Conversation analytic research on “preference organization” investigates recorded episodes of naturally occurring social interaction to elucidate how people systematically design their actions to either promote or undermine social solidarity. This line of work examines public forms of conduct that are highly generalized and institutionalized, not the private desires or preferences of individuals. For each action a person does in interaction—be it sequence-initiating or sequence-responding—there are alternative ways of doing it. These alternatives are not, however, symmetrical or equally valued. Rather, each alternative has different implications for “face,” “affiliation,” and the relationship of the participants involved. As an example of a sequence-initiating action, in accomplishing the transfer of something of value (e.g., a loan of money, a ride, information about fellow participants) from one person to another, a participant may do the action of offering, or requesting, that valued item. But the interactants do not treat these offering or requesting alternatives as equivalent. Several studies demonstrate that the social action of offering is “preferred” over the action of requesting. Participants display their orientation to actions as “preferred” by producing them straightforwardly—without delay, qualification, or account. Correlatively, participants treat actions as “dispreferred” by withholding, delaying, qualifying, and/or accounting for them. More specifically, when opening face-to-face encounters, participants treat offers of information as valued and thus “preferred” over requests for that information, because such offers engender solidarity by enabling people to feel included (rather than excluded): Offers of information identifying unfamiliar persons are preferred during introduction sequences; and when a newcomer arrives to an already-in-progress interaction, an already-present speaker’s offer of information about the previous activity/topic of that interaction is preferred. As an example of a sequence-responding action, after a participant issues a request, the addressed-recipient can grant, or refuse, that request. Again, participants do not treat these alternative response types as equally valued. Whereas participants recurrently do the action of granting in the preferred format—as this response is usually affiliative and supportive of social solidarity, they tend to do the action of refusing in the dispreferred format, as this response is most often disaffiliative and destructive of social solidarity. Preference organization research illuminates how interaction works in both casual and institutional settings. For an example of the latter, during parent-teacher conferences, there is a marked contrast between how parents and teachers do the actions of praising and criticizing students: Whereas teachers design their student-praising utterances in the preferred format, parents treat their articulation of student praise as dispreferred. Correspondingly, whereas teachers treat their student-criticizing utterances as dispreferred, parents routinely produce their student criticisms as preferred. This regular pattern of parent-teacher interaction constitutes an endogenous method for circumventing conflict. Research on preference organization thus empirically demonstrates that human interaction is organized to promote social affiliation at the expense of conflict.
Galina B. Bolden and Alexa Hepburn
The transcription system for Conversation Analysis (CA) was originally developed by Gail Jefferson, one of the founders of CA, in the 1960s. Jefferson’s transcription conventions aim to represent on paper what had been captured in field audio recordings in ways that would preserve and bring to light the interactionally relevant elements of the recorded talk. Conversation analytic research has demonstrated that various features of the delivery of talk and other bodily conduct are basic to how interlocutors carry out social actions in interaction with others. Without the CA transcription system it is impossible to identify these features, as it represents talk and other conduct in ways that capture the rich subtlety of their delivery. Jefferson’s system of conventions evolved side by side with, and was informed by the results of, interaction analysis, which has shown there are many significant aspects of talk that interactants treat as relevant but that are entirely missed in simple orthographic representation. Conversation analysts’ insistence on capturing not only what is said but also details of how something is said, including interactants’ visible behaviors, is based on the assumption that “no order of detail in interaction can be dismissed a priori as disorderly, accidental, or irrelevant” (according to John Heritage in 1984). Conversation analytic transcripts need to be detailed enough to facilitate the analyst’s quest to discover and describe orderly practices of social action in interaction.
Conversation analysis is a distinctive approach to research on language and communication that originated with Emanuel Schegloff, Harvey Sacks, and Gail Jefferson. It assumes a systematic order in the minute details of talk as it is used in situ. That orderliness is understood to be the result of shared ways of reasoning and means of doing things. Conversation analytic studies aim to identify and describe how people produce and interpret social interaction. For example, the interpretation and response to the question, “How are you” differs depending on whether it is asked by a doctor in a medical consultation or a friend during a casual conversation. Overwhelmingly, data are naturalistic audio (for telephone-mediated talk) or video recordings (for copresent interactions). The recordings are transcribed using conventions first established by Gail Jefferson. They have been further developed since to better capture features such as crying and multimodality. Specialized notations are used to highlight features of talk such as breathiness, intonation, short silences, and simultaneous speech. Analyses typically examine how everyday actions are done over sequences of two or more turns of talk. Greetings, requests, and complaints are actions that have names; others don’t. Studies may examine a range of linguistic, embodied, and environmental phenomena used in coordinated action. Research has been conducted in a broad range of mundane and institutional settings. Medical interaction is one area where conversation analysis has been most applied, but others include psychotherapy and classroom interaction. A conversation analytic perspective on identity is also distinctive. Typically, approaches to intergroup communication presuppose a priori the importance of social identities such as age, gender, and ethnicity. They are theorized as independent variables that impact language behaviors in predictable and measurable ways. This view strongly resonates with common sense and underpins popular questions about gender-, race- or age-based differences in language use. In contrast, a conversation analytic approach examines social identities only when they are observably and demonstrably relevant to what participants are doing and saying. The relevance of an identity category rests on it being clearly consequential for what is happening in a particular stretch of talk. Conversation analysis approaches identity as a type of membership categorization. The term “member” has ethnomethodological roots that recognizes a person is a member from a cultural group. Categories can be invoked, used and negotiated in the flow of interaction. Membership categorization analysis shows there is a systematic organization to category work in talk. Using conversation analysis and membership categorization analysis, discursive psychology studies how social identity categorizations have relevance to the business at hand. For example, referring to your wife as a “girl” or a “married woman” invokes different inferences about socially acceptable behavior.
Jürgen Habermas is a primary figure in the Frankfurt School of critical theory that emerged in Germany after World War II. He wrote several important works addressing a variety of fields, including legal hermeneutics, to liberal political philosophy, to systems theory, and language analysis. Throughout his research, he has lauded intersubjective “communicative action” as a key paradigm for politics, law, and ethics. Habermas’s theory of communicative action frames human beings as rational arguers. In his view, communication involves discussants disputing “validity claims” to gain mutual understanding and reach consensus. When he applies this communicative action perspective to culture and society, Habermas diagnoses the pathologies that occur when people coordinate their actions strategically through artificial systems rather than cooperatively through dialogue. When he applies it to ethical theory, he draws out the assumptions interlocutors must make when they argue—they are obliged to attempt to justify claims so that they could be universally accepted by those involved in the discourse. In addition to theorizing communication, Habermas throughout his work analyzes the structures and systems that enable public communication in civil society. From this perspective, democratic society relies on spaces and institutions that allow for the public to debate matters of common concern, particularly when they involve the state. In his historical account, Habermas argues that the “public sphere” transformed during the Enlightenment to give communicative outlets to an emerging bourgeois class. From a legal and philosophical perspective, he outlines conditions for political and communicative agency in a modern constitutional state. Communication scholars have had a mixed reaction to Habermas. He offers a vision of critical theory that allows for practical reason, but some assert that his theories are too idealistic and counterfactual to apply to real-life discourse. However, other scholars have nuanced his theory by putting him in dialogue with the rhetorical tradition. Publics and counterpublics especially have become common parlance and have helped explain protest, advocacy, and the constitution of communities in democratic culture.
For Paulo Freire, the Brazilian activist educator and philosopher of education, communication is at the heart of pedagogy, teaching, and learning through praxis that involves reflection and action ultimately to address social injustice and dehumanization. Dialogue is at the center of his pedagogical approach, as means to individuation and humanization. Dialogue assumes participants to be on an equal level even in the presence of difference. In his literacy work, Freire required teacher-facilitators to co-investigate the most important themes in the lives of students. These themes were codified into pictures and brought to dialogue that animated the re-creation of knowledge of participants’ world and themselves in it and, in the process of learning how to read, achieving knowledge of the word. The objective of this approach was not to reproduce “banking” education but to promote revolutionary emancipation of individual and society. Freire developed his work in the context of life in the state of Pernambuco, in the challenging circumstances—socially, historically, and geographically—of the Brazilian Northeast Region. He experienced poverty and hunger and was lucky in his access to education thanks to the efforts of his mother. He rose through the ranks of civil service, serving at state and national levels, addressing the literacy and emancipatory needs of the population, particularly adults in rural areas. Exiled during the military dictatorship in Brazil, Freire lived in Chile, the United States, and Switzerland, where he worked on education projects worldwide.
The reasoned action approach is a behavioral theory that has been developed since the 1960s in a sequence of reformulations. It comprises the theory of reasoned action; the theory of planned behavior; the integrative model of behavioral prediction; and its current formulation, the reasoned action approach to explaining and changing behavior. Applied to health messages, reasoned action theory proposes a behavioral process that can be described in terms of four parts. First, together with a multitude of other potential sources, health messages are a source of beliefs about outcomes of a particular health behavior, about the extent of social support for performing that behavior from specific other people, and about factors that may hamper or facilitate engaging in the behavior. Second, these beliefs inform attitude toward performing the behavior, perceptions of normative influence, and perceptions of control with respect to performing the behavior. Third, attitude, perceived norms, and perceived control inform the intention to perform the behavior. Fourth, people will act on their intention if they have the required skills to do so and if there are no environmental obstacles that impede behavioral performance. The theory’s conceptual perspective on beliefs as the foundation of behavior offers a theoretical understanding of the role of health messages in behavior change. The theory also can be used as a practical tool for identifying those beliefs that may be most promising to address in health messages, which makes the theory useful for those designing health message interventions. Reasoned action theory is one of the most widely used theories in health behavior research and health intervention design, yet is not without its critics. Some critiques appear to be misconceptions, such as the incorrect contention that reasoned action theory is a theory of rational, deliberative decision making. Others are justified, such as the concern that the theory does not generate testable hypotheses about when which variable is most likely to predict a particular behavior.
Joyce Lamerichs and Wyke Stommel
There is a need to focus on research conducted on online talk about mental health in the domains of ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis (CA), Discursive Psychology (DP), and Membership Categorization Analysis (MCA). We use the notion of “talk” in this article, as opposed to what could be considered a more common term such as “discourse,” to highlight that we approach computer-mediated discourse as inherently interactional. It is recipient designed and unfolds sequentially, responding to messages that have come before and building a context for messages that are constructed next. We will refer to the above domains that all share this view as CA(-related) approaches. A characterizing feature of interactional approaches to online mental health talk is their focus on in-depth analyses of relatively small amounts of data. With this focus at the center of their attention, they sit in the wider field of Discourse Analysis (DA), or Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis (CMDA) who use language as their lens to understand human interaction. DA and CMDA research include a much wider set of both micro- and macro-analytic language-focused approaches to capture online discourse. Of all the CA(-related) work on online materials, a disproportionally large number of studies appear to deal with (mental) health talk. We aim to answer the question what the field of research on online mental health talk has yielded in terms of findings and methodologies. Centrally, CA (-related) studies of online mental health talk have aimed to grasp the actions people accomplish and the identities they invoke when they address their health concerns. Examples of actions in online mental health talk in particular are presenting oneself, describing a problem, or offering advice. Relevant questions for the above approaches that consider language-as-social-action are how these different actions are brought off and how they are received, by closely examining contributions such as e-mail and chat postings and their subsequent responses. With a focus on talk about mental health, this article will cover studies of online support groups (OSGs, also called online communities), and interaction in online counseling programs, mainly via online chat sessions. This article is organized as follows. In the historiography, we present an overview of CA(-related) work on online mental health talk. We discuss findings from studies of online support groups (OSGs) first and then move to results from studies on online counseling. The start of our historiography section, however, sets out to briefly highlight how the Internet may offer several particularly attractive features for those with mental health problems or a mental illness. After the historiography, we discuss what an interactional approach of online mental health talk looks like and focuses on. We offer examples of empirical studies to illustrate how written contributions to a forum, and e-mails or chat posts that are part of online counseling sessions are examined as interaction and which types of findings this results in. We conclude with a review of methodological issues that pertain to the field, address the most important ethical considerations that come into play when examining online mental health talk, and will lastly highlight some areas for future research.