Vocabularies of social influence: Managing the moral accountability of influencing another

Bogdana Huma*, Elizabeth Stokoe, Rein Ove Sikveland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


While there are many definitions and conceptual accounts of ‘persuasion’ and other forms of social influence, social scientists lack empirical insight into how and when people actually use terms like ‘persuade’, ‘convince’, ‘change somebody's mind’ – what we call the vocabularies of social influence – in actual social interaction. We collected instances of the spontaneous use of these and other social influence terms (such as ‘schmoozing’ and ‘hoodwinking’) in face-to-face and telephone conversations across multiple domestic and institutional settings. The recorded data were transcribed and analysed using discursive psychology and conversation analysis with a focus on the actions accomplished in and through the use of social influence terms. We found that when speakers use 'persuading' – but not 'convincing' or 'changing somebody’s mind' – it is in the service of orienting to the moral accountability of influencing others. The specificity with which social actors deploy these terms demonstrates the continued importance of developing our understandings of the meaning of words – especially psychological ones – via their vernacular use by ordinary people in the first instance, rather than have psychologists reify, operationalize, and build an architecture for social psychology without paying attention to what people actually do with the ‘psychological thesaurus’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-339
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


We are thankful to Derek Edwards and Charles Antaki with whom we have had stimulating discussions about discursive psychology and the conceptualization of persuasion. Thanks also to the members of the Discourse and Rhetoric Group (Loughborough University) and the Discursive Social Psychology Research Group (York St John University) for their valuable analytic insights shared in data sessions. We are also grateful to the two anonymous reviewers and the editor, Ann Weatherall, for their thoughtful and encouraging comments that have guided us in the revision of the paper.

FundersFunder number
Derek Edwards and Charles Antaki
York St John University
Loughborough University


    • compliance-seeking
    • conversation analysis
    • conviction
    • discursive psychology
    • persuasion
    • psychological thesaurus
    • resistance
    • social influence


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