What is it about?

There is a long-standing tradition of members of the public openly challenging politicians (think: throwing milkshakes, heckling and even trolling online), but what happens when a member of the public 'trolls' or antagonises a politician face-to-face? We analyse an argument about Brexit between a member of the public and Conservative MP David Davies to find out.

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Why is it important?

Our findings show what 'trolling' in person looks like. We argue that the member of the public provokes the politician by manoeuvring their identity so that they are never on the same side of the argument. This is known as 'partitioning', a strategy whereby people can rhetorically divide or change who they are. For example, upon discovering that they are both pro-Brexit, the member of the public instead challenges David Davies for not being a ‘real’ Brexiteer, and when that doesn't work, for his apparent failure in his duties as a member of parliament. Altogether we show that public disputes are less about political issues and more about who wins and who loses the argument.


Writing this article with Linda was a real pleasure. We've been talking about membership categorisation since we first met so it's wonderful to be able to collaborate. The article also adds to a body of evidence that shows that public disputes are highly organised affairs with complex social relationships happening in real time.

Dr Jack B Joyce
University of Oxford

I've really enjoyed collaborating with Jack on this article. We both study how membership categories are used in everyday life, and it has been fascinating to analyse this data together whilst bringing in ideas based on our previous research.

Dr Linda Walz
Leeds Trinity University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Picking fights with politicians, Pragmatics Quarterly Publication of the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA), April 2022, John Benjamins,
DOI: 10.1075/prag.21028.joy.
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