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Discourse and Identity

Bethan Benwell, Elizabeth Stokoe

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An excellent overview and synthesis of a variety of approaches to exploring identity in discourse

'Identity' is a central organizing feature of our social world. Across the social sciences and humanities, it is increasingly treated as something that is actively and publicly accomplished in discourse. This book defines identity in its broadest sense, in terms of how people display who they are to each other. Each chapter examines a different discursive environment in which people do 'identity work': everyday conversation, institutional settings, narrative and stories, commodified contexts, spatial locations, and virtual environments. The authors describe and demonstrate a range of discourse and interaction analytic methods as they are put to use in the study of identity, including 'performative' analyses, conversation analysis, membership categorization analysis, critical discourse analysis, narrative analysis, positioning theory, discursive psychology and politeness theory. The book aims to give readers a clear sense of the coherence (or otherwise) of these different approaches, the practical steps taken in analysis, and their situation within broader critical debates. Through the use of detailed and original 'identity' case studies in a variety of spoken and written texts in order, the book offers a practical and accessible insight into what the discursive accomplishment of identity actually looks like, and how to go about analyzing it.

Key Features

  • Accessible introduction to the study of discourse and identity across a variety of contexts.
  • Interdisciplinary in scope, the book is relevant to a wide range of courses such as English language and linguistics, psychology, media, cultural studies, gender studies and sociology.
  • Each chapter includes a critical overview of work in the area, original case studies, practical instruction for analyses, points for further discussion and suggested reading.


1. Theorising Discourse and Identity
2. Conversational Identities
3. Institutional Identities
4. Narrative Identities
5. Commodified Identities
6.Spatial Identities
7.Virtual Identities.

About the Author

Bethan Benwell is Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics, University of Stirling

Elizabeth Stokoe is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University.


A stimulating resource for those seeking to broaden their analytic appreciation.
- Will Turner, University of Leeds, Discourse Studies
Discourse and Identity is a richly detailed and usefully opinionated guidebook to a growing area of scholarship. Engaging with a range of current theories and methods of discourse analysis, the book offers a critical overview of the ways in which researchers have approached the concept of identity. Benwell and Stokoe draw on an impressive variety of discourse contexts, from ordinary conversation among friends to magazine advertisements, from online interaction to talk about the neighbours. While Discourse and Identity illustrates a number of different approaches in depth, including discursive psychology, critical discourse analysis, and several types of narrative analysis, the book’s particular strength is in demonstrating the techniques and advantages of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis as tools for illuminating the workings of identity as an interactional achievement. Students and scholars alike will find the text a helpful resource in navigating the broad field of discourse and identity research.
- Mary Bucholtz, Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics, University of California, Santa Barbara
Benwell and Stokoe have produced an indispensable guide for any student or scholar interested in discourse and identity. This is a deft and highly accessible overview of a complex emerging body of knowledge. The authors move confidently, with great panache, from social theory to the micro details of linguistic analysis, taking in the latest work on spatial, virtual and commodified identities along the way. A neat and illuminating example can be found on every page, along with an important insight and an original line of argument. Discourse and Identity is the first scholarly map of the field and is a ‘must own book’ for every identity researcher.
- Professor Margaret Wetherell, Director ESRC Identities Programme, Social Sciences, Open University
This well-presented and easy to access text makes a valuable contribution to this developing field of discourse and identity.
- Japan Journal of Multilingualism and Multiculturalism
The book provides an excellent overview and synthesis of a variety of approaches to exploring identity in discourse and along the way reviews the contemporary state of the methodological debates.
- Media International Australia
This book is an excellent addition to the existing growing literature on the study of identity through discourse ... Discourse and identity succeeds in providing in an accessible way an insightful and clearly written book that will inspire many, linguists and non-linguists. But above all, it will be particularly helpful to those looking at ways of teasing out issues of identity in discourse.
- Cristina Ros i Sole, University College, London, Sociolinguistic Studies
This is a highly original and timely volume ... This book will be an invaluable supplementary text for postgraduate students in many disciplines and a much-needed resource for scholars.
- BAAL Book Prize Reviewer, Baal News
Discourse and Identity is an extraordinarily ambitious and confident book ... but the two authors do manage to pull this off. I was impressed!
- BAAL Book Prize Reviewer, Baal News

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