As the use of online technologies has grown in recent years, so has the study of computer-mediated communication. Online communication began in universities through the use of e-mail. Soon, spaces such as multi-user dungeons (MUDs), Listserv, and bulletin boards were developed, which not only allowed people who knew each other offline to interact but also enabled individuals who were not previously acquainted to communicate via the Internet. The development of Web 2.0, which allowed for more user-generated content, led to new and innovative ways of interacting online, most notably thorough social media sites. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, allow not only for text-based interaction to occur but also for image- and video-based interaction. Through all these developments, interactional norms and practices have developed. A key factor in these norms is what the medium enables, or affords, participants to do. Features such as whether an interactional platform is synchronous or asynchronous can impact the nature of the interaction. Similarly, the lack of visual or verbal contact when interacting may impact upon the interaction, through the potential for misunderstandings. Participants do, though, develop practices to suit the medium. If we examine these practices in detail, it is possible to also analyze the role which technology plays in the interaction. One method that has been used to do this is conversation analysis, which was developed for and using spoken interaction. Conversation analysis examines conversation in forensic detail to illuminate the norms and practices through which we conduct our everyday lives. In using this method for analyzing online interaction, we can not only understand the practices but also examine the affordances of particular interactional platforms. Various interactional features of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have been examined from a conversation analytic perspective, including sequential organization, openings, turn-taking, and repair. A common focus of these studies it to explore the interactional patterns but also to understand how these might be impacted by the technology itself. The development of norms for a variety of forms of technologized interaction demonstrates how individuals are capable of adapting their interactional practices for new contexts.
Ee Lin Lee
Language is an arbitrary and conventional symbolic resource situated within a cultural system. While it marks speakers’ different assumptions and worldviews, it also creates much tension in communication. Therefore, scholars have long sought to understand the role of language in human communication. Communication researchers, as well as those from other disciplines (e.g., linguistics, anthropology, psychology, and sociology), draw on each other’s works to study language and culture. The interdisciplinary nature of the works results in the use of various research methods and theoretical frameworks. Therefore, the main goal of this essay is to sketch the history and evolution of the study of language and culture in the communication discipline in the United States. Due to space constraints only select works, particularly those that are considered landmarks in the field, are highlighted here. The fundamentals of language and the development of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis in leading to the formation of the language and social interaction (LSI) discipline are briefly described. The main areas of LSI study—namely language pragmatics, conversation analysis, discourse analysis, and the ethnography of communication—are summarized. Particular attention is paid to several influential theories and analytical frameworks: the speech act theory, Grice’s maxims of implicatures, politeness theory, discursive psychology, critical discourse analysis, the ethnography of speaking, speech codes theory, and cultural discourse analysis. Criticisms and debates about the trends and directions of the scholarship are also examined.
Chase Wesley Raymond
The adjacency pair is the most basic and normatively accountable sequential structure in interaction. This structure can be expanded through pre-sequences, insert-sequences, and post-expansions, which can be seen to be relevantly oriented to by interactants themselves. Various forces drive this normative organization, including issues related to epistemics, intersubjectivity, progressivity, and affiliation. Larger structures—for example, sequences of sequences, overall structural organization, and storytelling—also exist in interaction but are nonetheless composed of smaller units of talk. While potentially open to a certain amount of cultural variation, sequence organization exists cross-linguistically and cross-culturally as a general structural feature of human social 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.
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.
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.
Wayne A. Beach, Kyle Gutzmer, and Chelsea Chapman
Beginning with phone calls to an emergency psychiatric hospital and suicide prevention center, the roots of Conversation Analysis (CA) are embedded in systematic analyses of routine problems occurring between ordinary persons facing troubling health challenges, care providers, and the institutions they represent. After more than 50 years of research, CA is now a vibrant and robust mode of scientific investigation that includes close examination of a wide array of medical encounters between patients and their providers. Considerable efforts have been made to overview CA and medicine as a rapidly expanding mode of inquiry and field of research. Across a span of 18 years, we sample from 10 of these efforts to synthesize important priorities and findings emanating from CA investigations of diverse interactional practices and health care institutions. Key topics and issues are raised that provide a unique opportunity to identify and track the development and maturity of CA approaches to medical encounters. Attention is also given to promising new modes of research, and to the potential and challenges of improving medical practices by translating basic and rigorous empirical findings into innovative interventions for medical education. A case is made that increasing reliance on CA research can positively impact training and policies shaping the delivery of humane and quality medical care.
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.
Martha Augoustinos and Simon Goodman
The recent emergence of discursive psychological approaches has challenged the dominance of cognitive and structural models of language that theorize it as an abstract and coherent system of meanings. Epistemologically informed by social constructionism, discursive psychological approaches examine how language is actually used in everyday formal and informal talk or discourse. Discourse (both written text and talk) is treated as a social practice that is both central to understanding and constructing social reality and oriented to the practical concerns of everyday life. Discursive psychological approaches to intergroup communication have produced a large body of research examining everyday informal talk and institutional discourse on intergroup relations in liberal democratic societies. This work has focused primarily on the text and talk of majority group members and powerful elites about matters pertaining to race, immigration, ethnicity, and gender. How speakers attend to and account for group differences in discourse is perceived to be intimately related to the reproduction and legitimation of social inequalities in liberal democratic societies. This body of research has identified common and pervasive patterns of talk by majority group members that are seen as contributing to the continued marginalization and social exclusion of minorities. These discursive patterns include: positive self and negative other presentation, denials of prejudice, discursive deracialization, and using liberal arguments to justify and legitimate inequality.