Thursday, 21 June 2012

Conversation Analysis

Conversation analysis (commonly abbreviated as CA) is an approach to the study of social interaction, embracing both verbal and non-verbal conduct, in situations of everyday life. As its name implies, CA began with a focus on casual conversation, but its methods were subsequently adapted to embrace more task- and institution-centered interactions, such as those occurring in doctors' offices, courts, law enforcement, helplines, educational settings, and the mass media. As a consequence, the term 'conversation analysis' has become something of a misnomer, but it has continued as a term for a distinctive and successful approach to the analysis of social interaction.

Inspired by Harold Garfinkel's ethnomethodology[1] and Erving Goffman's conception of the interaction order,[2] CA was developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s principally by the sociologist Harvey Sacks and his close associates Emanuel Schegloff and Gail Jefferson.[3] Today CA is an established method used in sociology, anthropology, linguistics, speech-communication and psychology. It is particularly influential in interactional sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and discursive psychology. It is distinct from discourse analysis in focus and method. (i) Its focus is squarely on processes involved in social interaction and does not include written texts or larger sociocultural phenomena (for example, 'discourses' in the Foucauldian sense). (ii) Its method, following Garfinkel and Goffman's initiatives, is aimed at determining the methods and resources that the interactional participants use and rely on to produce interactional contributions and make sense of the contributions of others. Thus CA is neither designed for, nor aimed at, examining the production of interaction from a perspective that is external to the participants' own reasoning and understanding about their circumstances and communication. Rather the aim is to model the resources and methods by which those understandings are produced.

As in all research, conversational analysis begins by setting up a research problem. The data collected for CA is in the form of video or audio recorded conversations. The data is collected without researchers' involvement, often simply by adding a video camera to the room where the conversation takes place (e.g. medical doctors consultation with a patient). From the audio or video recording the researchers construct a detailed transcription (ideally with no details left out). After transcription, the researchers perform inductive data-driven analysis aiming to find recurring patterns of interaction. Based on the analysis, the researchers develop a rule or model to explain the occurrence of the patterns.

 In recent years, CA has been employed by researchers in other fields, such as feminism and feminist linguistics, or used in complement with other theories, such as Membership Categorization Analysis (MCA). Elizabeth Stokoe argues that ethnomethodology's egalitarian creed reflects the egalitarian ethos in feminism. Traditional feminist concerns can be explored from an ethnomethodological standpoint, since oppression is not a once and for all phenomenon but the processes involved in defining social reality produces and reproduces oppression daily. Thus, the gendered properties of social life, routinely taken-for-granted as natural and trans-situational, are best understood as situated accomplishments of local interactions.[5] MCA was influenced by the work on Harvey Sacks and his work on Membership Categorization Device (MCD). Sacks argues that 'members’ categories comprise part of the central machinery of organization and developed the notion of MCD to explain how categories can be hearably linked together by native speakers of a culture. His example that is taken from a children's storybook (The baby cried. The mommy picked it up.) shows how "mommy" is interpreted as the mother of the baby by speakers of the same culture. In light of this, categories are inference rich – a great deal of knowledge members of a society have about the society is stored in terms of these categories.[6] Stokoe further contends that members’ practical categorizations form part of ethnomethodology's description of the ongoing production and realization of ‘facts’ about social life and including members’ gendered reality analysis, thus making CA compatible with feminist studies.

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