LINGUIST List 24.2103

Sat May 18 2013

Review: Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics; Sociolinguistics: Peräkylä & Sorjonen (eds.) (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 09-Mar-2013
From: Jose Aguilar Río <>
Subject: Emotion in Interaction
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Anssi PeräkyläAUTHOR: Marja-Leena SorjonenTITLE: Emotion in InteractionPUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Jose Ignacio Aguilar Río, Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris III


“Emotion in Interaction” presents eleven original studies of emotion displayin natural contexts where oral interaction episodes occur. The focus is on a)the (non-)verbal and (non-)vocal means to construct, express, and manageemotional stance; b) how emotion and action intertwine in interaction; and c)the role of emotions in institutional interaction. Emotion is ultimatelycharacterized as a pervasive, multimodal, social phenomenon that isconstructed in social action.

In the introductory chapter, the editors state the aim is to observe howemotion is expressed, made observable and “publicly accessible” (p. 5), and“responsible to interactional context” (p. 4). The focus is on the various“emotional resources” (p. 6) available to the interactants -- (non-)verbal and(non-)vocal. Emotion is depicted as a multimodal social phenomenon.Interactants combine multiple resources in order to index emotion -- body,facial expressions, gaze, gesture, hand movement, head movement, posture,among others. The editors are agnostic as to the possibility of elucidatingany causal links between action and emotion. Four research questions areannounced: a) How do emotional stances come to be expressed (non-)verbally,(non-)vocally during social interaction? b) How does this expressionparticipate in the construction of action sequences? c) How is emotionregulated, managed in institutional contexts? d) How does the study of emotiondisplay contribute to the development of language and social theories? Chapter1 concludes with an outline of the contributions.

Chapter 2, by Marjorie Harness Goodwin, Asta Cekaite, Charles Goodwin, and EveTulbert, is entitled “Emotion as stance”. The authors depict “emotion display[as] situated practice” (p. 16). In order to make emotion recognizable byother fellow interactants, individuals utilize their face and body, as well asvocal means, such as prosody. Studies on face use for emotion display arereviewed. The authors claim that this literature has isolated the face fromthe rest of the ecology of individuals participating in social interaction.They aim at integrating these observable data -- the face, the body, and vocalmeans -- into one complex framework that informs about emotion display. Theyachieve this by presenting interaction transcripts that combine Praat voicemeasurements, discourse, and kinetic depictions. The scope of emotion analysisis thus limited to what is directly observable, which suits the definition ofemotion as a “public form of action” (p. 17). The data presented come fromvideotaped observations of four girls’ lunchtime break at school. The thoroughand complex transcripts effectively integrate the various sources ofinformation claimed by the authors to give insight into the study of emotiondisplay.

In chapter 3, “Distress in adult-child interaction”, Anthony J. Woottondistinguishes “display of emotion and talk about it” (p. 42) as two separatephenomena, which has profound epistemological and methodological implications.The author focuses on “breaches of expectations” (p. 43) of a 3 year-old girl-- the author’s daughter. The author refers to such breaches as “distress”,which is expressed by crying. Two sets of data are presented. The firstcomprises videotaped observations of the author’s family’s routine householdsituations. The second presents an autistic child’s classroom situation, andexpands on the study of the link between breached expectations and distressexpression. Wootton aims for a “functional analysis of emotion” (p. 58), whichallows him to “identify practices involved in composition of emotionaldisplays” (p. 60).

Chapter 4, “Facial expression and interactional regulation of emotion”, is byAnssi Peräkylä and Johanna Ruusuvuori. Quoting Ekman (2009), the authorsanalyse the use of the face to communicate information at closures of tellingsin dyads’ interaction. The authors focus on the observed participants’“interactional regulation”, rather than on their “emotional regulation”. Theidea here is that the participants’ actions “influence each other’s emotionsin situ” (p. 65). The authors identify how the observed individuals having thefloor accomplished “facial pursuit[s]” when confronted with the recipient’s“delayed responses at closures of tellings” (p. 66).

Douglas W. Maynard and Jeremy Freese are the authors of chapter 5, “Good news,bad news and affect: Practical and temporal ‘emotion work’ in everyday life”.The authors’ research paradigm is social constructivism. Emotions are depictedas conventional phenomena, rather than the result of biology or determinism.The focus is on the display of emotions. The authors are agnostic as regardsemotions as “internal accompaniments” (p. 94). The object of research isprosody. Specific prosodic features are associated with different types oftellings. However, no deterministic relations may be established betweenprosody and meaning. The prosodic features of the interlocutor who holds thefloor are describe as elements that help other fellow interactants assess thevalence that the latter attribute to their experience as local participants ina social episode. “Prosodic devices” are said to be “highly multifunctional”,interlocutors use them to accomplish “systematic relationships with lexical,sequential, situational information” (p. 99). Ultimately, the authors deny anysystematic correlations of prosody and emotional display.

Chapter 6, by Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, is “Exploring affiliation in thereception of conversational complaint stories”. The object of study is “therecipient’s task in storytelling” (p. 115). Stivers’ (2008) distinctionbetween “alignment” and “affiliation” is invoked. Affiliation indicatesunderstanding, not quite a cognitive achievement, but a recipient’s display ofan empathic attitude towards the teller. As regards “response cries” (Goffman,1981), it is hard to determine whether those produced by the story recipientsindicate their affiliation. Response cries are described as emotional displaytokens that need more definite lexical elements if they are to be linked withwhatever observable actions the individuals are seen to perform. The sameapplies to other non-verbal pseudo-affiliative tokens, such as head nods,which the author describes as “insufficient affiliative markers” (p. 142).

Chapter 7, by Auli Hakulinen and Marja-Leena Sorjonen, is “Being equivocal:Affective responses left unspecified”. This chapter focuses on the expressionof affect. The approach can be described as lexical, insofar as the authorsanalyse the functions of the Finnish response cry token “Voi etta” (p. 159).The authors conclude that this token allows story recipients to express animplicit affective stance, thus orienting to a certain ambivalence of theaffective character of prior talk.

Markku Haakana’s chapter is “Laughter in conversation: The case of ‘fake’laughter”. A reference to Jefferson’s (1987) transcripts of laughter opens thechapter. The multimodal character of laughter is emphasized. There is muchmore to laughter than “symbolic conventionalized forms of laughter” such as“hu” or “he” (p. 175). The concept of “fake laughter” - that which is not aspontaneous response to a previous action - is divided into “forced” and“lexicalized” laughter. “Forced laughter” is that which sounds real yet isdelivered in an explicitly unnatural manner. “Lexicalized laughter” is thatwhich is delivered as distinct, lexical units, such as “hu” or “he”. The focusis on the latter. The analysis of 20 hours of telephone conversation suggeststhat fake lexicalized laughter “signal[s] various affective stances”, as it isdeployed in “slots in which real laughter could occur” (p. 184). Fakelexicalized laughter appears as a practice among young male adults -- however,the corpus of data is insufficiently large to draw sociolinguisticconclusions. Future research should help to identify other fake affect displaytokens.

Chapter 9, by Alexa Hepburn and Jonathan Potter, is “Crying and cryingresponses”. The object of research is emotion, that is, as an observable andcommunicable object. Psychological approaches to emotion are ruled out. Cryingis understood, not quite as a feeling, but as a stance that may be locallymade recognizable. The data present telephone conversations from a ChildProtection helpline in the UK. Somewhat echoing Jefferson’s (1987) focus onlaughter, the authors try to determine the features of crying, as well asdefine a transcription procedure that allows them to capture its multimodalcomplexity. The focus is also on the recipients’ response(s) to crying, bothin mundane and institutional settings. The authors conclude that therecipients may show both sympathetic and empathetic attitudes to crying.

Chapter 10, by Christian Heath, Dirk vom Lehn, Jason Cleverly, and Paul Luff,is “Revealing surprise: The local ecology and the transposition of action”.Emotion expression can be both occasioned by and sensitive to the localcircumstances of the context at hand. The focus is on “surprise as an emotion”(p. 212). Surprise is both constituted by and constitutive of whatever objectsand/or events inhabit the ecology of those participating in a social episode.The authors choose museums as the (institutional) context. The data comprisevideotaped observations of various museums in Britain, where visitors react tothe exhibited works. Surprise is always supported by a secondary emotion(disgust, horror, humour, curiosity). The display of surprise has the doublefunction to “appreciate and encourage further inquiry” (p. 218), and to ask aninterlocutor to align with felt emotion (p. 232).

Liisa Voutilainen is the author of chapter 11, “Responding to emotion incognitive psychotherapy”. The data come from 57 audio-recorded cognitivetherapy sessions, made during a patient’s two-year long therapy. The focus ison the “[therapist’s] responses that function as empathic” (p. 235). The datashow instances where the patient’s disclosure of her feelings is addressed bythe therapist, who displays actions that resemble “affiliating responses totrouble telling/complaints” (p. 236). Such affiliation may however not beassociated with that of non-institutional contexts. The therapist’saffiliative responses aim at interpreting/challenging her patient’s beliefs.The institutional objective seems thus maintained.

Chapter 12, by John Heritage and Anna Lindström, is “Knowledge, empathy andemotion in a medical encounter”. The focus is on the expression of emotion bya nurse during an institutional medical encounter. The patient’s “disclosureof anxiety and depression” (p. 257) is responded to with personal disclosureby the medical professional. The latter’s responses are described as attemptsto display an empathetic attitude towards the former. The data come from“self-administered audio-tape recording” (p. 258) by the medical professional.

The final chapter of the book, by co-editor Anssi Peräkylä, is “Epilogue: whatdoes the study of interaction offer to emotion research?”. The four researchquestions laid out in chapter 1 are repeated, as she assesses how the elevencontributions have answered the questions. Peräkylä states that “no unifiedsocial-psychological theory of emotion” (p. 277) has been accomplished, yetvarious conceptualizations of emotional phenomena have been put forth. Aconversation analytical approach, such as the one that unifies thecontributions, does not allow the researchers to study basic emotions, butblended ones. A conception of emotion such as that of the contributors doesnot entail “a reflection of inner states but a multimodal situated practice”(p. 279). Ultimately, “emotion” and “feeling” are presented as virtualsynonyms, which may become observable as “interactional ‘mechanisms’” (p.288). Future research should address the question of the universality/culturalspecificity of emotions, as well as the scope of emotions within theindividual’s evolution.

A thorough transcription convention can be found at the end of the volume,plus a list of references and a useful index.


“Emotion in Interaction” accomplishes the chief objective to “[explore]emotion in naturally occurring spoken interaction” (p. 3). The attention ofthe contributors to the complex unfolding structure of interactions isextremely detailed, their capacity to scrutinize the data is thorough. Themost impressive highlight is the contributors’ ability to show emotion as amultimodal phenomenon. The complexity and ingeniousness of certain transcriptsallow the reader to consider specific observable emotional elements fromdifferent angles, and to reintegrate these into a complex, detailed,multilevel model of emotional expression.

Some flaws may however be pointed out. Throughout the volume this reader keptwondering what the authors meant by “emotion” and “affect”. As pointed out inthe concluding chapter, “no unified social-psychological theory of emotion”(p. 277) was aimed for, so none was to be expected. However, it is surprisingto see that no reference be made to the work of Antonio Damasio, whoseresearch aims partly at the distinction between the many concepts that inhabitthe lexical field of emotion. Damasio (2003), for instance, attempts todistinguish “affect”, “feeling” and “emotion”, by situating them within publicor private realms of experience. The contributors to “Emotion in Interaction”claim agnosticism concerning whatever value emotion may have insofar as anintimate, non-observable, psychological process. This notwithstanding, theepistemological question concerning the possible ways to study emotion raisesa methodological one: what is emotion, and how can it be accessed, accordingto a conversation analytical approach? Other than emotional actions such as“laughter” (chapter 8), “crying” and “sobbing” (chapter 9), or “tearfulness”(chapter 3), the volume studies specific emotions, among them “disgust”(chapter 2), “distress” (chapter 3) and “surprise” (chapter 10). It is unclearhow some of these emotions have come to be named. Conversation analysis takesan emic approach (ten Have, 1999). As far as categorizing, identifying andnaming emotions in the current volume is concerned, a fairly clear emicapproach can be identified in Goodwin et al.’s chapter -- which analyses theexpression of disgust -- insofar as one of the children does actually utterthe word “disgusting” (p. 19). This emic approach seems somewhat less clear inWootton’s study of the expression of distress by a 3-year-old. In effect,there are no specific, definite, lexical indications in the transcripts thatsuggest that the emotional expression accomplished by the little girl isprecisely “distress”. To what extent is this “distress” the result of apartial etic approach taken by the author? Is it possible that the author’sreading of an emotion partly originates from the analyst’s own intuition (tenHave, 1999) -- who happens to be the child’s father?

Another significant absence is that of Anita Pomerantz, whose conversationanalytical works are extensively quoted, but not some of her recentmethodological approaches. Pomerantz (2005) advocates administering videotapeddata to the interlocutors and interaction participants whose discourse isanalysed. This may assist the analyst “to gain access to the thoughts,feelings, concerns, interpretations, reactions, etc. that were oriented to bythe participants” (ibid., p. 96). This does not quite equate to the critiquemade above of Wootton’s auto-analysis practices. In effect, as Pomerantzsuggests (2005, p. 112), having the observed participants become occasionalco-analysts may shed light on unclear events, as well as suggest hints forfurther analysis. Such recall practices may have clarified extract 3 inchapter 10 (p. 223), where one of the interlocutors attending an exhibitionrefers to a plastinated foetus as “that little thing that makes you feel sosick” -- this reviewer understood the implicit idea of suffering from nauseaduring pregnancy.

These recall procedures would justify the use of “in” in the volume’s title.The conversation analytical, detached approach to affect, emotion and feelingtaken by the authors does not quite justify the implicit notion thatexperience is both inside and outside, as the volume’s title seems to suggest.Since the authors claim that they understand emotion as “interactionalmechanisms” (p. 288), a more adequate title may have been “Emotion asInteraction.” The psychological dimension to emotion is certainly not deniedby the authors, but neither is it explicitly taken into account, with theexception of Wootton, who takes into account interactive practices “which the[analyzed] child has a basis for treating as having been established in therecent past” (p. 55). The object of research and the research paradigm seem tohave been somewhat reformulated along the way. Chapter 1 promises an“exploration of emotion in naturally occurring spoken interaction” (p. 3),whereas chapter 13 concludes “what does the study of interaction offer toemotion research?” (p. 274). Indeed, the notion of “experience” retained doesnot seem compatible with recall practices, such as those among researchers inergonomics (Cahour & Licoppe, 2010), whose chief objective is to study theintimate point of view of individuals who interact with their fellowinterlocutors and contexts.

Other than the lack of conformity among the authors concerning theirterminological choices of key concepts such as “affect”, “emotion” and“feeling”, insufficient systematicity is also observed as regards the authors’methodological choices. For instance, a section concerning the participants,data production and processing, would have been useful -- this is the casewith some chapters, whereas others simply give a brief account in a finalnote. Finally, the hints for futureresearch seem appropriate and promising, especially as regards the universalor culturally-specific value of emotions. Concerning this point, it may alsobe useful to reflect on how representative the data presented may be. Ineffect, one could argue that what can be concluded -- or incidentally learned-- about studying emotion in naturally occurring interactions in Britain, theUS and Finland, is necessarily limited. This diversity does not seem to allowfor comprehensiveness. However, is this methodologically valid from the pointof view of strict conversation analysis? It may be appropriate to have moresociolinguistic analytic categories -- such as class, or gender – that helpaccount for a larger representativeness. This of course, presents a majormethodological problem for conversation analysts and researchers who adhere tomembership categorization analysis methods. Yet, if the universality orcultural specificity of emotions is what the research is about, validmethodological choices must be found.

“Emotion in Interaction” is a thorough and thought-provoking editorialaccomplishment. It certainly clarifies minutely how action, context, emotion,experience, individuals and interaction, determine and are determined by oneanother, in a way that can be accessed and directly observed by means ofcareful analysis. Readership accustomed to conversation analytical methodswill find the volume enlightening and inspiring. Those unfamiliar with thismethodology risk a certain disappointment at the way emotion is studied, andmay be left wanting a more social-behaviourally encompassing approach.


Cahour, B., & Licoppe, C. (2010). Confrontations with traces of one’s ownactivity. Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances, Vol 4, 2(2), a-k.

Damasio, A. (2003). Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.Harcourt.

Ekman, P. (2009). Introduction to the third edition. In C. Darwin, TheExpression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. (Introduction, afterword andcommentaries by Paul Ekman) (3rd ed., pp. xxi-xxxvi) Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress.

Goffman, E. (1981). Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of PennsylvaniaPress.

Jefferson, G. (1987). Notes on laughter in the pursuit of intimacy. In G.Button, & J. R. Lee (Ed.), Talk and Social Organisation (pp. 152-205).Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Pomerantz, A. (2005). Using participants’ video stimulated comments tocomplement analyses of interactional practices. In H. T. Molder & J. Potter(Ed.), Conversation and Cognition (pp. 93-113). Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Stivers, T. (2008). Stance, Alignment, and Affiliation During Storytelling:When Nodding Is a Token of Affiliation. Research on Language & SocialInteraction, 41(1), 31-57.


Jose Ignacio Aguilar Río is a Senior Lecturer at Sorbonne Nouvelle Universityin France. He teaches undergraduate and post-graduate courses in education,applied linguistics and research methodology. His research interests are inclassroom interaction, foreign language teacher education and researchmethodology. He has presented papers at international conferences in Europe.His works have been published in international reviews.

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