Friday, November 16, 2012

Garfinkel - Conversation Analysis

Blog 2 – Conversation Analysis

Noted by Packer (1999), Conversation analysis (CA) is defined as being “ a way of thinking about and analyzing the pragmatics of ordinary conversation, focusing on the interactive, practical construction of everyday interchanges”.
What conversation analysis is? It is an approach which aims to study social interaction, observing verbal and non – verbal conduct. Originally the concept focused on casual conversation, but now has developed and aims to find out what happens in law enforcement, educational settings and the mass media.  The concept was inspired by Harold Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology and Erving Goffman’s conception of the interaction order. Garfinkel aimed to determine the resources and methods that are used by participants involved in interactions and aims to produce interactional contributions and to make sense of what contributors are made by others.
When a conversation analysts begins to research conversations, usually they have to use covert methods, so there appearance doesn't affect, influence or change the interactions that individuals use within conversations. Conversation analyst may just simply study a casual chat among friends, in all situations where conversation takes place, the talk makes things happen, and the conversation analysts then argue about how these conversations happen. Examples where conservation analysis could take place: court hearings, telephone conversations, card games and interviews.
Around conversation analysis the central goal is in fact the explication and description of the competences that speaks rely and use in social interaction. Tenhave (2009) referred to Garfinkel, a basic assumption throughout is Garfinkel’s (1967:1) proposal that “these activities – producing conduct and understanding and dealing with it – are accomplished as the accountable products of common sets of procedures”.
What is conversation?
A conversation is the everyday exchange of talk between individuals that consist of two or more people. “Conversation may be taken to be that familiar predominant kind of talk in which two or more participants freely alternate in speaking, which generally occurs outside specific institutional settings like religious services, law courts, classrooms and the like” (Levinson, 1983, p. 284)
Participants that are involved within a conversation, construct and organise it together, and they each deal with the organization at a “local” level, this being one utterance at a time. Individuals interact on a turn by turn, or on a moment – by – moment basis, for example, as one person talks the other individual(s) will listen, then speak when the other has finished, allowing each individual to exchange talk, creating a conversation.
What we decide to do in an interaction is what we understand to mean something. The way we talk in a conversation, depends on the interaction between the individuals that are involved. Our understandings and the way we respond to one another through speech, gestures and actions, come from our socialization and past experiences. We understand other’s facial expressions and their emotions and therefore we will say certain things and act in a specific way, depending on these meanings. For example we wouldn't say nasty things or punch a person, if the individual was upset, hands side by side, and not communicating properly, through our knowledge we would make conversation by being sympathetic, and act by giving the individual a hug.
There are other ways in which conversation operates, some are planned in advance for presentations or conferences for example and there is not a direct exchange of talk, and instead relies on the audiences response and how they react play a part in verbal exchange. If the speech has been good, some members of the audience may shout words out such as “great speech” or “I like your ideas”. The way the speaker acts, the words use all play a part still in this kind of verbal exchange of a conversation. The interactions that are not exactly conversations in a sense can still be analysed using conversation analysis.

To conclude, conversational analysis is a method to study social interaction, to uncover the fundamental organisation of interaction and social action, and is applied to the characteristics of the social actors and the settings in which the action takes place. Conversation takes place when it involves some kind of verbal interaction with another individual, if it’s doing a presentation in front of an audience, and getting some positive responses, or if it’s through a conversation of one or more individuals, we can see through actions, expressions, gestures, meanings and understandings how the conversation is taking place, and how to engage appropriately within a conversation. Garfinkel argued that conversation took place order- by order, or moment – by – moment, in order for it to keep a flow of talk. For conversation analysis’s to achieve valid and reliable results, recording conversations covertly using audio or tape recorders, rather than the researcher to be present and taking notes was seen as a better method.

Photo one, is showing two individuals holding mobile phones together. This image is showing a conversation taking place via a technological device.

Levinson, S. C. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Packer, M. (1999) ‘Conversation Analysis’. Retrieved November 10, 2012 (
Tenhave, P. (2009) ‘Methodological issues in conversation analysis’. Retrieved November 10, 2012 (

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