Investigating how macro-level social roles are accomplished through micro-level social interaction

Hanna Timonen, Jarkko J. Niemi

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperScientificpeer-review


Social roles, defined as characteristic behavior patterns that participants take in certain settings, are believed to represent institutional order at the individual level. Such social roles are typically thought to remain relatively fixed during social interaction. However, certain settings may present ambiguous social expectations that challenge how participants should occupy their social role. This might be especially true in liminal settings where individuals find themselves ‘betwixt and between’, at the limits of existing social structures.

One such context is sales meetings, where salespeople are required to represent their own organization but also closely follow customers’ expectations regarding the nature of their personal relationship. In this presentation, we investigate how the social roles of a salesperson and a customer are accomplished in the real-time interaction. The study is based on a dataset of six naturally occurring, video-recorded business-to-business sales meetings that originate from three seller companies, and on conversation analysis as a method. Special attention is paid to how salespeople shift between various situational roles when representing the organization and the service, representing themselves as experts capable of advising customers about the service, and in building rapport with the customer on a personal level. Based on this analysis we discuss how macro-level social roles are not so much fixed or prescribed, but something that is accomplished through and constantly negotiated between individuals in micro-level social interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventNordic Interdisciplinary Conference on Discourse and Interaction - Oslo, Norway
Duration: 23 Nov 201625 Nov 2016
Conference number: 4


ConferenceNordic Interdisciplinary Conference on Discourse and Interaction
Abbreviated titleNORDISCO


  • sales interaction
  • conversation analysis
  • role theory
  • sales work

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