would get really angry when she
listened to the recording later (line 14). Subsequently, both Mohammed and Ekmel
addressed “Maria”directly in the microphone, attempting to exempt themselves
from responsibility for the earlier comments (see lines 15–16).
The last section of Excerpt 7 illustrates how Ekmel and Karwan could not
understand why the researcher would write her name and phone number on a
new mp3-player, since nobody would return it to her if it was lost (Excerpt 7,
lines 17–22). This was expressed in a tone that insinuated how absurd the idea
was –maybe even to the point of justifying their ridicule of her. However,
alluding to the content of the short story, the boys suggested that they would
A weave of symbolic violence 463
have returned the recorder if they were Swedes (line 21), if they had drunk the
elixir that turned one into a Swede (line 22). These statements show how the
short story continued to exert influence on the conversation even when it was no
longer in focus, and how the participants used it to position themselves and the
researcher in relation to an imagined “real Swede.”While they positioned
themselves as not belonging to the category of “svenne”[Swede], they clearly
assigned this position to “Maria Andersson.”The examples also illustrate how
the boys, with the help of the story, created indexical links between stereo-
typical Swedishness and behavior that is good and honest, but also naïve, vs.
stereotypical non-Swedishness and behavior that is disruptive and dishonest
(see similar examples in Jonsson and Milani 2012; Milani and Jonsson 2011,
Milani and Jonsson 2012).
ENGLISH TRANSLATION ORIGINAL
1. Karwan: Hey, her mobile phone number
is on here and stuff.
Karwan: Hörru hennes mobilnummer
står här å grejer.
2. Ekmel: I swear. Ekmel: Jag svär.
3. Mohammed: Yeah we we write it in. Mohammed: Ja vi vi skriver in den.
4. Ekmel: Alright. Ekmel: Alright.
5. Mohammed: Should we make a prank
call should we make a prank call?
Mohammed: Ska vi tjuvringa ska vi
6. Ekmel: Ye:ah # then we will eh take ad.
Personal ad for Maria Andersson. Her
mobile number is 0736-XXX.
Ekmel: A:h # då ska vi eh ta annons.
Kontaktannons för Maria Andersson.
Hennes mobilnummer är 0736-XXX.
7. Karwan: Repeat. Karwan: Repetera.
8. Ekmel: I repeat 0736-XXX. Ekmel: Jag repeterar 0736-XXX .
9. Mohammed: And she is a schlajn [slut]. Mohammed: Å hon e ett schlajn.
10. Karwan: Sch+. Karwan: Sch+.
11. Ekmel: [%laughs] Schlajn [slut] eh hey
it’s she who’s here, you know [%laughs].
Ekmel: [%skrattar] Schlajn öh hörru de e
hon som e här du vet [%skrattar].
12. Mohammed: Is it hers? Mohammed: Ä re hennes?
13 Karwan: <[>] Yeah yeah yeah one of
those [%laughs] xxx.
Karwan: <[>] Ah ah ah en av dom där [%
14. Ekmel: <[>] Yes [%laughs] when she lis-
tens to this she will get chok lack [really
pissed off] guys [%laughs].
Ekmel: <[>] Ja [%skrattar] # när hon lyss-
nar på re här hon kommer bli chok lack
asså grabbar [%skrattar].
464 Natalia Ganuza et al.
15. Mohammed: <[>] <Maria it> [?] wasn’t
Mohammed: <[>] <Maria det> [?] var inte
16. Ekmel: <[>] It wasn’tmelen [dude] [%
Ekmel: <[>] Det var inte jag len [%
17. Ekmel: Hey, why would you write your
mobile [%tutting]. Hey, if she’d lost that
one # would you go and return it?
Ekmel: Asså varför ska man skriva mobil
[%smackljud]. Asså, om hon skulle tap-
pat den dära # skulle ru gå å lämna ren?
18. Karwan: No. Karwan: Näe.
19. Ekmel: <[>] [%laughs]. Ekmel: <[>] [%skrattar].
20. Karwan: <[>] Never [%laughs]. Hell,
totally new, why should I return it?
Karwan: <[>] Aldrig [%skrattar]. Helt ny
va fan, vad ska jag lämna den?
21. Ekmel: If you were a svenne [Swede] you
would have done it.
Ekmel: Om du va svenne då du skulle ha
22. Karwan: If I would’ve dru+ drunk that
Karwan: Om jag dru+ hade druckit den
Following the exchange reproduced in Excerpt 7, the conversation drifted to
other topics. Then, suddenly, the sticker on the recorder again caught the boys’
attention, reigniting their interest in “Maria Andersson.”As can be seen at the
beginning of Excerpt 8, Karwan suggested “if we bax [steal] her number, and
then we call her, and then maybe we can bazz [fuck] her”(line 1). Before this
exclamation, Mohammed had asked Karwan about his ethnic background,
Mohammed’s curiosity having been sparked by an image of a flag on one of
Karwan’s books. In the recording, Karwan answered Mohammed’s questions
rather hesitantly. Hence, it is possible that his explicit suggestion to bazz
Maria was an attempt to divert attention away from himself. Ekmel gradually
began to engage in the sexualizing banter about the young female researcher,
which escalated once Mohammed insisted that the name “Maria”sounded like a
“schlajn [slut]”(line 12, see also Excerpt 7, line 9), or even “pornographic”(line
16), like someone who “‘gives’to everyone, all at once”(line 12). Ekmel agreed
that her name sounded “kind of slutty”(line 15), which once again made him
associate the name with a personal ad advertising sex (line 17, as he also did in
Excerpt 7). These accounts thus illustrate how the common female name “Maria”
sparked a series of sexual associations. However, the most imaginative remark
was made by Mohammed when he asserted that the researcher “likes Rinkeby
Swedish while you fuck her”(line 20), to which Karwan added “so you should
call her whore while you bazz [fuck] her”(line 22).
A weave of symbolic violence 465
ENGLISH TRANSLATION ORIGINAL
1. Karwan: Hey if we baxar [steal] her num-
ber # and then we call her and then
maybe we g+ can bazz [fuck] her.
Karwan: Asså de om vi baxar hennes
nummer # å sen vi ringer henne å sen
vi kanske g+ kan bazz henne.
2. Ekmel: Who? Ekmel: Vem?
3. Karwan: This Maria Andersson. Karwan: Den hära Maria Andersson.
4. Ekmel: I don’t think she gives len [dude]. Ekmel: Jag tror inte hon ger len.
5. Mohammed: <[>] She gives she gives she
Mohammed: <[>] Hon ger hon ger hon
6. Karwan: <[>] Yes, believe me that she
Karwan: <[>] Jo tro mej att hon +/.
7. Ekmel: She gives # she gave to you hah? Ekmel: Hon ger # hon gav ti(ll) dej hah?
8. Mohammed: No no, she gave to a friend. Mohammed: Nä nä, hon gav till en kompis.
9. Ekmel: She gave to # your friend? Ekmel: Hon gav till # din kompis?
10. Karwan: Well, that’s what it is. She hasn’t
gotten any for a long time uh now also.
Karwan: Asså det e det. Hon har inte fått
på länge eh nu också.
11. Ekmel: [%laughs] Seriously, she gave to
your friend? [%com: accompanied by a
drum roll on the table]
Ekmel: [=! skrattar] Allvar hon gav till
din kompis? [%com: ackompanjerat av
en trumvirvel på bordet]
12. Mohammed: Maria that sounds like a
schlajn [slut] <[>] I think she gives to
everyone # all at once.
Mohammed: Maria de låter som ett
schlajn <[>] jag tror hon ger alla # på en
13 Ekmel: <[>] [% laughs loudly]. Ekmel: <[>] [%skrattar högt].
14. Karwan: <[>] (xxx). Karwan: <[>] (xxx).
15. Ekmel: <[>] Yeah you’re right it sounds
kind of schlajny [slutty] # Maria it sounds
like a personal a +/.
Ekmel: <[>] Ja eller hur det låter sådär
lite schlajnigt # Maria, det s + det låter
såhär kontakta +/.
16. Mohammed: Pornographic. Mohammed: Pornografiskt.
17. Ekmel: Yeah right, personal ads they
have like Maria call horny Maria like
that, am I right?
Ekmel: Ah eller hur kontaktsidorna dom
har såhär Maria ring kåta Maria typ
sådära, eller hur?
18. Mohammed: Yeah. Mohammed: Ah.
19. Ekmel: Ok, so she gave +/. Ekmel: Ah # så hon gav +/.
20. Mohammed: She likes Rinkeby Swedish
while you fuck her # you should speak
Rinkeby Swedish to her.
Mohammed: Hon gillar rinkebysvenska
när du knullar henne # du ska prata
rinkebysvenska med henne.
466 Natalia Ganuza et al.
21. Ekmel: She likes that yeah. Ekmel: Hon gillar sånt äh.
22. Karwan: So you should call her whore
while # you bazz [fuck] her.
Karwan: Så du ska kalla henne för hora
medans # du bazz henne.
The verbal sexual banter continued for another couple of minutes. Then, as some
of their classmates entered the room, Ekmel tried to stage a short performance
where he asked one of them to act as if he was the one who had had sex with
“Maria Andersson.”Ekmel even presented him with a short improvised dialogue,
which he suggested should be enacted “with some accent, amcık[you little cunt].”
When the classmate refused to play along, Ekmel once again asserted that “when
she hears this she will spräckish [destroy] us, she’sgonnatöjish [stretch] us, you
know.”Hence, once more he explicitly directed attention to the transgressive
nature of their articulated provocations and to the fact that the researcher
would listen to them later. Remarkably, all of these interactions are loaded with
linguistic features emblematic of RS (e. g. typical slang, the use of the verbal suffix
-ish, and lack of subject–verb inversion, see Kotsinas 1988, Kotsinas 1994).
Throughout their interactions, the boys thus continued their compliance with
the presumed expectation that they were able to perform being speakers of RS.
Many possible layers of meaning are embedded in the accounts reproduced
in excerpts 7 and 8. The element of risk-taking in explicitly talking about the
desirability of the female researcher and about engaging in sexual activities with
her can be interpreted as a peer-group performance of masculinity and hetero-
sexuality (Cameron and Kulick 2003: 115; Kiesling 2005: 696; see also Milani and
Jonsson 2011). Their recurring laughter, and the incrementally escalating nature
of their provocations point in this direction. Mohammed’s explicit comment
(Excerpt 8, line 20) can be read as both an acknowledgment and mockery of
the researcher’s apparent infatuation with RS –an image of her being so
interested in the research objective that she even enjoys hearing it during sex.
In addition, Karwan’s comment (line 22) indexically links RS to sexist language,
which as mentioned earlier was a common stereotype about “immigrant young-
sters,”and later also of male indexically non-Swedish, non-standard speakers,
depicted in the media at the time (see Milani 2010; Milani and Jonsson 2011,
Milani and Jonsson 2012). However, we also interpret the interactions repro-
duced here as instances where the participants reacted to the first-order act of
violence imbued in the research process by retaliating with counter-violence.
Through their counter-reactions, they assumed a dominating male position over
the female researcher (Bourdieu 2001). In this way, we contend, the examples
illustrate the symbolic struggle over who has the power and legitimacy to
objectify whom during the research process:
A weave of symbolic violence 467
Given that the fieldworker, through the recording device, suddenly obtains immediate and
unmediated access to their “territories of the self”(Goffman 1974: 38 ff), it may not be
unreasonable to suggest that the fieldworker’s representation, among other things, as a
sexual object can be read as a symbolic compensation, indeed as a re-penetration and
degradation for being put in a vulnerable position. (Jaspers and Meeuwis 2013: 742)
At the very end of the recording, it became clear that Karwan had not even
known who they were making fun of, as he asked Ekmel to point out “Maria
Andersson”to him in the classroom. Ekmel’s answer showed that he did not
know who she was either, since the individual that he identified was not
“Maria,”the research assistant whose name was written on the recorder, but
rather another female researcher present at the school. Furthermore, their sub-
sequent conversation confirmed that the discursive position of a desirable and
sexual object was not only ascribed to “Maria,”but also to another of the young
female researchers present at the school, whom they described as “chok porrig”
Researchers will occasionally encounter situations that fall outside the scope of
their research, and that may be at odds with their knowledge interests. In such
situations, they are at risk of lacking suitable tools for understanding the
dynamics of these research practices, as well as the data they generate. This,
we argue, is what characterized the SUF researchers’initial treatment of the data
scrutinized in the present article. While they found this data interesting, it was
omitted from publication because of its sexist content. The SUF project’s strong
empirical focus, favoring naturalistic, minimally reflexive data, was paired with
an ambition to overcome prevalent stereotypes of urban non-standard Swedish
that were in circulation at the time (Boyd 2010). The latter strategy, one could
argue, was grounded in ethical and advocacy concerns (Cameron et al. 1993). As
the purpose of the unmonitored recording was not to capture vulgarities, but
simply “natural discourse,”the choice to exempt it from publication could be
understood as an ethically motivated attempt to create a “representative”
account of the participants’ways of speaking. With the analytical tools they
used at the time, the SUF researchers would have been forced to interpret the
overt sexism unfolding in the data as a factual trait of the participants’authentic
personae, rather than as acts of performance. For this reason, in retrospect, it is
fully understandable why the data was withheld. Publishing it would have
risked compromising the moral character of the participants, as well as
468 Natalia Ganuza et al.
reproducing the very sociolinguistic stereotypes that the SUF project sought to
overcome (see Boyd 2010). Given the wealth of data, the researchers’decision to
use other exemplifications of linguistic traits is understandable.
Nevertheless, in light of the arguments and analyses presented in this
article, we maintain that the same data can contribute to a deepened under-
standing of some of the fundamental dynamics within sociolinguistic research
on multilingualism (cf. Jaspers and Meeuwis 2013; Jonsson and Milani 2012). Any
research on living subjects is bound to encompass some durable forms of
domination. The privilege of knowledge production presupposes, on the one
hand, a form of social dominance of the researcher over the researched. On the
other hand, this social relation is closely tied to relations of symbolic domi-
nance, that is, to engrained ideas and representations of the linguistic and the
social. In our analyses of the residual material from the SUF project, it may
appear as if symbolic violence begets symbolic violence, or as if research is
merely a symbolically violent affair. This is not our suggestion. What we do
suggest, however, is that sociolinguistic research on disempowered agents –
representationally and otherwise –calls for a certain mode of reflexivity.
Whenever sociolinguistic research is undertaken with, and hence is interested
in, such dominated agents, it is imperative, we maintain, that researchers strive
to achieve an understanding of these patterns of domination, of the inherent risk
of reiterating them, as well as of the possibility of exposing and circumventing
them (Bourdieu 1996).
This lens allows us to grasp the sociolinguistics of the sociolinguistic
research setting. Moreover, it allows us to distinguish between the principal
elements of symbolic violence –domination and complicity –and to recognize
their interactional unfolding in the research practice. As the reanalyzed SUF
data indicates, even a short sequence of sociolinguistic data may be shot
through with several symbolically violent manifestations. One distinct example
is found in Excerpts 2–4, where the participants’appraisals of urban non-stand-
ard Swedish complied with engrained, pre-analytical stereotypes about people
who speak this way. The participants discussed the stylized register of a literary
work by means of ethnic slurs and caricatures –the “wannabe svartskalle,”the
“chat Turk,”the “Iranian electrician”–as well as their antipode, the “pure-
speaking Swede.”By symbolically linking non-standard forms of Swedish to
notions of deficiency and otherness, to senses of subordination and marginality,
they aligned with widely upheld representations of the presumed sociolinguistic
character of non-standard Swedish in general and of RS in particular (cf. Jonsson
and Milani 2012; Milani and Jonsson 2011). Perhaps contrary to the SUF research-
ers’expectations, the participants’own appraisal of the urban non-standard
forms of Swedish was not, at least in this piece of data, laudatory. Another,
A weave of symbolic violence 469
perhaps more overt form of symbolic violence is closely connected to this mode
of complicity. As Bourdieu (1991: 51) argues, “the legitimacy of the official
language has nothing in common with an explicitly professed, deliberate and
revocable belief, or with an intentional act of accepting a ‘norm’.”Complicity
with the sociolinguistic order, in this regard, is not the same thing as passive
resignation to this order. On the contrary, it may at times require seemingly
agentive contributions from those placed at the lower end of the relation of
Bourdieu (1996) envisions research as a relationship with multiple and
complex effects and, importantly, it is “all the more so as those who are
investigated can also play on those effects, consciously or otherwise, to attempt
to impose their own definition of the situation and turn to their advantage an
interchange”(p. 25). This too has been duly exemplified in this paper. As seen in
Excerpts 6–8, the participants leveled sexually explicit comments at some of the
involved female researchers. These verbal aggressions, we argue, should be
regarded as instantiations of a deep-seated mode of masculine domination,
that is, as another form of symbolic violence. Speaking to this claim is the fact
that the researchers appear to have responded with silence to these acts of
symbolic violence. When reporting on the study, rather than foregrounding the
participants’assertions about the alleged promiscuity of the female researcher
(Excerpts 6–8) –a move that would stress the need for an analytical grid able to
grasp the modes of dominance invested in these assertions –they privileged
other pieces of data. Bearing in mind that the researchers, as the participants
had expected, listened to, talked about and even transcribed these utterances,
their complicity was evident. Indeed, they found the utterances unsettling, but
did not in any way hold the participants accountable for them.
The methodological design of the SUF project motivated leaving the participants
alone with the recording device in order to capture some of their “natural
discourse.”Unintentionally, however, the data turned out to reveal less about
the participants’authentic speech than it did about their conceptions of the
research event, including their own position in it. In this article, we argue that
instead of concealing their run-ins with symbolic violence, as was done in the
SUF project, researchers can put them to use to make visible the patterns of
dominance woven into and realized in the research practice. Analyzing these
run-ins may push scholars to reflexively consider the social conditions of
470 Natalia Ganuza et al.
sociolinguistic research, in relation to the data it produces. We hold that
Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic violence is particularly apt for engaging, in
depth and reflexively, with these dynamics because it brings to central stage a
relational, dual mode of domination that “presupposes, on the part of those who
submit to it, a form of complicity which is neither passive submission to external
constraint nor a free adherence to values”(Bourdieu 1991: 50 f.). The primary
advantage of consistently seeking to implement this point of view concerns
epistemological rigor, since symbolic violence can only be broken by a radical
transformation of the social conditions that have allowed it to arise (Bourdieu
2001: 41–42). This may in turn lead the dominated to take the point of view of
the dominant –and vice versa. Such a reflexive exercise may help sociolinguists
sharpen their tools for understanding the give and take of dominance and
complicity that unfolds in their data, which, as we have shown, might constitute
merely one thread in a larger weave of symbolic violence.
# = short pause
x+ = self-interruption
+/. = speech interrupted by another speaker
<[>] = simultaneous speech
[%] = commentary
<…> [?] = uncertain transcription
(xxx) = inaudible
Acknowledgements: The paper draws on empirical data from the project
“Language and Language Use among Young People in Multilingual Urban
Settings”, funded by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social
Sciences 2001–2006. We wish to thank the following colleagues for valuable
comments on an earlier draft of this paper: Ellen Bijvoet, Hannah Botsis, Linnea
Hanell, Christina Hedman, and Maria Rydell. Thank you also to one of the
anonymous reviewers for constructive critique.
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