- Sociological and Educational Roots of Qualitative Research in Applied Linguistics
- GOFFMAN, GARFINKEL AND CONVERSATION ANALYSIS (Ver abajo.)
- The influence of ethnomethodology (Ver abajo.)
Sociological and Educational Roots of Qualitative Research in Applied Linguistics
This paper aims to seek early influences of sociology and educational sciences on qualitative and quantitative research in SLA and FLT. Field work undertaken by psychologists, sociologists and teachers in the 1950s is presented as a basis for later quantitative research. An overview of studies in the field of social psychology and educational sociology in the 1960s and 1970s, anchored in symbolic interactionism, follows to help us identify early criticism of quantitative approaches and its influence on directions and methods of qualitative research on teacher–student and student–student interaction in learner-centred contexts, as well as on group dynamics in the language classroom. An overview of critical pedagogy and political sociology since the early 1970s is then attempted to seek beginnings of disciplined reflection on the role of languages in the functioning of educational systems and of triangulated research on language in the school curriculum. Implications are sought for present-day teacher research and its role in pre- and in-service language teacher education
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2. GOFFMAN, GARFINKEL AND CONVERSATION ANALYSIS
Talk-in-interaction, Schegloff (1992) remarks, is ‘the primordial site of human sociality.’
It is the fundamental resource through which the business of all societies is managed,
their cultures are transmitted, the identities of their participants are affirmed, and their
social structures are reproduced. In almost every imaginable particular, our ability to
grasp the nature of the social world and to participate in it is dependent on our capacities,
skill and resourcefulness as social interactants. In the past, social scientists have had little
to say about how interaction works, treating it as an invisible or inscrutable ‘black box’.
The advent of conversation analysis, which investigates interaction as a social institution,
has begun to end this state of affairs.
Consider the following segment of talk from a medical consultation. The patient is
a divorced, middle-aged woman who lives alone and works a sixty-hour week in a
restaurant she owns. At Line 4, the doctor asks a ‘lifestyle’ question. Though opaquely
phrased, the question hearably inquires into the extent to which she drinks. She responds
with an apparently bona fide effort to estimate it (Line 6) as ‘moderate’. Pressed further,
she specifies this description in a turn that conveys, without directly stating, that her
drinking is social and infrequent (Lines 9 and 10). The doctor is not satisfied with this,
and pursues a more ‘objective’ numerically specified estimate (Lines 11-12). Mter a brief
struggle, a compromise ‘quasinumerical’ estimate is reached (Lines 15-16) and accepted
1 DOC tch D’you smoke?, h
2 PAT Hmmm.
4 DOC Alcohol use?
6 PAT Hm:: moderate I’d say.
8 DOC Can you define that, hhhehh ((laughing outbreath))
9 PAT Uh huh hah .hh I don’t get off my- (0.2) outa
10 thuh restaurant very much but [(awh:)
11 DOC [Daily do you use
12 alcohol or:=h
13 PAT Pardon?
14 DOC Daily? or[::
15 PAT [Oh: huh uh. .hh No: uhm (3.0) probably:
16 I usually go out like once uh week.
18 DOC °Kay. °
If you had been presented with this segment in 1960, you would have found few
systematic resources with which to analyse what is going on in this segment, and none
which could offer any significant clues as to the details of the actions the participants are
engaged in. In general, the social science of the period was highly abstract and
unconcerned with the specifics of everyday conduct. In fact, it was believed that
individual episodes like the doctor-patient exchange above are fundamentally disorderly
and that attempts at their systematic analysis would only be a waste of time (Sacks,
1984). Today, the details of this segment can be specified with a high degree of
resolution (see Boyd and Heritage, forthcoming, for an account of this segment and some
of the many analyses that bear on its details). This is possible because we now recognize
not only that there is a ‘world’ of everyday life that is available to systematic study, but
also that its texture is orderly to a degree that was hitherto unimaginable. My aim here is
to describe how two great American social scientists – Erving Goffman and Harold
Garfinkel – dissented from the idea that the details of the everyday world are an
inherently disorderly and unresearchable mess. They are central figures in the demolition
of this idea, and their perspectives have been combined to create a major social science
paradigm, conversation analysis, which is beginning to unlock fundamental structural and
processual features of social interaction.
Goffman’s fundamental achievement, developed over a lifetime of writing (see Goffman,
1955, 1983), was to establish that social interaction is a form of social organization in its
own right. Social interaction, he argued, embodies a distinct moral and institutional order
that can be treated like other social institutions, such as the family, education, religion
etc. Goffman came to term this the interaction order (Goffman, 1983) and, he argued, it
comprises a complex set of interactional rights and obligations which are linked both to
‘face’ (a person’s immediate claims about ‘who s/he is’ in an interaction), more enduring
features of personal identity, and also to large-scale macro social institutions. Goffman
further argued that the institutional order of interaction has a particular social
significance. It underlies the operations of all the other institutions in society, and it
mediates the business that they transact. The work of political, economic, educational and
legal and other social institutions is all unavoidably transacted by means of the practices
that make up the institution of social interaction.
Goffman’s central insight was that the institution of interaction has what he called a
‘syntax’. In the Introduction to Interaction Ritual he observes:
I assume that the proper study of interaction is not the individual and his
psychology, but rather the syntactical relations among the acts of different persons
mutually present to one another. (Goffman, 1967: 2)
The participants use this ‘syntax’ – a socio-logic of interaction that provides for the
sequential ordering of actions (see Goffman, 1971: 171-202) – to analyse one another’s
conduct. By looking at the choices people make within this syntax, persons can arrive at
judgements about personal motivations and identities. This syntax, Goffman argued, is a
core part of the moral order. It is the place where face, self and identity are expressed,
and where they are also ratified, undermined or destroyed by the conduct of others.
Thus, in contrast to his predecessors, Goffman viewed the normative organization
of practices and processes that makes up the interaction order as a domain to be studied in
its own right. He repeatedly rejected the view that interaction is a colourless, odourless,
frictionless substrate through which, for example, personality variables, dominance
hierarchies, or institutional or macrosociological processes operate (Goffman, 1964;
Kendon, 1988). What is excluded in this latter conception is the interactional order as an
autonomous site of authentic social processes that inform social action and interaction.
With this framework, Goffman carved out a new conceptual space, and with it a new
territory for systematic analysis: the interaction order as a social institution in its own
In retrospect it is clear that, while his work has been enormously influential,
Goffman’s inspired recognition of interaction as an autonomous domain of study was
insufficiently developed to become the basis for a distinct social science field of
discourse analysis. In part, these difficulties had to do with Goffman’s attitude to data. As
Schegloff (1988) has noted, Goffman did not so much demonstrate his theoretical
observations as exemplify them. His interest in the empirical realm was exhausted by its
role in illustrating brilliantly conceived theoretical analyses. A second order of difficulty
was conceptual. Goffman’s interest in the ‘syntax’ of interaction was one that connected
social identity with the institutions of society. He was interested in how face and identity
are associated with action, and how the inferences about them that are triggered by
actions can motivate interactional conduct. He was less interested in, and did not pursue,
other equally fundamental issues concerning how the participants understand one another
in interaction and, just as important, know that they share their understandings. Largely
for these reasons, Goffman’s approach – brilliant though it was – failed to stabilize as a
systematic approach to the analysis of interaction. There is no ‘Goffman School’ of
interaction analysis, and Goffman’s seminal insights might have been stillborn but for
their intersection with a quite separate emergence of interest in cognition and meaning in
the social sciences during the 1960s.
This emergence can be traced, above all, to the extraordinary researches of Harold
Garfinkel (1967). Garfinkel argued that all human action and human institutions,
including Goffman’s interaction order, rest on the primordial fact that persons are able to
make shared sense of their circumstances and act on the shared sense they make.
Garfinkel wanted to know how this is possible, and he hit on the notion that persons use
shared methods of practical reasoning (‘ethno-methods’) to build this shared sense of
their common context of action, and of the social world more generally. Garfinkel argued
that coordinated and meaningful actions, regardless of whether they involve cooperation
or conflict, are impossible without these shared understandings. Thus any conception of
social action is incomplete without an analysis of how social actors use shared commonsense
knowledge and shared methods of reasoning in the conduct of their joint affairs. It
is these shared methods, for example, that enable our doctar and patient to build and
navigate their sequence of interaction, knowing that issues are not quite resolved until the
doctor says ‘Kay’ at Line 18 in Extract 1. Thus Garfinkel insisted that shared sense
making is a primordial feature of the social world. Nothing can happen in the social
world without it. His project – ethnomethodology – was to study how socially shared
methods of practical reasoning are used to analyse, understand, and act in the commonsense
world of everyday life.
In developing these ideas, Garfinkel drew for inspiration on the writings of Alfred
Schlitz 0962), who argued that common-sense knowledge is patchy and incomplete, is
held in a form that is typified, approximate and revisable, and that shared understandings
between persons are contingent achievements based on this knowledge. Using a series of
quasi-experimental procedures (known as ‘breaching experiments’) to create basic
departures from taken-far-granted social expectations, Garfinkel 0967) was able to
demonstrate the significance of these ideas.
For example, using the game of ‘noughts and crosses,’ Garfinkel 0963) had
experimenters invite the subjects to make the first move, whereupon the experimenters
erased the subject’s mark, moved it to a new cell, and then made their own mark while
acting as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. These experimental departures
engendered deep confusion and moral indignation in their subjects but, Garfinkel found,
the deepest anger and indignation was engendered in those who could not make sense of
the situation. From this Garfinkel concluded that the rules of noughts and crosses are not
only rules that define how one should act within the game, what counts as winning and
losing etc., they are also resources for making sense of another’s move, and of the ‘state of
play’ more generally. It is the rules of noughts and crosses that allow the one playing as
‘0’ to see that the situation in Figure 1 is ‘hopeless.’
Similarly, they can be used to see that in Figure 2 ‘X’ has ‘two in a row’ and is
threatening to beat ‘0’. They can also be used to see that if you ‘miss’ noticing the ‘two in a
row’ situation, you’re being ‘inattentive’. And other understandings can be laminated on to
X O X X O O
Figure 1 Noughts and crosses Figure 2 Noughts and crosses
– ‘hopeless’ – ‘two in a row’
If the ‘0’ player in Figure 2 is an adult, and the ‘X’ player is a child, missing ‘two in a row’
by putting the next ‘0’ in other than the bottom right square can leave the adult open to the
accusation that ‘it’s no fun because you’re letting me win’.
From quasi-experimental procedures like this, Garfinkel concluded that shared
methods of practical reasoning inform both the production of action, and the recognition
of action and its meanings. In fact, he argued, we produce action methodically to be
recognized for what it is, and we recognize action because it is produced methodically in
this way. As Garfinkel made the point in his own inimitable prose: ‘The activities
whereby members produce and manage the settings of organized everyday affairs are
identical with members’ procedures for making these settings account-able’ (Garfinkel,
Most of social life is a great deal more complicated than games. And Garfinkel
used other ‘breaching experiments’ to demonstrate practical reasoning in these more
complicated social situations. These experiments clearly indicated that social actions,
shared understandings and, ultimately, social institutions are underpinned by a complex
body of presuppositions, tacit assumptions and methods of inference – in short, a body of
methods or methodology – that informs the production of culturally meaningful objects
and actions, and that is equally profoundly involved in how we go about achieving
understandings of them.
Methods of common-sense reasoning are fundamentally adapted to the recognition
and understanding of events-in-context. In Garfinkel’s analysis, ordinary understandings
are the product of a circular process in which an event and its background are
dynamically adjusted to one another to form a coherent ‘gestalt’. Garfinkel described this
process, following Mannheim, as ‘the documentary method of interpretation’ and he
argues that it is a ubiquitous feature of the recognition of all objects and events from the
most mundane features of everyday existence to the most recondite of scientific or artistic
achievements. In this process, linkages are assembled between an event and its physical
and social background using a variegated array of presuppositions and inferential
procedures. The documentary method embodies the property of reflexivity: changes in an
understanding of an event’s context will evoke some shift or elaboration of a person’s
grasp of the focal event and vice versa. When it is employed in a temporally dynamic
context, which is a characteristic of all situations of social action and interaction, the
documentary method forms the basis for temporally updated shared understandings of
actions and events among the participants.
The upshot of Garfinkel’s researches was that every aspect of shared understandings
of the social world depends on a multiplicity of tacit methods of reasoning. These
methods are socially shared and they are ceaselessly used during every waking moment
to recognize ordinary social objects and events. These methods also function as a
resource for the production of actions. Actors tacitly draw on them so as to produce
actions that will be accountable – that is, recognizable and describable – in context. Thus,
shared methods of reasoning are publicly available on the surface of social life because
the results of their application are inscribed in social action and interaction.
Conversation analysis (CA), developed by Harvey Sacks in association with Emanuel
Schegloff and Gail Jefferson, emerged in the late 1960s at the intersection of the
perspectives developed by Goffman and Garfinkel. From Goffman, CA took the notion
that talk-in-interaction is a fundamental social domain that can be studied as an
institutional entity in its own right. From Garfinkel came the notion that the practices and
procedures with which parties produce and recognize talk are talk’s ‘ethnomethods.’ They
form the resources which the parties unavoidably must use and rely on to produce and
recognize contributions to interaction which are mutually intelligible in specific ways,
and which advance the situation of interaction in an incremental, step-by-step fashion.
In the early CA publications (e.g. Schegloff and Sacks, 1973) these two
perspectives were melded into a new methodology. Integral to the methodology was a
reversal of the old social science perspective that individual actions are inherently
disorderly, and that their patterns can only be approximated using statistics. Instead CA
insisted that social interaction is orderly on an individual, action-by-action, case-by-case,
level. Along with this came the insistence that this order must be found in the naturally
occurring materials of interaction, rather than materials fabricated through
experimental procedures or role plays. And finally, since orderliness inheres in the details
of interaction, there was an insistence that these materials be recorded on audio or video
tape rather than being noted, coded, or, worse, simply recollected or imagined.
In keeping with the Goffmanian background of CA, this methodology was directed
at uncovering institutionalized practices, and the organization of them, through which
ordinary interaction is managed. These practices were conceived as basically independent
of the motivational, psychological or sociological characteristics of individuals: the
institution of interaction largely antedates the characteristics of those who staff it. Just as
important, Garfinkel’s focus on the importance of contextuality, reflexivity and
intersubjectivity primarily emerged in a focus on the sequential aspects of interaction.
Several fundamental ideas are condensed in this sequential focus. First, turns at talk
are overwhelmingly produced with an orientation to preceding talk, most commonly the
immediately preceding talk (Sacks 1987,1992; Schegloff and Sacks, 1973). Speakers
design their talk in ways that exploit this basic positioning, thereby exposing the
fundamental role of sequential positioning as a resource for the production and
understanding of their utterances (Schegloff, 1984). Second, current actions ordinarily
project the relevance of a particular (range of) ‘next’ actions to be done by a subsequent
speaker (Schegloff, 1972). Third, by the production of next actions, speakers show an
understanding of a prior action and do so at a multiplicity of levels – for example, by an
‘acceptance’, an actor can show an understanding that the prior turn was possibly
complete, that it was addressed to them, that it was an action of a particular type (e.g., an
invitation) and so on. CA methodology is premised on the notion that all three of these
features – the grasp of a ‘next’ action that a current projects, the production of that next
action, and its interpretation by the previous speaker – are methodically achieved by
means of a set of socially shared practices.
Consider the following sequence:
NANCY a-> W’ts ‘iz last name,
HYIA b-> =Uh: Freedla:nd. .hh[hh
NANCY c-> [Oh[:,
HYIA [(‘r) Freedlind. = ‘
NANCY d-> =Nice Jewish bo:y?
HYIA e-> O:f cou:rse,=
NANCY f-> =’v [cou:rse,]
HYIA [hh-hh-hh]hnh .hhhhh=
NANCY =Nice Jewish boy who doesn’like tih write letters?
qIn the first question-answer sequence (arrowed a-c), Nancy asks for the name of Hyla’s
current boyfriend, and subsequently acknowledges this information with ‘Oh’; (Line 3,
arrowed c). With this response she shows, quite appropriately, that this information is
‘news’ for her, that she did not know it before, and thus that her question was a ‘real’ one
that was informed by a desire to know the answer (Heritage, 1984a, 1984b, 1995). By
contrast, in the second sequence (arrowed d-f), Nancy acknowledges Hyla’s response
with “v course’, rather than ‘oh’. By this means, she shows that the answer was not ‘news’
for her and, retroactively, that her ‘question’ at Line 5 (arrowed) was not a ‘real’ question
so much as a solid inference (based on ethnographic knowledge of the last name), and
that it was to be understood as a comment on the social desirability of the boyfriend. Here
action, meaning, context, and intersubjectivity are bound together through simple
practices of talking.
In summary, CA analyses of the use of conversational practices are simultaneously
analyses of action, meaning, context management and intersubjectivity because all of
these features are simultaneously, if tacitly, the objects of the actors’ actions. The
procedures that inform these activities are normative in that actors can be held morally
accountable both for departures from their use and for the inferences which their use, or
departures from their use, may engender. In these ideas, the perspective that Garfinkel
had developed over a number of publications was crystallized into a clear set of empirical
working practices which were applied, without exception, to tape recordings of naturally
Operating in tandem with this methodology, was a commitment to the study of
ordinary conversation as a domain which has substantive priority over other forms of
interaction such as, for example, the rituals of public events or more specialized activities
such as court hearings or business meetings. The initial body of CA research focused
entirely on ordinary conversation, and even when drawing from data, such as group
therapy or emergency telephone calls, its practitioners focused on what was ‘ordinary’
rather than what was ‘institutional’ or otherwise exceptional about them.
Based on this methodological framework, CA began the work of analysing
conversation as a social institution. In the process, fundamental treatments of a range of
basic dimensions of conversational practice were developed, including turn-taking
(Goodwin, 1981; Sacks et al., 1974) sequence organization (Pomerantz, 1978, 1984;
Sacks, 1987 ; Schegloff, 1972; Schegloff and Sacks, 1973); the overall structure of
conversations (Schegloff 1968; Schegloff and Sacks 1973); the repair of difficulties in
speaking, hearing and understanding talk (Schegloff et aI., 1977); story telling (Sacks,
1974); word selection (Schegloff, 1972); and others. These studies carved out a range of
sub-areas of conversational organization which are of continuing relevance today.
Towards the end of this period, the field also began to diversify into domains of
interaction – such as legal proceedings, doctor-patient interaction, calls to the emergency
services, news interviews and classroom interaction – which are socially and
organizationally distinct from ordinary conversation. This diversification into
‘institutional talk’ has accelerated markedly in the past decade. The distinct orientations of
these two dimensions of CA research might be summarized by suggesting that whereas
CA studies of ordinary conversation analyse the institution of talk as an entity in its own
right, CA studies of institutional talk effectively examine the management of social
institutions in talk (Drew and Heritage, 1992; Heritage, 1997). The assumptions
underlying the study of institutional talk are that ordinary conversation is more basic and
primordial than institutional talk. While the practices of ordinary conversation change
relatively slowly and appear to be very similar across many languages and cultures, the
practices involved in institutional talk can change quite quickly and are subject to various
kinds of social pressures. For example the ‘consumer movement’ in medicine has
evidently changed the ways in which doctors normally deliver diagnoses (compare Byrne
and Long, 1976, with Perakyla, 1998). Similarly, journalists have become notably more
adversarial and less deferential in their questioning of public figures during the past three
decades (Clayman and Heritage, 1999). There is no question that the study of talk in
institutional settings has become a major growth area in conversation analysis. But it has
been made possible by the remarkable range and stability of conversation analytic
findings that have been developed from ordinary conversation.
As its name implies, conversation analysis is a method for studying social interaction. It
is not designed for the analysis of texts, or of contexts where activities are progressed by
means other than social interaction. Instead, it is a method designed to unpack the
fundamental organization of social action and interaction, and in its applied and
institutional aspects, to link empirical findings about the organization of action and
interaction to other characteristics of social actors and the settings they act in. Its
strengths and limitations should be appreciated in these terms.
Boyd, E. and Heritage,]. (forthcoming) ‘Taking the patient’s personal history: questioning
during verbal examination’, in Heritage,]. and Maynard, M. (eds) Practising Medicine:
Stmcture and Process in Primary Care Encounters, Cambridge, Cambridge University
Byrne, P.S. and Long, B.E.L. 0984 ) Doctors Talking to Patients: A Study of the
Verbal Behaviours of Doctors in the Consultation, Exeter, Royal College of General
Clayman, S. and Heritage, J. (1999) ‘Questioning presidents: the evolution of questioning
in presidential press conferences’, Paper presented at the National Communication
Association Meetings, Chicago IL.
Drew, P. and Heritage, J. (1992) ‘Analyzing talk at work: an introduction’, in P. Drew and
J. Heritage (eds) Talk at Work, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
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concerted actions’, in O.J. Harvey (ed.) Motivation and Social Interaction, New York,
Garfinkel, H. (1967) Studies in Ethnomethodology, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall.
Goffman, E. (1955) ‘On face work’, Psychiatry, no. 18, pp. 213-31.
Goffman, E. (1964) ‘The neglected situation’, American Anthropologist, vol. 66, pp. 133-6.
Goffman, E. 0967) Interaction Ritual: Essays in Face to Face Behavior, Garden City,
New York, Doubleday.
Goffman, E. 0971) Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order, Harmondsworth,
Goffman, E. 0983) ‘The interaction order’, American Sociological Review, no. 48, pp. 1-17.
Goodwin, C. 0981) Conversational Organization: Interaction Between Speakers and
Hearers, New York, Academic Press.
Heritage, J. (1984a) Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology, Cambridge, Polity Press.
Heritage, J. (1984b) ‘A change-of-state token and aspects of its sequential placement’, in
J.M. Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds) Structures of Social Action, Cambridge, Cambridge
Heritage, J. (1995) ‘Conversation analysis: methodological aspects’, in UM. Quasthoff (ed.)
Aspects of Oral Communication, Berlin, De Gruyter.
Heritage, J. (1997) ‘Conversation analysis and institutional talk: analyzing data’, in D.
Silverman (ed.) Qualitative Analysis: Issues of Theory and Method, London, Sage.
Kendon, A. (1988) ‘Erving Goffman’s contributions to the study of face-to-face interaction’,
in P. Drew and A. Wootton (eds) Erving Goffman: Exploring in the Interaction Order,
Cambridge, Polity Press. Kendon, A. 0990) ‘Some context for context analysis: a view of the
origins of structural studies of face-to-face interaction’, in A. Kendon (ed.) Conducting
Interaction: Patterns of Behaviour in Focused Encounters, Cambridge, Cambridge
Perakyla, A. (1998) ‘Authority and accountability: the delivery of diagnosis in primary
health care’, Social Psychology Quarterly, vol. 61, no. 4, pp. 301-20.
Pomerantz, A. (1978) ‘Compliment responses: notes on the co-operation of multiple
constraints’, in J. Schenkein (ed.) Studies in the Organization of Conversational Interaction,
New York, Academic Press.
Pomerantz, A. (1984) ‘Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: some features of
preferred/ dispreferred turn shapes’, in J.M. Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds) Structures of
Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Sacks, H. (1974) ‘An analysis of the course of a joke’s telling in conversation’, in R. Bauman
and]. Sherzer (eds) Explorations in the Ethnography of Speaking, Cambridge, Cambridge
Sacks, H. (1984) ‘Notes on methodology’, in J.M. Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds) Structures
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Sacks, H. (1987 ) ‘On the preferences for agreement and contiguity in sequences in
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Sudnow (ed.) Studies in Social Interaction, New York, Free Press.
Schegloff, E.A. and Sacks, H. (1973) ‘Opening up closings’, Semiotica, vol. 8, pp. 289-327.
Schegloff, E.A. (1984) ‘On some questions and ambiguities in conversation’, in J.M.
Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds) Structures of Social Action, Cambridge, Cambridge
Schegloff, E.A. (1988) ‘Goffman and the analysis of conversation’, in P. Drew and A.
Wootton (eds) Erving Goffman: Exploring the Interaction Order, Cambridge, Polity
Schegloff, E.A. (1992) ‘Repair after next turn: the last structurally provided for place for
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London: Sage, 2001
Conversation Analysis & Discourse Analysis
The influence of ethnomethodology
Both conversation analysis and discourse analysis reflect and develop the
concerns of ethnomethodology. Pioneered by Harold Garfinkel (1967) the fundamental
tenet of ethnomethodology is that the sense of social action is accomplished
through the participants’ use of tacit, practical reasoning skills and
competencies. These skills are referred to as ‘tacit’ and ‘practical’ because they
are not the kinds of ‘rules’ or norms of behaviour which we could consciously
articulate, or on which we would routinely reflect. Instead, they inhabit the very
weave of social life, and thereby become invisible and unnoticeable. As so much
of social life is mediated through spoken and written communication, the study
of language was placed at the very heart of ethnomethodology’s sociological
enterprise. Sacks was a colleague of Garfinkel, and their work shares many concerns:
for example, analysing the normative basis of social action, and the way
that sense-making procedures are embedded in mundane activities. However,
Sacks’ work was focused exclusively on the communicative competencies that
informed ordinary, everyday conversation. Moreover, as his distinctive style of
analysis developed it became much more positivistic in its outlook. CA subsequently
emerged as the study of objective structures in the way that interaction
is patterned. This is at odds with ethnomethodology’s more interpretative stance,
and its focus on the ways in which members achieve the sense of any particular
event or moment. In recent years, some ethnomethodologists have been critical
of this positivistic turn in CA, arguing that it betrays the more ethnomethodological
spirit which was important in some of Sacks’ earlier lectures (Lynch and
Although Gilbert and Mulkay (1984) were interested in the interpretative
practices which informed scientists’ accounts of a scientific dispute, their analyses
were not ethnomethodological in orientation. However, ethnomethodology’s
focus on the situated and constitutive use of tacit sense-making activities was
reflected in Edwards and Middleton’s studies of the joint production of discursive
remembering. And Garfinkel’s work was explicitly influential in Potter
and Wetherell’s (1987) subsequent development of discourse analysis, in two
senses. First, ethnomethodological research was cited to establish that the
study of people’s own sense-making should be a central part of social psychology.
But it was also important as part of their wider critique of experimental
methods in social psychology. Thus although discourse analysis was
informed by a range of intellectual traditions, ethnomethodology was central
to their attempt to highlight the implications for social psychology of the constructive
and constitutive properties of ordinary language.