On the participatory agency of texts: Using institutional forms in performance appraisal interviews

Esa Lehtinen*, Pekka Pälli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Drawing on studies of the performative effects and agency of texts in organizations, the paper investigates how the agency of texts figures through their participatory status in interaction. The empirical data for the study consist of video-recorded performance appraisal interviews in a Finnish public organization in which the interaction relies heavily on an appraisal form. The data are analyzed through a sequential analysis that draws on multimodal conversation analysis and ethnographic knowledge. The analysis shows that the human participants orient to three different acts that are inscribed in the textual document: 1) presenting demands for the participants; 2) offering topics for the discussion as well as perspectives from which those topics should be discussed; and 3) suggesting conventional ways of progressing in the interaction. Furthermore, the material and the semiotic facets of textual documents are shown to be systematically related in that specific orientations to the material aspect of the paper form entail specific orientations to the semiotic content. The study sheds light on the subtle ways through which the distributed, albeit dissymmetric, agency of human and non-human participants is constructed, and on how texts are treated as more or less authoritative in face-to-face interaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-69
Number of pages23
Issue number1
Early online date30 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • conversation
  • interaction
  • organizational texts
  • performance appraisal interviews
  • textual agency


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