Actions and Activities
For the second time during my PhD I got to participate in a workshop hosted by Paul Drew (the previous time was in Loughborough last year), but this time it was co-organized by Merran Toerian instead of John Heritage. While this of course meant a different set up of the workshop, it definitely did not mean a workshop that was less useful or less fun. The focus was on Actions and Activities, and specifically on how actions are made recognizable by participants in talk-in-interaction to be that action. In other words, we studied how complaints are done so as to be recognizable as a complaint, and not as say a compliment or a telling. This is somewhat different from the focus conversation analysts normally have, as we tend to look primarily at the response to an action, not the action itself: the so-called next-turn proof procedure (a term Merran was not a big fan of, since evidence is not the same as proof).
Studying complaints in this way made clear some notions that might seem obvious, and others that were more surprising. Of course, a complaint is recognizable because it addressed behavior of some other party, the complainee, who had somehow violated a social norm, and this violation was detrimental to the person complaining, the complainer. Interestingly, they are often produced to contrast with prior talk. For example, the person the complainer is talking with has just said something positive about the complainee and this is taken as an opportunity to do a complaint. Complaints are therefore frequently designed with a “yes, but…” format.
Methods and goals of Conversation Analysis
The keynotes had a less specific focus. Anita Pomerantz from the University of Albany focused on the goals of conversation analysis in general. Typically we focus on analyzing patterns in social interaction, for example recurrent practices with which participants implement certain actions, but the more interesting question is why the social world works the way it works? It is a question I also would like to focus more on, for example when dealing with declarative questions: why are participants no always clear about what they want? Or at least, not recognizable as wanting something particular.
Four days of focusing on methods is not something researchers typically do, but working on one’s craft is obviously crucial for keeping up a high level of research. We always have to be critical about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Few things are more dangerous to research than the belief in a field that nothing will ever have to change: critical reflection is the heart of science. We should not just have a scientific attitude towards our field of study, but also towards science itself. Only then can we make new discoveries and increase or understanding of the universe: both the physical and the social.