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Doing business and constructing identities through small talk in workplace instant messaging

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This paper describes how bilingual colleagues living in Hong Kong make small talk in instant messaging to achieve various business-oriented goals and construct multiple identities in the discursive process. Guided by James Paul Gee’s revised framework of discourse analysis, the analyses evidenced that, overall, colleagues use small talk in instant messages to maintain minimal ties with distant partners, fill in silence during computer work, affect informal decision-making at work, and to diffuse useful surrounding information into business talk. These instances interplay with different affordances provided by the gadgets in the instant messenger interfaces. Such creative usage, together with the perceived nature of online interaction and instant messaging, results in multiple and turbulent identities circulating in the broader context of workplace discourse. The article concludes by arguing that computer-mediated communication has offered participants an emerging modus of interacting socially, beyond the physical and psychological constraints of time and space.

Keywords: Hong Kong; computer-mediated discourse analysis; identity; instant messaging; organizational communication; small talk; workplace

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 31, 2019

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