The illicit genre of threatening communications: A combined Rhetorical Genre Studies and Forensic Linguistic analysis of Danish threatening communications

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandlingForskning


This article-based dissertation examines threatening communications as a genre – i.e. a typified, communicative social action (Miller, 1984) – that is generally associated with intimidation, violence, power and control (cf. Gales, 2010). I combine a Rhetorical Genre Studies and Forensic Linguistics perspective and I use a multimethodological (Miller et al., 2018) approach in order to examine the genre of threats from different angles. Article 1 reflects on the recurrent forms, functions and uptakes (Freadman, 1994) of the genre of threats. Despite pronounced variation in form and in degrees of (in)directness of threatening communications, results from a survey we conducted on genre categorization demonstrate that threats in fact are a highly recognizable genre. In the article, we argue that genres such as threatening communications, libel and hate messages belong to a wider category of illicit genres; i.e. genres that do not emerge from an institutional setting and that are generally societally unwelcome. As a consequence of possible social or even legal condemnation, senders of illicit genres often avoid naming them or deny having used them. This means that the uptake communities of illicit genres – including victims, law enforcement and legal systems – form central roles in labelling and describing the genres. Article 2 examines the collision of the heterogeneous and illicit genre of threats with the stringent and institutionalized legal genres of legislation, indictments and verdicts. By following the specific types of textual travels (Heffer et al., 2013) of threatening communications into records of judgments from 50 threat cases, I show how this specific type of language evidence is relayed to the courts and how the Danish legal system generally take up – and rein in – the genre of threats. My findings illustrate that some of the instability or variability of threats rub off on the indictments, specifically in their task of presenting the linguistic evidence of oral threatening communications as systematically, accurately and transparently as possible. Article 3 presents a case study of a criminal case concerning a purported threatening communication. In this study, I examine how the purported threatening utterance and its situational context are discussed in the oral court proceedings and the written police report and records of judgments from the case. Since the utterance is taken up by witnesses and opposing sides in court as two different genres, namely a joke or a threat, the case illustrates the difficult task of distinguishing between joking and serious intention – and thereby also the complexity of the role of criminal intent. The study offers unique insights into the integrated processes behind the type of genre interpretation that can result in guilty or not guilty verdicts. The three articles of the dissertation are integrally related through their joint focus on threatening communications as a socially defined genre with severe social, societal and judicial repercussions – or uptakes.
ForlagDet Humanistiske Fakultet, Københavns Universitet
Antal sider216
StatusUdgivet - 1 okt. 2021

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