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Review of  The Handbook of Conversation Analysis

Reviewer: Beatrice Szczepek Reed
Book Title: The Handbook of Conversation Analysis
Book Author: Jack Sidnell Tanya Stivers
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 24.2865

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The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, the first publication of its kind, provides an extensive overview of central methodological, analytical and topical concerns by leading writers in the field. The book is divided into five parts, which cover basic principles of analysis, core findings on conversational structures, central topics and contexts, and the relationship of Conversation Analysis (CA) with a number of disciplines. The Handbook contains 36 chapters.

In their INTRODUCTION (Chapter 1), editors Tanya Stivers and Jack Sidnell briefly outline the CA perspective, and comment on the interdisciplinary nature of CA, while positioning the approach within Sociology. A brief section on the institutionalization process tracks the main steps CA has undergone from its beginnings in the late 1960s to its current presence in the academic landscape, particularly in North America and Europe.

PART 1 covers fundamental issues and principles of CA. Douglas Maynard’s chapter EVERYONE AND NO ONE TO TURN TO: INTELLECTUAL ROOTS AND CONTEXTS FOR CONVERSATION ANALYSIS considers CA’s relationship with Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology, Goffman, Greek Oral Culture, Philosophy of Language, and Linguistics. While some of these influences are widely known (Garfinkel, Goffman), Noam Chomsky’s influence on Harvey Sacks may come as a surprise, particularly to linguists.

In Chapter 3 Lorenza Mondada considers THE CONVERSATION ANALYTIC APPROACH TO DATA COLLECTION, especially the practicalities of recording and their implications for analysis. Chapter 4, THE CONVERSATION ANALYTIC APPROACH TO TRANSCRIPTION, Alexa Hepburn and Galina Bolden survey Jeffersonian transcription conventions, with additional thoughts on the transcription of video recordings. In Chapter 5, BASIC CONVERSATION ANALYTIC METHODS, Jack Sidnell likens the conversation analyst’s work to that of a cartographer and detective, starting from an initial observation, on to building a collection of cases and describing the interactional practice.

Each chapter in PART 2 considers one of the fundamental structures of interaction. Stephen Levinson’s chapter ACTION FORMATION AND ASCRIPTION provides a brief overview of language as action in other disciplines, before detailing the various contributions made to action formation and ascription by sequential location and verbal and non-verbal turn design. Among a number of important points made in the chapter is the suggestion that actions are best considered parts of projects; another the distinction between ‘primary actions’, i.e. the ‘main job’ an action is performing (such as responding to an assessment) and ‘less official’ business (such as indicating epistemic authority), the ‘under-current of tit-for-tat’ (p. 107). Both points are provided as constraints on the otherwise potentially overwhelming task of describing an almost infinite number of actions.

In Chapter 7 on TURN DESIGN, Paul Drew focuses on ways in which turns are designed for their location in a sequence, and on the relation between sequential position and the action being implemented by a turn. Recipient design is also addressed by comparing instances of enquiries by the same speaker made to different recipients.

Steven Clayman’s Chapter 8 TURN-CONSTRUCTIONAL UNITS AND THE TRANSITION RELEVANCE PLACE first describes how TCU endings differ syntactically and prosodically from aborted TCUs, and how they are treated differently by co-participants. He also explores ways in which TCUs project their completion via syntax, prosody, pragmatics/action and gaze, and how these resources may interact as clusters. Finally, practices are described that allow participants to avoid turn transition, including compressing TRPs phonetically via rush-throughs / abrupt joins and bridging them syntactically via pivots.

In Chapter 9 Makoto Hayashi considers TURN ALLOCATION AND TURN SHARING. The author describes practices for current speakers to select next speakers, including address terms, gaze, and contextualized tying; and practices for self-selection. He then explores overlap in some depth, including different locations for overlap onset (turn-terminal, turn-initial and mid-turn), overlap resolution and its aftermath. The preference for overlap resolution is used to show participants’ orientation towards the one-party-at-a-time constraint. Turn sharing is introduced as evidence that starting up before a current speaker has completed their turn is not always treated as problematic. Turn sharing is shown to accomplish agreement and affiliation, and as allowing co-participants to position themselves as co-turn-holders.

Tanya Stivers provides an overview of SEQUENCE ORGANIZATION in Chapter 10. After introducing CA’s overall conceptualization of talk as sequentially organized, the author considers adjacency pairs and shows how participants orient to them as imposing a specific normative constraint on what is to be produced next. Subsequently practices for sequence expansion are presented, and storytelling is introduced as an extended sequence type during which turn-taking rules are suspended in favor of the storyteller. The author also discusses the normative requirements regarding next actions following actions that are implemented either in first or in second position. In particular, first actions, such as assessments, that are not met with a response, and are not treated as problematic by participants are considered, and two possibilities for analyzing these instances are presented: distinguishing between actions that do and do not make next actions conditionally relevant; and considering actions according to the degree to which they are implemented with ‘response mobilizing features’ (Stivers & Rossano 2010), such as interrogative morphology, syntax or prosody.

In their chapter on PREFERENCE, Anita Pomerantz and John Heritage first review work on preference principles for descriptions and references, and conversational actions. They consider, amongst other topics, yes-no question answer sequences, in which both questioners and answerers orient to minimizing disconfirmations as responding actions, and other-repair/correction. Subsequently, the authors discuss conflicting preferences, as in the case of responding to compliments where the preference for minimizing praising oneself conflicts with that for minimizing disagreement (Pomerantz 1978); person reference where the preference for single reference forms may conflict with that for using forms that a recipient can recognize (Sacks & Schegloff 1979); and providing requested information, where the preference for a selected next speaker to speak next may conflict with that for providing the requested information (Stivers & Robinson 2006). Finally, the authors discuss two oversimplifications present in prior research on preference: the tendency to generalize preferences across entire categories of actions, and the tendency to consider actions only in terms of single, rather than multiple preference principles.

In Chapter 12 Celia Kitzinger provides an overview of REPAIR. After distinguishing between self- and other-initiated repair, the chapter focuses on self-initiated repair in terms of its location, practices and interactional uses. The author describes practices of self-initiated repair (‘repair operations’), such as replacing, inserting, deleting, searching, parenthesizing and aborting; and lists as potential components of self-repair framing by reissuing sounds or words, silences and delays, apologetic terms, prefaces, repeats, multiple tries and self-talk. Interactional uses of self-repair within same-TCU can be delaying or fine-tuning an action-in-progress. The section on other-initiated repair considers four formats (open class, category-specific WH-words, repeats and candidate understandings) and mentions displaying disaffiliation and delaying the sequentially next action as additional interactional uses.

In Chapter 13 Jeffrey D. Robinson considers OVERALL STRUCTURAL ORGANIZATION, an area that has not yet been explored in depth, but has, as Robinson shows, been an integral part of the CA endeavor from the beginning. He points out that in the same way that turns ‘hang together’ (Schegloff 2007: 1), sequences are organized in groups by a ‘supra-sequential coherence’ (p. 258). Robinson uses the concept of activity to show the overall structural organization of smaller and larger interactional projects. The author discusses the ‘reflexive relationship’ between activity patterns (Garfinkel’s (1967: 78) ‘presupposed underlying pattern’) and their production. Activity patterns and contexts are not derived from pre-existing cognitive structures, but from locally performed actions which allow for a normative overall organization. Subsequently, the author takes a more in-depth look at physician-patient interactions dealing with medical concerns, and details four components of this ‘medical project’ (p. 267): problem presentation, information gathering, diagnosis and treatment.

PART 3 covers key topics in CA, beginning with Christian Heath’s and Paul Luff’s chapter EMBODIED ACTION AND ORGANIZATIONAL ACTIVITY. They focus on four areas in which they show embodied conduct to play a crucial role: the interactional production of turns, exemplified by an analysis of an extract from a medical interaction; turn transition and organization in complex institutional settings, exemplified by an extract from an auction; expressions of physical pain, exemplified by another extract from a medical interaction; and the accomplishment of actions through interaction with, and via technology.

In Chapter 15, Frederico Rossano surveys research on GAZE IN CONVERSATION. After considering the importance of the human ability to follow the gaze of others and of general gaze direction during conversation the author discusses the relationship between gaze and participant role (speaker, listener), which is more complex and locally determined than previously claimed. Turn-taking and turn allocation are also discussed, and gaze is described as one of the resources by which participants mobilize responses (Stivers & Rossano 2010). The role of gaze for sequence closing is described in some depth. The Appendix for the chapter contains a list of symbols for representing gaze direction in interaction.

In her chapter EMOTION, AFFECT AND CONVERSATION Johanna Ruusuvuori introduces the two concepts as they are used in different disciplines before considering a number of published case studies, which show emotion as consequential for interaction, as a co-constructed resource, and as a vehicle for performing actions in institutional encounters. Finally, she explores how the display of certain emotions is accomplished through the interplay of talk and facial expressions.

Anna Lindström’s and Marja-Leena Sorjonen’s chapter AFFILIATION IN CONVERSATION begins by introducing affiliation and its relation to preference, and alignment (Stivers 2008). They then present resources for displaying affiliation, such as laughter in response to a joke, verbal responses, and prosodic resources, before describing troubles-telling and complaining as two activities for which displaying affiliation is a central participant concern. The chapter ends with sections on affiliation in institutional settings and with respect to epistemic stance.

In chapter 18 John Heritage considers EPISTEMICS IN CONVERSATION. After providing historical and theoretical background, he presents two areas of early research from which current CA work on epistemics has arisen: participants’ orientation to the distribution of knowledge and information in conversation; and the role of epistemic background, such as types of knowledge, for the understanding of utterances. Subsequently he distinguishes between epistemic stance and epistemic status, and presents resources for managing epistemic domains and their boundaries, before considering action formation and sequence organization.

Chapters 19 by Kaoru Hayano and 20 by Seung-Hee Lee cover QUESTION DESIGN IN CONVERSATION and RESPONSE DESIGN IN CONVERSATION, respectively. While the former considers, amongst other things, epistemic stance, preference organization and actions accomplished through questions, the chapter on responses focuses on types of responses to WH- and polar questions.

Nick Enfield’s chapter REFERENCE IN CONVERSATION begins by considering references to time as locally fitted selections from a number of options. Subsequently person reference is explored in terms of the preferences for recognition and minimization as described by Sacks and Schegloff (1979), and other preferences identified since then. Following sections consider marked reference forms, repair, and initial vs subsequent references.

In Chapter 22, Gareth Walker introduces the analysis of PHONETICS AND PROSODY IN CONVERSATION. After explaining the difference between auditory and acoustic analysis he shows how both can be applied to an extract from conversation. Subsequently some of the main findings concerning the role of prosody and phonetics for interaction are presented, including turn-taking and the relationship between turns and TCUs. In the final part, Walker discusses the advantages and disadvantages of different transcription systems.

Harrie Mazeland considers GRAMMAR IN CONVERSATION in Chapter 23, showing how grammar can be approached from a conversation analytic perspective as a resource for organizing social interaction that produces different practices across languages. Mazeland then discusses Schegloff’s (1996) notion of ‘positionally sensitive grammars’, before considering clausal and nonclausal TCUs as initiating and responsive actions.

In Chapter 24 Jenny Mandelbaum introduces STORYTELLING IN CONVERSATION. An example of a storytelling is presented, and the structure of storytelling is illustrated with reference to it. The author covers the launch of a storytelling, recipient responses and disruptions, actions accomplished through storytelling, and story endings.

PART 4 concerns CA in different populations and settings. Mardi Kidwell’s chapter INTERACTION AMONG CHILDREN begins with a look at Sacks’ interest in children’s interaction and conversation analytic work in this area since. The author then presents an original analysis of a sequence during which three children interact with a fourth child who is crying, and whom they try to console by offering him objects.

In Chapter 26 Charles Antaki and Ray Wilkinson consider CONVERSATION ANALYSIS AND THE STUDY OF ATYPICAL POPULATIONS, focusing on three groups: interaction by and with speakers with communication disorders affecting language, speech and hearing (such as aphasia, dysarthria and deafness), cognitive impairments (such as autism and intellectual impairments) and atypical beliefs (such as schizophrenia).

Anssi Peräkylä’s chapter CONVERSATION ANALYSIS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY provides a brief overview of early research. The author then introduces more recent work which has analyzed the main interactional practices, such as therapists’ formulations of patients’ talk, therapists’ interpretations and responses to them, and therapists’ questions. Another strand of research covers relational aspects, such as patients’ resistance, affiliation and emotion.

In Chapter 28, CONVERSATION ANALYSIS IN MEDICINE, Virginia Teas Gill and Felicia Roberts discuss the extensive body of CA work on medical interaction. The authors present three research areas, physician-patient interaction, other medical professionals’ interaction with patients and clients, and interaction among medical professionals. They also explore the main issues in research to date, including problem presentations by patients, diagnosing as collaborative sense-making, and treatment recommendations and the related actions of formulating, justifying and resisting.

Rod Gardner considers CA work on classroom interaction in Chapter 29, CONVERSATION ANALYSIS IN THE CLASSROOM. The chapter discusses specific classroom features of turn-taking, sequence organization, turn design and repair, before exploring language learning in the classroom. Firth and Wagner’s (1997) paper on a CA contribution to Second Language Acquisition research and responses to it are presented as part of a wider exploration of CA and the study of learning.

CONVERSATION ANALYSIS IN THE COURTROOM is the topic of Martha Komter’s Chapter 30. The framework is a perspective on participants’ orientation to the context of the courtroom as it is created by the participants themselves. The author considers the issues of courtroom talk being designed for an overhearing audience, and in the form of common-sense reasoning, and finally looks at turn-taking and turn design, such as pre-allocation of turns and designing turns as accusing and defending.

In Chapter 31 Steven Clayman considers CONVERSATION ANALYSIS IN THE NEWS INTERVIEW. The chapter examines turn-taking in news interviews, before moving on to cover participants’ orientation to the audience. Subsequently, question design (neutral and adversarial) and answer design (overtly or covertly resistant) are covered in some detail. The chapter ends with shorter sections on openings and closings, genres, and changes in interviewers’ question design during the second half of the 20th century.

PART 5 contains five chapters connecting CA to a number of academic disciplines. In Chapter 32, John Heritage and Tanya Stivers explore CONVERSATION ANALYSIS AND SOCIOLOGY, tracing the historical emergence of CA against the background of a positivist sociology in the 1950s, and the dissenting voices of Garfinkel and Goffman. The formation of CA is shown to rest on four ‘pillars’ (p. 663): an assumption of orderliness, an understanding that social actions are produced for their immediate context, a belief in a normative structure of interaction, and a focus on participants’ own understanding. The authors also provide an overview of CA’s contributions to Sociology in terms of institutional interaction and social status.

Wayne Beach begins his chapter on CONVERSATION ANALYSIS AND COMMUNICATION by providing a historical overview of Communication research before detailing the emergence of CA in the field of Communication. He presents four research areas in which CA has been developed in Communication: analyses of the Bush-Rather interview and their impact on CA in Communication, studies of sequential organization and an ensuing debate surrounding the explication of social actions, qualitative CA work in a quantitative Communications environment, and research on lay diagnosis in medical and family interactions.

In Chapter 34 Ignasi Clemente considers the relationship between CONVERSATION ANALYSIS AND ANTHROPOLOGY. The author provides a brief introduction to Anthropology and its sub-fields, before identifying three periods in the CA-Anthropology relationship: a period of shared interests and publications, a period of differentiation and debate, and a period of re-convergence, including the present time. Clemente goes on to detail the influence of Anthropology on CA, particularly on Sacks’ work; and the influence of CA on Anthropology, regarding both its impact on the field of Linguistic Anthropology as a whole, and individual anthropological studies that adopt the CA approach.

Jonathan Potter and Derek Edwards provide insight into the relationship between CONVERSATION ANALYSIS AND PSYCHOLOGY in Chapter 35. They begin by listing six areas in which the two fields are relevant to each other, before detailing the conversation analytic approach to psychological issues, which avoids cognitive analysis in favor of the analysis of observable interaction. The authors also explore in depth some differences and debates between Cognitive Psychology and CA, including for example notions of information input and output, and abstract processes in Psychology vs. notions of discursively built and concrete information, and natural interaction in CA. Finally, the authors suggest an alternative approach to psychological areas of interest, such as understanding, knowledge, attitude and intention.

In Chapter 36, Barbara Fox, Sandra Thompson, Cecilia Ford and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen consider CONVERSATION ANALYSIS AND LINGUISTICS. In their introduction the authors position Linguistics as an important contributor to the CA endeavor, and detail how Interactional Linguistics has emerged in part as a response to CA. Subsequently, they present ways in which CA has informed Linguistics, regarding, for example, a perspective on language patterns as locally accomplished practices, and concrete findings regarding linguistic structures. Linguistics’ contributions to CA are also discussed, including a critical perspective on grammar, cross-linguistic comparisons and insights into the role of phonetics and prosody.

The handbook is an invaluable contribution to CA, and interaction studies more generally. Many of the chapters provide expert perspectives on fundamental CA issues, and the range of topics is impressive. The chapters differ to some extent in how the topics are presented. Some provide comprehensive overviews of the topics in question (such as Kitzinger), others focus on individual cases to demonstrate relevant issues (such as Heath and Luff), while still others present original analysis (such as Kidwell).

Unsurprisingly with a volume of this kind there are topics that could have been added, some of the more obvious being cross-cultural comparisons, learning outside the classroom, and interaction and technology. Methodological aspects could also have been explored in more detail; given that this is not a favorite pursuit in CA research, the handbook might have provided an opportunity to detail and explore some of the theoretical implications of CA methods and even address criticisms. Finally, in its aim to showcase the best the approach has to offer, most chapters do not concern themselves explicitly with debates within the field; among the exceptions are Levinson, Pomerantz and Heritage, Beach, and Fox et al.

However, these minor criticisms aside, the book is a must-have resource for learning, teaching and conducting research in CA, and as such essential reading for both students and academics.

Firth, A. & Wagner, J. (1997). On discourse, communication and (some) fundamental concepts in SLA research. The Modern Language Journal, 81(3), 285-300.

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Pomerantz, A. M. (1978). Compliment responses: Notes on the co-operation of multiple constraints. In J. Schenkein (Ed.), Studies in the Organization of Conversational Interaction (pp. 79-112). New York: Academic Press.

Sacks, H. and Schegloff, E. A. (1979). Two preferences in the organization of reference to persons and their interaction. In G. Psathas (Ed.) Everyday Language: Studies in Ethnomethodology (pp. 15-21). New York: Irvington Publishers.

Schegloff, E. A. (1996). Turn organization: One intersection of grammar and interaction. In E. Ochs, E. A. Schegloff & S. A. Thompson (Eds.), Interaction and Grammar (pp. 52-133). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schegloff, E. A. (2007). Sequence Organization in Interaction: A Primer in Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stivers, T. (2008). Stance, alignment, and affiliation during storytelling: When nodding is a token of affiliation. Research on Language and Social Interaction 41(1), 31-57.

Stivers, T. & Robinson, J. D. (2006). A preference for progressivity in interaction. Language in Society, 35(3), 367-392.

Stivers, T. & Rossano, F. (2010). Mobilizing response. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 43(1), 3-31.
Beatrice Szczepek Reed works in the area of interactional linguistics and conversation analysis with a specialism in prosody in conversation. She has published the textbook 'Analysing Conversation: An Introduction to Prosody' and the monograph 'Prosodic Orientation in English Conversation', along with articles in journals such as Journal of Pragmatics, Research on Language and Social Interaction, Applied Linguistics, Language and Speech and International Journal of Applied Linguistics. She is currently Lecturer in Second Language Education at the University of York, UK.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781444332087
Pages: 844
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