Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Conversation Analysis: Method, Concepts, Applications

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Conversation Analysis: Method, Concepts, Applications

Article excerpt


This article offers an overview of the conversation analysis (CA) method and its theoretical and practical applications for qualitative social scientific research. After providing an outline of the key principles and concepts of CA, the article discusses the method's analytical contributions and methodological applications to the study of social issues. For illustration, analyses of several data fragments are presented, using Romanian language materials from telephone conversations recorded in the Transylvanian town of Cluj. The article highlights CA's unique insights into the way social processes, relations, and identities are constructed and experienced at the level of everyday interaction, and draws attention to some of the ways in which the method can be of benefit to social scientists from a variety of disciplines.

KEYWORDS: conversation analysis, interaction, social issues, ethnicity.


"It is possible that detailed study of small phenomena may give an enormous understanding of the way humans do things and the kinds of objects they use to construct and order their affairs." (Harvey Sacks, 1984, p. 24). True for qualitative methods in general, this observation best encapsulates the approach and concerns of conversation analysis (CA), a method designed to capture in the greatest detail how people talk, act, and interact, how they get things done and relate to each other, and, ultimately, how they co-construct, experience, and make sense of their everyday social worlds. In a nutshell, CA is the study of talk-ininteraction, where talk is conceptualized as social action and interaction as a primary locus and form of social organization. As a field of study, CA seeks to uncover and explicate the complex yet orderly mechanisms of everyday social interaction underpinning the production and understanding of social actions. As a research method, CA is a data-driven endeavor that approaches the investigation of social life by focusing on the perspective of the participants - it examines recordings of naturally occurring talk-in-interaction and is programmatically intent on grounding its analytical claims in the interactants' own observable conduct.

The field of CA emerged in the 1960s through the collaboration of Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson (1974), whose exemplary study of turn-taking in ordinary conversation made a first seminal contribution to the understanding of the sequential organization of interaction. The study found that the way people take turns in conversation is thoroughly organized and described the constitutive components and rules of a system that provides for the orderly construction and allocation of turns at talk and allows for the unfolding of conversation with "minimal gap and overlap". The turn-taking study thus "offered a radically new perspective on social organization that integrated the details of language structure into the analysis of social process" (Goodwin & Heritage, 1990). This novel perspective has marked CA's further investigations into the organization of talk-in-interaction. Subsequent studies have found that conversation is structured at several fundamental levels. Analytically distinct but operating in conjunction, these levels have to do with:

* the way in which talk is organized in sequences of actions; that is, how courses of action are constructed turn by turn and methodically produced as action-response sequences such as invitation-acceptance ("sequence organization", Schegloff, 2007);

* the structural relations between actions and the way participants orient to their actions and responses as aligning or non-aligning; for example, a nonaligning response like rejecting an invitation is constructed and delivered in ways that distinctly mark it as dispreferred ("preference organization", ibid.);

* the methods that conversationalists use to identify and fix problems of speaking, hearing, and understanding in conversation ("repair organization", Schegloff, Jefferson, & Sacks, 1977);

* and the ways in which conversations are constructed as units of interaction with recognizable stages or segments with distinct sequential structures such as openings and closings ("overall structural organization", Schegloff, 1968; Schegloff & Sacks, 1973). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.