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Looking At Discourse And Conversational Analysis English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3116 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Discourse can be defined as “forms of language use, usually spoken language or ways of speaking, whether public or private speech” (van Dijk, 1997:2) studies of discourse have traditionally investigated the relationship between language, structure and agency. Approaches included under discourse studies, that look to the study of spoken language are known as Discourse Analysis, discursive psychology and critical discourse analysis Conversational analysis, each one fashioned by the different pioneers and different theoretical and methodological perspectives, through the varying disciplines of philosophy, anthropology to sociology and psychology. The notion of which has been the subject of much debate. As Lakoff (2001) states “each area has developed its own language, as nations will, intelligible to those within other areas of linguistics and even adjoining principalities. These boundaries are guarded jealousy and justified zealously. By looking at the methodology of various approaches and the arguments within them will let us see if “things are more open in the social sciences” (Edwards) or if the different pioneers guard thei

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Conversation analysis emerged through ethnomethodology under the influence of Garfinkel and Goffman, who both sought to investigate how people understand and manage everyday life. Enthnomethodology takes a robust view of talk, as it put forward the idea that people actively accomplish social phenomenon. Conversation analysis seeks to look at the ‘traditional sociological enquiry’ (Woofit) The term conversation analysis was pioneered through the work of Harvey Sacks in the 1960’s in association with Emanuel Schegloff and Gail Jefferson.

Social interaction is the basis of social life or in the words of Schegloff (1986) “Talk is the primordial site of sociality” Heritage & Clayman) the primary aim of research in conversation analysis is to study talk not language, as conversation fails to capture the kinds of talk that conversation analysis is interested in. Conversation is seen as mundane chat or gossip, though conversation analysts are interested in formal life experiences such as institutional interaction within the media, legal and medical settings. Conversation analysis differs from other approaches to spoken language in theoretical, methodological and analytical techniques. Most discourses concentrate on the individual speaker, however Conversation analysis concentrates not just on how the speakers utterances are constructed on orderly turn taking.

All research within CA is naturally occurring, based on transcribed tape recordings of real interactions where participants. The transcriptions are detailed allowing the design to incorporate what was said and how it was said, enabling the participant to be analysts of their own talk, as the researcher brings no assumptions in to the research. However the presence of researchers recording can affect the conversation taking place, the Hawthorne effect. The highly detailed transcription method used by conversation analysts is time consuming compared to other transcription methods. However this is strength as the studies can be replicated.

Conversation analysis can suffer from problems in its approach. Since conversational analysts are interested in institutional interaction, there can be a lengthy process in accessing institutional data. As Drew and Heritage (1992) state that professional lay interaction puts a domain limit in encounters, thus persuasion is primarily based upon expertise and practices of the professionals being asked. Therefore it can take years to gain consent to carry out research in institutional settings due to ethical considerations.

Discourse analysis has been described as an ‘umbrella term’ for varying approaches that have different theoretical origins and analysis of talk. Nikander (1995: 6) Discourse analysis is multi-disciplinary in that its approach can be found within linguistics, semiotics, social psychology and political science. Zellig Harris coined discourse analysis in 1952; Harris wanted analysis the connection between speech and writing, seeking to describe how language features are distributed within texts that go ‘beyond the sentence’. (Paltridge ) Discourse analysis is interested in ‘what happens to people when they draw on the knowledge they have they have about language..to do things in the world. (Johnstone, 2002:3) providing a deeper understanding of how texts become meaningful to their users (Chimbo and Roseberry 1998)

Gilbert and Mulkay adopted discourse analysis to describe their study of scientific dispute in biochemistry (Gilbert and Mulkay, 1984) their aim was to discover the features of ‘scientists discourse’ by investigating how beliefs and actions were organised in ‘contextually appropriate ways’ (1984:14) Gilbert and Mulkay established that scientific conversation presented in formal journals was different from the scientific conversation that was spoken in informal interviews. The scientists had created a formal and informal framework through the use of ‘interpretative repertoires’ where scientists had accounted for truthfulness of their own work and other scientist’s. The ’empiricist repertoire’ was found to be dominant when it came to logical interpretation of formal experimental data. The contingent repertoire was based on speculation of results within informal settings such as scientist’s social networks. Gilbert and Mulkay (1984) found that scientists needed two different sets of accounts to explain their results.

However discourse analysis began to take a specialised approach through discursive psychology and critical forms of discourse analysis. There was conflict between the goals of these approaches. As Discursive psychologists wanted to demonstrate the cognitive requisites used in interaction, thus drawing on the work of conversation analysis to apply social studies of science to social psychology (Gilbert & Mulkay, 1984) Potter and Edwards wanted to leave the artificial laboratory settings of psychology and into the ecological settings where people normally, think, and act out their lives in the real world.

Psychologists focus on the cognitive and developmental aspects of language, such as memory and script information. DP generates a critical stance on cognitive theory in psychology, preferring to study argumentative and evaluative practices in discourse (Potter and Wetherell, 1987) DP explores the situated and occasioned rhetorical terms such as ‘angry, jealous, feel and so forth, expressions such as “I don’t know” are studied for contrasts and interaction in the context they were used. (Edwards, 1995) the role of emotions has been studied through emotional states in personal narratives within relationship disputes. (Edwards, 1997a) The way in which people understand and act in these situations is approached through a cognitive script where people describe things as routine and act on these descriptions. (Edwards, 1997a)

In contrast critical discourse analysis sought to recognize the ‘structural and political implications’ of discursive psychology. Critical discourse analysis is a type of analytical research that aims to study the way in which social power; abuse, dominance and inequalities are played out within the social and political arena. (Agger, 1992b) CDA is associated with the work of Fairclough, who adopts a Marxist viewpoint on social conflict, CDA is used to identify inequalities and conflict from capitalism emphasising the importance of the means of production.(Fairclough,1989) Van Dijk gives thought to the function of cognition when interpreting the texts, arguing that in order to understand inequalities we have to look at the role of social cognitions and representations that emerge from social activities. By studying verbal interaction in racism will show “discourse structures that signal underlying bias” (van Dijk, 1993:262) lastly, Wodak in contrast seeks to identify the wider operation of power and dominance within the context of discourse. (Woodak, 2001b)

Unlike conversational analysis, which has a distinctive set of methodological principles, research within CDA can vary in focus and style. There is no set cannon in the collection of data in CDA. However this can be CDA’s downfall, as it cannot be replicated like conversation analysis. Regardless of the differences within the research styles, all critical discourse analysts want to understand the broader features of social inequality. Thus CDA has a clear political agenda. (woofit) CDA analysts want reveal the ‘role of discourse’ in exploring the top down approach of dominance. However CDA fails to answer how language can be assembled or prepared to oppose these inequalities of power in interaction.

Many social scientists consider overlaps in conversation analysis and discourse analysis as similar approaches are used. Both Conversation analysis and Discourse analysis were influenced by ethnomethodology. As ethnomethodology itself developed, not just to engage with issues relating to language, meaning or communication, but as a general approach to the study of social interaction (Heritage 1995) Sacks work focused on the communicative capabilities of ordinary every day conversation. Although in discourse analysis the work of Gilbert and Mulkay (1984) was not ethomethodological, Garfinkels work was influential in Potter and Wetherells (1987) development of discourse analysis. Ethomethodological research was used to highlight people’s own sense making in social psychology through the constructive and constitutive properties of ordinary language.

Potter and Wetherell (1987) have used the detailed Jefferson transcription method that is specific to Conversation analysis in their work; Potter and Wetherell (1987) have also used Gilbert and Mulkays study (1984) of scientists repertoires used when scientists argue with each other, by using the idea of interpretative repertoires to study how the New Zealander Pakeha constructed accounts of social conflict and organized versions of relations between groups, helping to understand the reproduction of inequality and privilege. However Hammersley (2003a) argues that both conversation analysis and discourse analysis do not offer a new design to the social sciences, as conversation analysis is too ethnomethedological in its approach and the discourse analysis method is too constructionist. Leading to debates about the differences in methodology between the approaches.

The first debate is between CA and CDA by Schegloff (1997) Billig and a reaction by Wetherell (1998) one side of the argument states that conversation analysis cannot tackle the topics, which are fundamental to traditional sociological enquiry, in relation to power and the role of ideologies. On the other side CDA, which analyses relationships between dominance, discrimination, power and control in language is criticized for interpreting an analysts reflection of political orientations which obscures what is significant to the participant (Schegloff, 1997) To illustrate Schegloff examines a telephone conversation between a man and woman. Schegloff notes that the man frequently butts into the conversation while the woman is still talking, these interruptions could be viewed as an unequal distribution of power and status between men and woman. Schegloff argues these overlaps of interruption are not down to inequalities of power, merely a case of men missing the social cues in turn taking.

Billig (1999a) criticises Schegloff, stating that the methodology used in CA ‘obscures’ the argumentative nature of talk, of how power influences our lives.

Widdowson ( ) states that CDA constantly sits on the fence between social research and political argumentation while other critics accuse CDA of being too linguistic or not linguistic enough. (Wodak, 2006a)

Wetherell (1998) understands that the theoretically motivated analysis of discourse can result in loose and under grounded analytic claims and welcomes the rigorous description of interaction offered by CA. Nevertheless she argues that exclusive focus on the details of interaction fails to provide a complete appreciation of the organisation of talk. In other words CA is to busy with its nose in the transcripts Wetherell further argues that to provide a rounded account its is necessary to draw from post structuralist approaches (Such as Laclau and Mouffe, to explore the role of broader discourses which inhibit talk and examine how participants navigate the various subject positions in the routine turn by turn unfolding in interaction. Fix this

This leads us to disagreements about the methodology of discursive psychology where various academic responses argue that DP is only concerned with overt talk about mental states (Coultard 2002).from McHoul and Rapely,

Coulter views discursive psychology as ‘a thesis which proposes that the human mind and its various properties are generated in and through discourse: in essence, the ‘mind’ is revealed in and through analyseable features of the things that people say and do through their talk’ (1999: 163).

DP has developed a discourse-based alternative to topics that, in mainstream psychology

and social psychology, are usually approached as cognitive representations explored

through experimentation, the use of specially invented textual materials,andthe construction

of abstract cognitive models. Respecification1 involves reworking psychological topics

as discourse practices.

Potter and Edwards state they have admired Coulters work, as it has provided

In line with such arguments, discursive psychologists have begun to show that-as

and where psychology may be interested in such things as memory (Edwards, 1997;

Edwards and Potter, 1992), identity (Antaki et al., 1996) or attitudes (Wetherell and

Potter, 1992)-it makes no sense to take these terms merely as substantives mapping

referentially (and sometimes universally) on to internal cognitive phenomena. As we

have seen, such a bedrock assumption is not only mistaken, it may also contradict

the very possibility of public communication. Even if the ”thing in the box” exists

in some form or other, it can play no part in the language-game. Instead, then,

working with a much less problematic assumption-that public communication is

possible-discursive psychologists have begun to examine (as the analysis of memory,

identity and attitudes, inter alia, as such) how these matters arise pragmatically

in everyday talk and texts.

Take for example what might be construed as an instance of a claim to an absence

of knowledge, a claim not to have a thought, examined by discursive psychologists

Edwards and Potter (in press). In the extract below, Jimmy is describing, in a couplecounselling

session, a difficult evening in the pub with his wife, Connie, and another

man, Dave.

One of the features of various academic responses to discursive psychological research has been a mistaken representation of the status of the ‘psychological’. Sometimes the assumption is made that it involves the attempt to make a psychology-based intervention in social science debates. Potter and Wetherell’s most important criticism concerned the interpretation of an attitude as an abstract, cognitive state of mind. When people give their opinion they do not so much express a mental state but rather perform a social action such as blaming someone, reducing one’s own responsibility, or giving a compliment.

Wittgenstein (1958) argued that whatwe are calling ‘mental state avowals’

(i.e., descriptions of one’s own thoughts and feelings) do not and could

not obtain their meaning from ‘referring to’ privately experienced mental


Potter and Edwards claim that people have a vested stake or interest that favours their particular version of events, which they call ‘stake inoculation’ a persons motives are crucial in establishing or undermining contested versions of events as factual or ‘stake management’ (Edwards and Potter, 1992a) this means all discourse can potentially be treated as motivated or interested in some way.

Edwards (1997)

My answer

Studies such as that by a group of New Zealand researchers at Victoria

University of Wellington provide useful insights into how different approaches

to DA might be applied. Stubbe et al. (2003) offer a comparison between conversation

analysis, interactional sociolinguistics, politeness theory, critical discourse

analysis and discursive psychology through applying these five

approaches to the same text – a recording of a workplace conversation. The

researchers found that while these analyses had common elements, each also

highlighted different aspects of the interaction.

In our view, such criticism keeps a field alive because it necessarily stimulates more self-reflection and encourages new responses and new thoughts. (Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer Critical Discourse Analysis: History, Agenda,Theory, and Methodology)


In conclusion

Billig and Schegloff, for example, both write sensibly and convincingly on their chosen methods of linguistic analysis (CDA and CA respectively), but there is a sense, in reading some of their articles, that they are (whether deliberately or not) missing each other’s points. Schegloff does not cope at any point, it seems to me, with Billig’s implication that no practice can be without ‘foundational principles’ – by which he means assumptions or premises. Instead, Schegloff simply argues that CA is more objective in its analysis than CDA, almost implying that it is founded on no unproven assumptions at all. Billig, by contrast, though he acknowledges that CDA lacks some of the rigour and objectivity of method that is one of the strengths of CA, spends his time attacking Schegloff when he could have been looking for points of possible mutual advantage:


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