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Conversation Analysis

2. Introduction

Conversation analysis (CA) is the dominant contemporary method for the analysis of social interaction. Originating at the University of California during the 1960s (Sacks, 1992), the field has a broad interdisciplinary reach, and is used to study interaction in many languages on an effectively worldwide basis.

The term 'conversation analysis' reflects the origins of the field in studies of everyday casual conversation, but CA is also used to study many more specialized forms of communication including interaction in educational, legal, political, mass media, and medical settings.

    CA begins from the notion that conversational interaction involves 'doing things with words,' and that, for example, describing, questioning, agreeing, offering and so on are all examples of social actions that we use words to perform. It developed from social science perspectives that recognized the fundamental nature of human action and interaction in the formation and management of personal identity, social relationships, and human institutions. These perspectives stress four main features of actions that pose immensely challenging issues for the systematic analysis of social life. CA was developed specifically to deal with these four issues:
  1. Human actions are meaningful and involve meaning-making.
  2. Actions are meaningful and make meaning through a combination of their content and context.
  3. To be socially meaningful, the meaning of actions must be shared (or intersubjective). This sharing may not be perfect, but it is normally good enough for the participants to keep going.
  4. Meanings are unique and singular. Actions function in particular ways to create meanings that are also particular.
Sacks H. (1992) [1964-72]. Lectures on conversation (2 Vols.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.