This article shows how speakers mobilise characterological formulations of people and, particularly, ‘types’ of persons, in social action. We extend previous work in discursive psychology, in which notions of self or others’ identity have been well-studied as categorial practices, by focusing specifically on the occasioned use of ‘[descriptor] person’ formulations which index the characteristics of people. Drawing on a British corpus of 315 telephone calls about neighbour problems (e.g., noise, verbal abuse) to environmental health and mediation services, we show that callers build in-situ descriptions of self and neighbour for the practical activity of complaining or defending against accusations – as types of people that are, for instance, reasonable (e.g., ‘I’m an extremely tolerant person’), in contrast to their neighbours’ shortcomings (e.g., ‘he’s a rather obnoxious person’). Our findings demonstrate that psychological predicates of self and other, indexed through characterological formulations, are recipient designed (i.e., formulated to display an orientation to co-present others) in ways that shape the institutional relevance for service provision. We conclude that, like many other aspects of the psychological thesaurus, ‘character types’ are not just the preserve of psychologists but also a routine resource for ordinary social interaction.
- Characterological formulations; neighbourhood disputes; environmental health; mediation; complaints; discursive psychology; conversation analysis; institutions; service provision