In Rhetoric and Social Imagination, George L. Dillon points out that "[w]riting (and reading) a relatively unsituated text is an act of social imagination: projection or construction of a self, an other, and a footing between them, out of bits of social and linguistic codes" (15). Little is at stake for either rhetor or reader in unsituated discourse such as instructions and documentation--and yet, acts of social imagination do occur which in turn establish footing between participants in discourse.
Footing figures particularly in "active" intimidatory discourse in that footing can be established, manipulated, and maintained by rhetors in an effort to pull the rug out from "the other" in a power move. In other words, in attempting to intimidate, rhetors manipulate footing to advantage. To illustrate, consider this typical excerpt from the late paper policies for a First Year English class:
Students who fail to turn a paper in on the assigned due date will receive a grade reduction for each day that the paper is late--NO EXCUSES ACCEPTED!The student who has armed himself with an arsenal of stock late paper excuses is thrown off balance and succumbs to intimidation--at least, that is the intimidatory intent of the policy.
Footing signifies the perceptible changes in negotiated stance and projected ethos affecting participants in social exchanges. Interaction can be verbal, but I concentrate here on the written exchange typically seen in E-mail in which textual and linguistic features signal a rhetor's attempt at negotiating footing. This negotiation is akin to what, in Forms of Talk, Erving Goffman calls a "change of gears" or "significant shifts in alignment of speaker to hearers . . . " (126, 127). In the following E-mail exchange, a department head pressures members to contribute to the annual United Charity Campaign:
The Department of Academic Fiscal Oversight is looking for 100% participation in this year's United Charity Campaign. All employees are expected to return their response envelopes, whatever the contribution, to the secretary by 3:00 Friday.
Resisting the display of extrinsic or institutional ethos, a staff member realigns the footing in her reply:
Because of heavy, unexpected medical bills incurred this year, I cannot contribute as much to the United Charity Campaign as I would like. However, I am returning the UCC envelope with a token contribution.
George Dillon furnishes a useful way to understand how linguistic features suggest relative roles of interlocutors by distinguishing between "five distinct scales of stances or footings where only one (distant/intimate) has traditionally been assumed" that rhetors "select" or "set up" (32, 39, 42). I will discuss each of Dillon's scales of footing relative to an example demonstrating its role in cyberspace intimidation:
The following excerpt from "FCC Rules for Modem Usage" illustrates impersonal footing which is intimidating to novices to modems:
If trouble is experienced, disconnect this equipment from the telephone line to determine if it is causing the malfunction. If the equipment is determined to be malfunctioning, its use should be discontinued until the problem has been corrected. No repair or modification of this equipment should be attempted. (33)
They're the ideal storage system for Windows, Windows 95, OS/2, NetWare, or UNIX-based operating systems running on 486-, PowerPC-, or RISC-based processors. . . . The 1.6GB not only gives you incredible storage depth, it also increases your access speed to a lickety-split 10ms! . . . 1.6GB drive features 16.6MB/sec. transfer rates, mode 4 support and 5200 RPM. (49) [emphasis mine]
The insider jargon would intimidate the uninitiated to the world of gigabytes (an outsider).
|If you reboot your computer with Ctrl+Alt+Delete or shut the power off without first quitting out of FoxPro, any databases or indexes that are in use at the time may be damaged or destroyed. It is absolutely essential that you exit FoxPro only by quitting. (1-8)|
|Sendfax Result Code Table|
|DIGIT CODE||WORD CODE||MEANING OF CODE|
|w||CONNECT 2400/FAX||Connection speed 2400 bps|
|e||CRC ERROR||Error in received frame|
|k||CSI||Remote machine identification|
|b||DIS||Remote machine capabilities frame|
|f||FTT||Failure to train|
|j||RTP||Retrain positive (18)|
Not surprisingly, such tactics of active intimidation occur also in more familiar institutional discourse: IRS notices, collection letters, class policies--to name but a few.