Swearing in class: institutional morality in dispute

Doherty, Catherine and Berwick, Adon and McGregor, Rowena ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4379-0420 (2018) Swearing in class: institutional morality in dispute. Linguistics and Education, 48. pp. 1-9. ISSN 0898-5898


This paper explores how swearing in classrooms is variably construed and managed as a moral problem, and how classroom settings can demand higher standards than broader society. We review sociolinguistic understandings of Anglophone settings regarding what constitutes ‘bad’ language, the pragmatics of swearing across society, and trends over time, to trace a growing tolerance in public settings and media, particularly in Australia. We then review literature regarding swearing in schools. Using Douglas’ (1966) theory of purity, hygiene, taboos and moral boundaries, we conceptualise schools as strongly demarcated ‘purified’ sites that undertake the moral work of imbuing social standards in the future citizen. Students’ choices to swear in class despite teachers’ repeated corrections can thus be understood as more than inappropriate lexis. The paper then draws from an ethnographic study of prevocational classes catering for 16 to 17 year olds created under Australia's ‘earning or learning till 17’ policy. Illustrative episodes where students swear in class are analysed to exemplify differently pitched responses. The conclusion reflects on the tension between an increasingly secular society more tolerant of swearing, and teachers’ work to purify the moral climate in schools, to consider what the practice of swearing in class and its regulation achieves.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Files associated with this item cannot be displayed due to copyright restrictions.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Academic Division - Library
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Academic Division - Library
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2019 06:05
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2019 05:11
Uncontrolled Keywords: swearing, classroom discourse, morality, purity, sociolinguistics
Fields of Research (2008): 13 Education > 1301 Education Systems > 130108 Technical, Further and Workplace Education
13 Education > 1301 Education Systems > 130106 Secondary Education
Fields of Research (2020): 39 EDUCATION > 3903 Education systems > 390308 Technical, further and workplace education
39 EDUCATION > 3903 Education systems > 390306 Secondary education
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 93 Education and Training > 9302 Teaching and Instruction > 930202 Teacher and Instructor Development
Identification Number or DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.linged.2018.09.003
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/35095

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