Terms of Endearment? Power and Vocatives in BDSM Erotica
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Dwyer, Rebecca A
The link between vocatives and power is one that can be expressed through politeness. The use of terms of address has been linked to power by Brown & Ford (1961 (1972)) and has made an appearance in Brown & Levinson’s (1987) work on politeness. However, authors traditionally ascribe power and politeness to the individual. There has been a move among some (e.g. Goffman 1967, Barnes 1988, Leezenberg 2002 and Watts 2003) towards an interaction-based view of power and politeness that says that power and politeness are based not on the individual and the power they possess, but instead ascribes the negotiation of power to the specific interaction. In this study, I have examined a corpus of 39 erotic BDSM stories found on the internet, and analyzed the vocatives found in the dialogue. BDSM is defined as “consensual power exchange” (Easton & Hardy 2003: 4). Though some have claimed that BDSM erotica lacks reality (Lewis & Adler 1994: 439), connections between media representations of reality and fantasy have been used by previous researchers in the past (e.g. Hall 1995; Queen 2004). After examining the different vocatives used, I have found that the vocatives not only reflect the power relationship, but are also used to establish the power relationship, from the submissive as well as from the dominant. Dominants tend to use vocatives that place the submissive in a lower position, either through insulting them, objectifying them, or reducing their age or status. Submissives likewise establish their submissiveness by using vocatives that place the dominant in a higher position, typically through standard form of “respectful” address, such as “sir”. These findings show that the power roles in the BDSM interaction are established not just by the dominant (the leader) but also by the submissive (the follower). This confirms that the move to a dynamic approach to power and politeness, as suggested by Goffman (1967) Barnes (1988), Leezenberg (2002) and Watts (2003), is a better description of language in action than a static, individualistic approach. Recommendations for further study are given at the end. This paper contains excerpts from age-restricted material. It contains profanity and scenes of a sexual nature.