In most theoretical discussions

In most theoretical discussions, politeness is analysed at the level of the individual. However, some analysts also study the politeness styles of cultures or language groups (English, Japanese) or sub-cultural groups such as women or working class people. The same model of analysis is used for this wider social analysis of politeness. I feel that I need to consider the difference of politeness at this wider social level and recognise that different issues are salient. There have been a number of books and articles (Truss, 2005; Lakoff, 2006) recently which have drawn attention to changes which are perceived to be taking place in politeness at a social level. Although these works focus on politeness in the UK and the US, the way in which they describe perceptions about social change in relation to politeness is more generally valid in relation to other languages. In this essay, I will take issue with these theorists, not to argue that changes are not in fact taking place, but rather to argue that the perceptions of these changes are based on stereotypical and ideological thinking. The politeness which is described in such books is that which is stereotypically associated with particular sections of the community. I argue also that it is important not to analyze politeness at a social level by drawing on methodologies and frameworks which have been developed for the analysis of individual interaction. Much of the theorising of politeness has centred on the analysis of the speech of individual interact ants and has usually focused on interaction between two people (Brown and Levinson, 1978, 1987; Watts, 2003). There has been a quite easy slippage between analysing and theorising the relational work between two (often rather abstracted) people and making generalizations about politeness cross culturally. I argue here that I need to be much more cautious about referring to politeness norms within or across cultures, since often when statements about linguistic cultural norms are made they appear to be conservative, profoundly ideological and based on stereotypes.