Participants’ vs. analysts’ categories in spontaneous talk and interviews

Pia Pichler

Goldsmith's College, University of London, UK

WS149: CA and Other Conceptions of Context: Borders and Bridges

In my contribution to this workshop I return to the extensive debate about ‘context’ between conversation analysts on one side and sociolinguists and non-CA discourse analysts on the other. The former tend to focus on the ‘oriented-to context’ (Schegloff 1997: 184), that is, aspects of social context and identity categories which are ‘demonstrably relevant to the participants’ at a specific moment in interaction (Schegloff 1991: 50). Although most researchers in my own area of interest, language and gender, align themselves with a constructionist approach to identity and carry out micro-level analysis, many ‘simply do not accept that social categories need to be observably and explicitly salient for participants in order to be considered relevant to their analyses’ (Holmes 2007: 54; see also Bucholtz 2003, Cameron 1998; Weatherall 2000, Wetherell 1998).

In this workshop I invite a discussion about participants’ vs. analysts’ categories by introducing two different sources of data from my own research. The first source of data consists of the self-recorded spontaneous talk of a group of five young women, the second of informal interviews between myself and one of these girls. The interviews allowed me to gain ethnographic and other information about the speakers, but were also seized as an opportunity by my informant to provide me with her own interpretations of the tape-recorded and transcribed talk.

I will initially not contextualise my data but begin with a discussion of the categories which are explicitly mentioned by the girls in their spontaneous talk. I will then review these initial interpretations in the light of socio-cultural and other background information about the speakers, asking if and how this knowledge affects the data analysis. Finally, I will compare my own interpretations of the girls’ talk with those of my participant, drawing particular attention to the “discrepancies” between my informant’s self-reported sense of social categories and what CA deems as ‘participants’ categories’, arguing that even the latter are always interpreted by the analyst. This comparison of categories and data sources will allow me to 1) explore what linguistic ethnographers have called the ‘tacit and articulated understandings of the participants in whatever processes and activities are being studied’ (Rampton et al, 2004: 2; my emphasis), and 2) increase my reflexivity as a researcher about my ‘own cultural and interpretive capacities’ (ibid. 3) which I consider to play a significant role in the analysis of linguistic/social practice on micro and macro levels.

Bucholtz, M (2003) Theories of discourse as theories of gender…. In Holmes and Meyerhoff (eds) The Handbook of Language and Gender. Blackwell

Cameron (1998) Is there any ketchup Vera? …. Discourse and Society (9) 4

Holmes (2007) Social constructionism, postmodernism and feminist sociolinguistics. Gender and Language 1:1

Rampton et al (2004) UK linguistic ethnography: a discussion paper. UK Linguistic Ethnography Forum. WWW URL…...

Schegloff, E. (1997) Whose text? Whose context? Discourse & Society 8: 2

Weatherall, A (2000) Gender relevance in talk-in-interaction. Discourse & Society 11:2

Wetherell, M. (1998) Positioning and interpretive repertoires… Discourse & Society 10:3

Session: Workshop (part 1)
CA and Other Conceptions of Context: Borders and Bridges
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 05