The black box of action descriptions: Pathways and pitfalls on the way to refined glosses and convergence

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The aim of our talk will be twofold. First, we want to address the difficulties we as conversation analysts have experienced when describing the actions the speakers in our data engage in. We will also demonstrate how we have resolved those difficulties. Second, we want to discuss what we, as CA researchers would consider a ‘good’, ‘thorough’, or ‘systematic’ analysis and where we think a CA analysis might run the risk of ‘going wrong’ (and why). We will address both our aims by offering a detailed account of the different steps in our analytic process. The data we draw upon to do so are research interviews between a trained psychologist with parents and carers who are invited to talk about the traumatic experience of their (foster) child and ways of recuperating from that traumatic occurrence that happened some time ago. More in particular then, we want to highlight the issue of arriving at accurate descriptions of actions. We want to do so by focusing on two methodological issues we have been dealing with in our analyses. We will propose that there is a need for a clearer understanding and a more elaborate description of two different analytic concepts we as analysts draw upon; the notion of conversational practices (or ‘practices of speaking’) and the notion of (social) actions. In our view, their distinction too often remains ‘implicit’ in our glosses of what it is that people do in conversations. We want to argue that an improved understanding of their analytic distinctiveness will contribute to the clarity and transparency of our CA based analyses. We will offer illustrations from our data to show how this distinction matters analytically, by presenting data extracts in which we have examined what actions parents accomplish with a particular practice of speaking, that of overlapping talk. Furthermore, also want to highlight how the difference between two other analytic categories, (social) actions and the seemingly broader notion of ‘larger interactional projects’ (or ‘plan of action’) might also have implications for the kinds of observations we make about participants’ action ascriptions. We acknowledge that the notion of ‘interactional projects’ is valuable when moving from a micro to a macro perspective in our analysis. For example when parents’ answers to the psychologist’s question in a series of question-answer sequences might be seen as contributing to a broader interactional project, i.e., that of offering a particular account of parenthood. But we also see a disadvantage in that its opaque nature (where a project might be visible to speakers only in retrospect for example) and the ‘conceptual complexity’ it can therefore pose for analysts may lead to an unwanted side effect in which the analyst’s and member’s perspectives on the kinds of projects accomplished in a piece of talk start to diverge. References Levinson, S. C. (2013). Action formation and ascription. In T. Stivers, & J. Sidnell (Eds.), The handbook of conversation analysis (pp. 103-130). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. Pomerantz, A. & Fehr, B.J. (1997). Conversation Analysis: An Approach to the Study of Social Action as Sense Making Practices. In T. A. van Dijk (Ed.), Discourse as Social Interaction. London: Sage Publications, 64-91, Sidnell, J. (2010). Action and Understanding. In J. Sidnell (Ed.), Conversation Analysis: An introduction (pp.59-76). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication13th AWIA Symposium
Subtitle of host publicationAction Description
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2016


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