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Conversation Analysis

3. Basic Principles of CA

Example 1

For example, in the following case, Ann's turn in line 1 is treated as an invitation by a response that 'accepts' it:

Dialogue Example

If, by contrast, Barbara had responded with an apology and an excuse:

Ann: Why don't you come and see me sometimes.
Bar: I'm sorry. I've been terribly tied up lately.

then it would have been apparent that Barbara had understood Ann's initial utterance as a complaint rather than an invitation (Heritage, 1984).

These two understandings are built into the design of the two different responses. They are apparent to observers but, and this is the important point, they are apparent to the participants: however the sequence plays out, Ann will find from Barbara's response how Barabara understood her and that, Barbara has, or has not, understood her correctly.

We can take this analysis a step further by recognizing that at this point, Ann knows how Barbara understood her turn, but Barbara does not know whether she understood it correctly. Continuation of the sequence allows Barbara to make this judgment (Schegloff, 1992):

Dialogue Example

Ann's 'accepting' response to Barbara's acceptance confirms Barbara in her belief that she understood Ann correctly. But it could have gone otherwise:

Dialogue Example

In this second scenario, Barbara would see that her understanding of Ann's first turn at talk as an invitation was mistaken. Ann's response, which renews and indeed escalates her complaint, conveys that her original utterance was in fact intended to have been just that.

The sequential logic inherent in these examples is central to the construction of human interaction as a shared sense-making enterprise, regardless of its social context. Because it is the foundation of courses of conduct that are mutually intelligible, this logic underwrites both the conduct of social interaction and its analysis.

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Heritage J. (1984). Garfinkel and ethnomethodology. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Schegloff E. A. (1992). Repair after next turn: The last structurally provided defence of intersubjectivity in conversation. American Journal of Sociology 95(5): 1295-1345.
Heritage, John. 2008. Conversation Analysis as Social Theory. In Bryan Turner (Ed), The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory. Oxford, Blackwell.