Doing Discourse Analysis: Methods for Studying Action in Talk and Text


Linda A. Wood & Rolf O. Kroger

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    No book is written in a social vacuum. Like all authors, we are indebted to overlapping circles of support—intellectual, social, financial. We wish to thank our students who, over the years, have taken an interest in alternative critical approaches to social psychology. We owe a special thanks to Clare MacMartin, whose sagacious comments on the book and on our work in general have been immensely helpful.

    We are indebted to the editorial and technical staff at Sage Publications whose work has greatly eased our own responsibilities in bringing the manuscript to completion. Thanks are also due to the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for its continuing financial support.


    What most people do most of the time is talk a lot. To do anything—to build a boat, to launch a rocket, to start a war, to begin a love affair, to initiate a divorce—requires talk and, often, texts. And then more talk. Talk is what moves the world, both in the private and public spheres. ‘Darling, I love you’ moves events along, sometimes with fateful consequences, such as divorce and custody battles. Almost all we do is accomplished by talk. To punch another person out is to regress to uncivilized conduct. War has been described as the continuation of diplomacy by other means; it, too, is a retreat from civilized conduct. It is sometimes said that talk is cheap but talk is always better than pushing and shoving. Talking protects us from the often horrendous consequences of aggressive physical action. Physical moves can also be good, as in romantic encounters, but they too are often brought about and accompanied by talk.

    Nevertheless, we still know relatively little about talk. Historically, the social sciences have concentrated on correlations between abstract social conditions and isolated aspects of the behavior of groups or individuals (e.g., suicide, aggression, prejudice). Until very recently, little attention has been given to what people actually say or do in particular everyday circumstances. What they do is to talk, often incessantly—about the world, about work and play, about others (parents, spouses, friends, bosses, colleagues, etc.) and their relations with them. And, in talking, they do things. That was Austin's (1962) revolutionary insight into an aspect of language that had not been fully recognized, the pragmatic function of language, what language does to make social life as we know it possible. Before Austin, social scientists had concentrated on the descriptive or literal function of language, how it transmits information. That function has its own importance, but it is not the whole story.

    The story involves a fundamental shift in the social sciences that started some time ago (principally, with Wittgenstein's philosophy of psychology and language in the 1950s), although this shift had a major impact on the practice of the social sciences only in the 1980s. This change promises an advance in our understanding of the human condition, comparable to other turning points in intellectual and cultural development. The shift we are talking about has been called ‘the turn to language’ in recognition of what is most uniquely human, the power of language and the possibilities it affords in the understanding of social life. It amounts to a celebration of what is uniquely human as opposed to the biological grounding of human nature: the contrast between the fully realized cultural being (Harré, 1979) and the ‘social animal’ (Aronson, 1992).

    The turn to language, or to discourse, as it has come to be known (Kroger & Wood, 1998), has had the salutary effect of breaking down the artificial barriers between the various social science fields concerned with the analysis of everyday social life. Investigators and students have come from communication research, social psychology, linguistics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, English literature, political science, and other disciplines. They have come to meet at joint international conferences, and they publish in both specialized and interdisciplinary journals to forge a new area of inquiry.

    The turn to discourse has been accompanied by the development of new methods, and these methods are primarily what this book is about. The methods are designed for the close analysis of talk and, of course, writing. The methods are sometimes called discourse analysis, but discourse analysis as we view it is not only about method; it is also a perspective on the nature of language and its relationship to the central issues of the social sciences. More specifically, we see discourse analysis as a related collection of approaches to discourse, approaches that entail not only practices of data collection and analysis, but also a set of metatheoretical and theoretical assumptions and a body of research claims and studies (Potter, 1997). Data collection and analysis are a vital part of discourse analysis, but they do not, in themselves, constitute the whole of discourse analysis.

    The reader may well ask: Do we need yet another set of methods? The social sciences already have a wide variety of methods. Most are mundane because of their very pervasiveness (e.g., interviews, questionnaires, surveys, multivariate analysis), and some are highly esoteric in being confined to a small circle of specialized practitioners (e.g., the Rorschach inkblot). The short answer to our question is a resounding “yes”; a longer answer necessarily takes us a bit farther afield, to a consideration of discourse analysis as a conceptual enterprise. The turn to language has also involved changes in the conceptual framework underlying contemporary inquiry into human behavior. We pause here to look briefly at these changes and their implications for the modes and methods of inquiry.

    Science: Nature and Culture

    We are persuaded by Hampshire's (1978) argument that psychology and, by extension, adjacent disciplines face two essentially different tasks requiring different forms of explanation and different forms of method. Hampshire's proposal has the virtues of being thoroughly grounded in the contemporary philosophy of mind and of being in tune with postpositivist developments. It deserves an extensive quotation:

    Human beings, while studying themselves and their own kind, must pursue at least two irreplaceable types of inquiry because of their own nature as embodied and self-conscious thinkers. One is an inquiry aiming at a purely theoretical understanding of their own physical functioning, in which human beings are seen as objects that conform to universal laws of nature; the other is an inquiry aiming at an understanding of their own thinking, and the thinking of others, in various normal social settings and in different languages. (p. 67)

    The first project formulates the objects of inquiry as res naturam, natural things located in the realm of nature. In the natural realm, human beings may be taken to be no different from the objects studied by the physical and natural sciences (the particles of physics, the elements of chemistry, the cells of biology). Specifically, the study of human beings as physical beings involves the calibration of our biologically based capacities as a species (how we see, hear, taste, smell, etc.). In short, this line of inquiry concerns our relationship to the physical world. It is classically located in the study of sensation and perception, psychophysics, brain and behavior, and similar endeavors. Conceptually, studies in res naturam are amenable to the kinds of causal explanations that have worked so well in the older sciences. The researchers who pursue this line of inquiry need not be troubled, in their day-to-day practice, by philosophical doubt. They are on safe ground, unless they begin to believe that their mode of inquiry and their mission embrace all science, including the social sciences, and that they can reduce human beings to mere physical beings, governed by their genetic endowment and by chemical and electrical processes in the brain, important as these are. Such reductionist accounts have once more been rendered suspect and indefensible by recent theoretical developments (Bickhard, 1992).

    The second project concerns res artem, events constructed in the realm not of nature but of culture and, as such, wholly enmeshed in the complexities of language. The study of human beings as social beings is concerned with our relations to the symbolic world, not to the natural world. Such study involves examining how we acquire and use language; how we solve problems; how we manage to live with others; and how individual differences, both normal and abnormal, are created and perceived. This line of inquiry is historically connected with the humanities; with certain subfields in psychology, such as social, developmental, abnormal, and psycholinguistics; and with other social sciences, such as anthropology, communication, and sociology. Conceptually, human activities as res artem are not amenable to explanation in terms of causes, in the natural science sense, but in terms of the ways in which they are produced and recognized as intelligible and sensible (Pomerantz & Fehr, 1997).

    These projects entail a shift in the ontological basis of the social sciences.1 In res naturam, the nature of the entities under study is that of material things located in space-time producing a world locked together by causal relations. In res artem, the nature of the entities is that not of material things but of conversational acts located at people points or in interactive encounters (Harré, Clarke, & De Carlo, 1985). People points are the nodes of interaction created by people as social beings who must act in concert with their fellow social beings; in so doing, they create a world that is locked together not by causal relations but by conventions, shared rules, story lines, and narratives. The rich fabric of social life is woven not by physical beings whose actions are caused by mental entities harbored under their skulls, but rather by social beings who, by virtue of their capacity for language, are engaged in an endless ‘conversation’ and so create and maintain their relations with each other (Harré & Gillett, 1994). It is in this realm that discourse analysis finds its home.

    Consider how we look at the death of a person. There are two ways to do so. As a matter of res naturam, we have a dead body. Pathologists and forensic experts can establish the ‘cause’ of the death by the procedures of the natural sciences, and the cause of death will be stated in terms of disease, gunshot wounds, and the like. This is not problematic, except sometimes in a purely technical sense, as when the accuracy of some biological test is questioned. But we also look at the dead body as an item in the social world, in res artem. For example, we need to decide whether the firing of a gun that results in a deadly wound should be considered an accident, suicide, manslaughter, or homicide; we make this decision through the procedures of the social sciences and of jurisprudence in an institutional, social context involving police, lawyers, judges, and juries. There may be disagreements, but these disagreements are of a different sort than those involved in determining the cause of biological death. Their resolution requires discourse par excellence. It is through talk, through discussing biological assays, chemical tests, and the like that we come to an agreement. Death as a social matter is purely a matter of discourse, in terms both of the construction of the death and of how we accomplish that construction.

    Science: One Method or Many?

    A book about new methods cannot skirt more general questions about methods in science. In this area, we have accumulated both certain illusions about science (Boulding, 1980) and a panoply of myths or misconceptions about the nature and the methods of science (Bickhard, 1992). We have gained a good deal of understanding about these misconceptions through the work of the sociologists of scientific knowledge who look at what successful scientists actually do to see how science is done (Knorr-Cetina, 1996; Latour, 1987). But the illusion endures that there is a single scientific method, ‘a touchstone that can distinguish what is scientific from what is not’ (Boulding, 1980, p. 833). Shorn of its shibboleths, scientific work is a form of problem solving that in its essentials is no different from the problem solving used by ordinary folk, even though it is highly refined and technical in its particular applications. Even the most exalted of scientific methods, the experiment, reduces to a common procedure. Etymologically, to experiment means to test, to try something to see how it works. It is as simple as that. The only difference between the problem-solving methods of the plumber, of the politician, and of the scientist is that scientists do their problem solving under the special social conditions imposed by the scientific community, which include, foremost, its stringent rules for veracity. In the cathedral of science, to lie, to fudge, or to plagiarize is to commit a mortal sin, punishable by excommunication. It is the ultimate sin, because scientists must be able to rely on the record created by others if they are not to be forced into recreating the wheel in each generation. Boulding (1980) puts the matter of scientific method succinctly:

    Within the scientific community there is a great variety of methods, and one of the problems which science still has to face is the development of appropriate methods corresponding to different epistemological fields…. There has to be constant critique and evaluation of the methods themselves. Perhaps one of the greatest handicaps to the growth of knowledge in the scientific community has been the uncritical transfer of methods which have been successful in one epistemological field into another where they are not really appropriate. Furthermore, many scientific methods are not peculiar to science. The alchemists had experiments, the astrologers had careful observation, the geomancers and diviners had measurement, the theologians had logic. These methods are not peculiar to science and none of them define it. (p. 833)

    If anything in general can be said about methods in science, it is that they involve imagination and fantasy (to form expectations or theories) coupled with testing. Testing entails logic, observation, and the records of others. As Boulding (1980) puts it, ‘Without fantasy, science would have nothing to test; without testing, fantasy would be unchallenged’ (p. 832). Science is neither Baconian—the endless perusal of facts unleavened by leaps of the imagination—nor can it be science fiction—the unbridled deployment of fantasy unchecked by empirical constraints and rigorous testing.

    Perhaps one of the most misguided transfers of method from one field to another is the introduction of the laboratory experiment into social psychology for the simulation of aspects of culture. An outstanding example is Milgram's (1974) attempt to study in the laboratory the kind of obedience to authority made infamous by the Eichmanns of the Nazi regime. Apart from more general ethical and methodological issues, the failure of the traditional experiment to simulate aspects of culture in the laboratory with any degree of verisimilitude lies in its inability to take into account the pragmatic functions of language, what is being ‘done’ through the talk of the experimenter and the subject. Traditional experimenters take language literally, unaware of its performative, discursive functions. But if the talk within experiments is not fully understood for what it is and for what it does in the pragmatic, discursive sense, the results become contaminated and opaque, and the interpretation of the results becomes ambiguous. The culture-simulation experiment may be good for studying the actions of undergraduates in the peculiar setting of the psychological laboratory, that is, their coping with the rules and conventions of that setting, but not for much else (see Harré et al., 1985; Harré & Secord, 1972, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 for critique).

    For all of these reasons, it may be time to examine the possibilities inherent in discourse-analytic methods that fit the epistemological requirements of social inquiry in the postpositivist world.

    Purpose and Organization

    There is no question that there is growing interest in discourse analysis. However, this interest is also accompanied by a good deal of confusion. What exactly is discourse analysis? What are the methods of discourse analysis? One of our goals in writing this book is to acknowledge the extensive variety of discourse-analytic perspectives current in the field. But our main purpose is to consider those approaches that we find most useful from our perspective as social psychologists working within a social-constructionist, discursive framework. And although our focus will be on discourse-analytic methods, we also want to stress, along with other authors (e.g., Edwards & Potter, 1992), that discourse analysis is not simply another methodological tool but a perspective that needs to be understood within a wider epistemological context. Nevertheless, concerns about theoretical issues must go hand in hand with concerns about methodological precision.

    Our general purpose then is to identify a limited set of discourse-analytic perspectives and to explicate the methodological procedures we see as most central to the concerns and projects of newcomers to discourse analysis. We will consider examples of discourse-analytic research, but, as befits a text on methodology, our emphasis will be on methodological detail, not on results and findings. We do not intend to provide a critique of empirical studies with respect to their interpretations or to the approach they have taken, although we do try to point out the advantages and disadvantages of specific strategies. We hope that the book will serve foremost to present a range of possibilities. We believe that it is as yet premature to close off judgment or to be overly prescriptive, in terms of both the spirit of discourse analysis and the stage of its development. We also believe that the overall tone of an introductory book should be positive. Nevertheless, discourse analysis encourages reflectivity and reflexivity, so we shall shun neither relevant critiques nor constructive disagreements. The notion of reflexivity is a complex one and is intimately tied to the nature of discourse. Put simply, talk is not only about actions, it is part of those actions—because actions involve talk, and talk about talk is talk about itself. Handel (1982) provides a helpful concrete example: ‘The first few pages [of his book on ethnomethodology] serve as an introduction to ethnomethodology and are also about introductions. That introduction, then, describes itself. It is reflexive’ (p. 35; see also Potter, 1996).

    The book is organized as follows. Chapter 1 addresses fundamental assumptions about the nature of discourse and identifies the major features of the discursive perspective. Chapter 2 briefly identifies selected varieties of discourse analysis and then focuses on some general methodological issues. In Chapter 3, we present some examples of discourse analysis that we hope will give readers a taste of what is involved before they wade into the formalities. Chapter 4, Chapter 5, and Chapter 6 address questions about the nature of discourse data and cover basic procedures of data collection and of preparation for analysis. Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 concern analysis and are the methodological core of the book; we examine a variety of specific analytical techniques and overall analytical strategies. Chapter 9 presents examples of research on identity that exemplify different sorts of analysis of different sorts of data. In Chapter 10 and Chapter 11, we discuss issues related to the evaluation of discourse-analytic research (reliability and validity) and offer suggestions for the writing of research reports. The last chapter offers suggestions for the development of discourse-analytic skills and considers selected methodological and theoretical issues in the practice of discourse analysis. Appendix A presents the system of transcript notation used in the book. Appendix B discusses those versions of discourse analysis on which we draw most centrally. Finally, we provide a Glossary of various terms (and sample readings) used in relation to discourse analysis, some of which describe work similar to work we have discussed under other headings and some of which refer to forms of discourse analysis to which we give little or no attention.


    1. We can comment only briefly on the suitability of the term science for res artem projects. The German term Wissenschaft, or disciplined knowing, avoids the value-laden connotations that have accumulated around the English term science. In the German language, everyone who engages in the disciplined pursuit of knowledge is a Wissenschaftler or ‘scientist,’ whether she pursues literature, anthropology, or physics. Boulding (1980) distinguishes between secure and insecure sciences partly in terms of the completeness of their knowledge bases. Thus, geology and paleontology are insecure sciences, because the record of the past is fragmentary and may be altered at any time by new discoveries. In contrast, the study of literature constitutes a relatively secure science because of the relative completeness of the record. Boulding's criteria would obliterate in part the vexatious distinctions between the humanities, the social sciences, and the physical sciences. A more neutral term would forestall a good deal of needless rhetoric and misspent emotion. This would seem to be particularly true for psychology, where invidious comparisons between the ‘hard’ and the ‘soft’ parts of the discipline contribute more to rancor and status wrangling than to useful cooperation and understanding.

  • Appendix A: Transcript Notation

    The notational conventions employed in this book and in much discourse-analytic research more generally are derived from the system developed by Gail Jefferson (see Atkinson & Heritage, 1984, pp. ix-xvi). For the excerpts presented in the book, we have not followed the usual practice of using headings that refer to the original data (see the following) but have simply given the page reference for the published source in which the data are reported. (We have numbered the excerpts according to their appearance here.) We have also made occasional modifications to data segments to conform to the conventions given here. Otherwise, we have tried to present the excerpts as they appeared in the published source in order to preserve as closely as possible the original transcriptions as they were involved in analysis and to demonstrate both the variety and consistency in transcription practices.

    Note: repeated symbols, for example, :::, °°, and hhhh, indicate, respectively, greater elongation, quiet, outbreaths, and so on. Speakers may be identified by letter, pseudonym, or role (e.g., counselor). Lines are usually numbered, particularly in long excerpts.

    Appendix B: Selected Varieties of Discourse Analysis

    We consider here those varieties of discourse analysis that we find most relevant. For reasons of space, we emphasize the themes and devices that are likely to be useful for empirical work rather than presenting research examples or explicating the perspectives overall. (The examples given in the book, particularly Chapter 3 and Chapter 9, illustrate a good many of the resources identified here.) Our treatment is necessarily brief and selective; readers are encouraged to consult the fuller presentations of the varieties that we mention here and also to consult works in which various approaches are compared (e.g., Schiffrin, 1994; Taylor & Cameron, 1987; Tracy, 1991, 1995; van Dijk, 1985, 1997b; Wieder, 1999). Other approaches that might be useful are identified in the Glossary.

    Discourse Analysis in Social Psychology

    The perspective of DASP was initially described by Potter and Wetherell (1987). Edwards and Potter (1992) subsequently used the term discursive psychology to indicate that the perspective involves radical rethinking of concepts, not just a methodological shift. They also used the term to signal a reconstruction of central topics in psychology, such as memory and attribution. More recently, Edwards (1997) has contributed a wholesale discursive respecification (see Potter, 1999) of a host of psychological topics conventionally treated in cognitive terms, including perception, categorization, scripts, emotion, and so on. In the same way that discursive psychology can be seen to describe the application of a discourse-analytic perspective to psychological concepts, Potter (1998b) has used the term discursive social psychology for “the application of ideas from discourse analysis to issues in social psychology” (p. 234). The terms do emphasize that discourse analysis involves more than method, but they can be confusing to novices if, for example, they are taken to suggest different domains or activities rather than driving home the way in which various notions are all considered in discursive, that is, social terms, and as both theory and practice. Some confusion may also arise because the term discursive psychology has been used by Harré (e.g., 1995) to describe a perspective that shares some of the basic assumptions of DASP (e.g., regarding language as action, the discursive mind; cf. Harré & Gillett, 1994), but that departs in other important ways (e.g., in the emphasis on rules; see Edwards, 1997). Harré's contributions are largely conceptual rather than empirical, although his explications of self (Sabat & Harré, 1992) and, particularly, of positioning (Harré & van Langenhove, 1991) have been taken up in a number of empirical studies.

    The other potential problem with the terms discursive psychology and discursive social psychology is that they may suggest to some readers that the perspective is restricted to the discipline, whereas it not only draws upon multiple disciplines but also works to transcend a number of traditional disciplinary boundaries. For our purposes, we shall refer to the perspective as discourse analysis, with the qualifier that it is the version developed within social psychology (hence, DASP) and with the emphasis on analysis as perspective rather than method.

    DASP focuses on both participants'; discursive practices and the resources upon which they draw (Potter & Wetherell, 1995a). Some of the important features of participants'; discursive practices and the relationships between them are captured by the Discursive Action Model, which consists of three major sections (Edwards & Potter, 1992, p. 154). Action stresses that the focus is on action, not cognition; treats references to internal (perceptual, cognitive) processes (e.g., attributions, rememberings) not as statements about such processes but as rhetorical devices; and situates these in sequences of explaining, blaming, and so forth. Fact and interest stresses the way in which dilemmas of interest are managed through reports that do attributions, are constructed as factual through various discursive techniques, and are organized to undermine alternatives. Accountability stresses the way in which reports attend to accountability both in the events reported and of the speaker who is reporting and emphasizes the relations between these aspects of reports.

    These themes are played out through the examination of various sorts of practices and resources. A major focus has been on the variety of ways in which versions are constructed to appear factual. For example, Edwards and Potter (1992, pp. 160-163) have identified nine main techniques of fact construction:

    • category entitlements (reports by members of particular categories have a prima facie truth value; see CA below);
    • vivid description (in which details support the factual quality of the report);
    • narrative (the factual status of events is enhanced by embedding them in a particular narrative sequence);
    • systematic vagueness (which can serve to deflect the undermining of an account);
    • empiricist accounting (a style that enhances factual status by removing the influence of the observer or reporter, thus creating “objectivity”; e.g., the passive voice of scientific discourse);
    • rhetoric of argument (using the form of standard argument types, e.g., syllogisms);
    • extreme case formulations (which help to render actions commonplace; see CA below);
    • consensus and corroboration (agreement across observers, judges, etc., e.g., as in reports of interrater reliability);
    • lists and contrasts (which enhance completeness and bolster the claim at issue through comparing it with an unlikely alternative).

    The focus here is on some of the devices that can be deployed to construct discourse as factual (see also Potter, 1996, for discussion and identification of additional devices).

    An important issue in the construction of versions is the management of stake or interest. Referencing stake is one important way in which the significance of an action or the truth of a claim can be discounted, for example, as motivated by personal interest. One example of this sort of referencing is the reply attributed to Mandy Rice-Davies, a witness in a British court case involving prostitution and a number of public figures, to a question from Counsel, “Are you aware that Lord Astor denies any impropriety in his relationship with you?”: “Well he would wouldn't he” (see Edwards & Potter, 1992, pp. 117-118 for analysis of the way in which this expression works). The effectiveness of this device (and its more general form, “they would say that, wouldn't they”) for discounting has been widely recognized in that it has been taken up and deployed in a variety of contexts (see also Potter, 1997). But like all such devices, it can be turned around and used to acknowledge stake (But I would say that, wouldn't I?), thereby limiting the possibility for other speakers to undermine one's claim. Potter (1996) has discussed a variety of ways in which one can do stake inoculation, that is, construct one's talk or writing to prevent its undermining, for example, by presenting one's position as involving a change of mind (see also Potters';, 1997, discussion of the phrases I dunno and I don't know as stake inoculation).

    Accountability is another major theme in DASP. As in attribution theory, issues of agency and of blame and responsibility are viewed as central features in many reports. For example, to say that a student has failed because she did not study is to identify her as an agent and to hold her responsible for her failure. But as Edwards and Potter have pointed out (1992), there is another level of accountability here, namely that of the person who makes the statement. That is, we need to consider the accountability of both “the parties in the talk (in the events as recounted) and the parties to the talk” (p. 125). The professor who tells her chair that a student failed because she did not study is constructing her own accountability for giving the student a failing grade; the professor cannot be blamed—as would be the case if the exams were unfair, for example. That is, the two levels of accountability are related. Moreover, the professor is also accountable for the report itself. This point relates to the concept of footing, that is, the basis on which accounts are offered and received (see Chapter 7). In this example, we are likely to overlook the footing because the professor aligns herself with the report, that is, presents it as her own evaluation. We can see the important distinctions more clearly if we consider those cases in which speakers claim to be passing on the views of others, that is, in which they claim that they are not responsible for the content of the report (e.g., if the chair were to say to the student, “I'm only telling you what the professor said”). But the speaker may nonetheless be held responsible for passing on the report—and this involves an issue of accountability that may require further work by the speaker (e.g., invoking the responsibilities of office).

    Emotion concepts and metaphors constitute an important set of discursive resources for deployment within narrative and rhetoric. Edwards (1997, p. 194) has identified a range of such resources in the form of rhetorical positions and contrasts:

    • emotion versus cognition (description of actions as expressions of feelings vs. thought);
    • emotion as irrational versus rational (whether emotions are treated as accountable);
    • emotion as cognitively grounded or cognitively consequential (the treatment of emotion as a reaction to or basis for cognitive assessment);
    • event-driven versus dispositional (emotion as reactive or provoked vs. stemming from character);
    • dispositions versus temporary states;
    • emotion as controllable action or passive reaction (dichotomizing emotional reactions into what is unaccountably felt and what is accountably done);
    • spontaneous versus externally caused (emotion as caused internally vs. by its object);
    • natural versus moral (emotions as automatic bodily reactions vs. social judgments);
    • internal states versus external behavior: private (“feelings”) versus public (“expressions,” “displays”); “true” emotions as privileged reports from the inner life of the mind vs. ascriptions based on overt behavior;
    • honest (spontaneous, reactive) versus faked (artful, not “true”).

    Interpretive repertoires are general resources upon which people can draw to construct discourse and to perform particular actions (see Potter & Wetherell, 1995a). We have discussed these in the context of a number of studies (e.g., Coates et al., 1994; see also discussions of Buchanan & Middleton, 1993, in Chapter 3; of Gilbert & Mulkay, 1984, in Chapter 7; and of Wood & Rennie, 1994, in Chapter 8; see also discussion of top-down and bottom-up analysis in Chapter 2).

    A central theme in DASP is the rhetorical organization of discourse (Potter & Wetherell, 1995a), that is, the way in which it is constructed to counter or undermine actual or possible alternatives (Billig, 1991, 1996). (See, e.g., discussion of Tracy & Carjuzáa, 1993, and of Edwards, 1998, in Chapter 9.) The emphasis here is on the generally argumentative nature of discourse (vs. rhetoric in the sense of ornamentation, Billig, 1996), that is, the way in which it is oriented (not necessarily explicitly) to other versions or claims. For example, a description “will work as offensive rhetoric in so far as it undermines alternative descriptions … [it] may provide defensive rhetoric depending on its capacity to resist discounting or undermining” (Potter, 1996, p. 106). Billig's approach (e.g., 1985) also emphasizes that we should examine discourse for the way in which it particularizes as well as categorizes (see, e.g., discussion of Buchanan & Middleton, 1993, in Chapter 3).

    Argument has also been addressed within DASP in relation to specific discursive devices involved in making an argument (e.g., see discussion of the Antaki & Wetherell, 1999, work on concessions in Chapter 3). For discussion of different ways of approaching rhetoric and argument, see Antaki (1994) and Edwards (1997) and also the following discussion of CA.

    DASP emphasizes the flexibility and interrelatedness of both discourse and analysis. What participants are doing and the resources that they use are not only intertwined; instances of discourse can be seen as either action, resource, or both. The devices or resources that we have mentioned, for example, under fact construction can be deployed for a whole variety of discursive practices; they also illustrate the way in which DASP incorporates a variety of influences (e.g., from CA, sociology of science, linguistics). Using DASP requires an appreciation for the way in which analytic categories overlap with participants'; concerns and a recognition that the approach involves a basic reframing of research questions, not simply the application of a method to traditional questions (Potter, 1997). (For guidelines on carrying out DASP, see Potter, 1997; Potter & Wetherell, 1987, 1994, 1995a.)

    Conversation Analysis

    The term “conversation analysis” is now used almost exclusively to refer to the approach developed originally by Sacks and his colleagues, an approach that is easy to identify. There are nonetheless two definitional issues that deserve brief mention. The first concerns the relationship of CA to ethnomethodology (see Glossary), which has been framed in a number of ways (see, e.g., Edwards, 1997; Heritage, 1984; Holstein & Gubrium, 1994; Taylor & Cameron, 1987; Tracy, 1995; Wieder, 1999). We have no space here to discuss ethnomethodology, but we strongly recommend that discourse analysts read about it both as background to CA and also for its general relevance (Edwards, 1997). Second, CA has sometimes been distinguished from discourse analysis (e.g., Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998; Levinson, 1983; Psathas, 1995). However, the sorts of discourse analysis with which it has been contrasted are linguistic approaches rather than those we have emphasized, particularly DASP. Nowadays, CA is more likely to be viewed as a variety of discourse analysis (e.g., Pomerantz & Fehr, 1997, discuss the relation of conversation analysis to “other forms of discourse analysis,” p. 64; Edwards, 1998, refers to “CA and its discourse analytic (DA) relatives,” p. 17).

    The CA focus on interaction in talk gives particular attention to the details of talk and to the indexicality and occasionedness of talk, that is, the way in which the sense and reference of talk depends on the context or occasions of use (see Antaki & Widdicombe, 1998). CA also stresses recipient design (Sacks & Schegloff, 1979), the way in which turns at talk are shaped for particular aspects of the context, especially the other participants. CA is an extremely rich source of ideas about actions, structures, and devices that can serve as analytic resources. We can consider only a few of the key notions here; fortunately, there are a number of more thorough presentations and discussions of CA available (e.g., Antaki, 1994; Antaki & Widdicombe, 1998; Edwards, 1997; Nofsinger, 1991; Potter, 1996; Psathas, 1995; Sacks, 1992) as well as works that provide guidelines at various levels on how to carry it out (e.g., Drew, 1995; Heritage, 1997; Hopper et al., 1986; Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998; Pomerantz & Fehr, 1997; Schiffrin, 1994).

    There are several different strands of work in CA. The early work of Sacks was concerned with everyday practical reasoning. He developed a number of concepts to specify how members or social interactants produce descriptions of social life, for example, by constructing and connecting various social categories (Sacks, 1974, 1992; see also Antaki & Widdicombe, 1998). For example, membership categories are classifications of various sorts that can be used to describe persons (e.g., sister, drunk driver, discourse analyst). Membership categorization devices are used to group together membership categories; for example, “family” groups together mother, father, brother, sister, and so on. Membership categories are conventionally associated with a number of features or predicates, for example, activities, entitlements, knowledge, and attributes. Thus, the identification of someone as a member of a particular category can imply certain features; conversely, a description of someone's features can be used to invoke category membership. For example, to describe someone as a “doctor” is to imply that the person engages in certain activities, knows certain sorts of things, and so on. Membership categorization is a pervasive and important characteristic of discourse because it is such a useful resource (e.g., in explanation and warranting).

    Another type of work in CA (often taken as prototypical) has focused on the structure and sequence of everyday conversation, with the aim of producing analyses of patterns based on “ ‘collections’ of instances of a particular conversational phenomenon” (Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998, p. 93). Conversation analysts have identified a wide variety of action sequences (see, e.g., Nofsinger, 1991). For example, one basic structure of conversation is the adjacency pair: a sequence of two utterances, which are usually although not necessarily adjacent to each other and which are produced by two different speakers, such that the first utterance requires a particular (or a limited range of) second utterance(s) (Schegloff & Sacks, 1973). A summons requires a response, an invitation requires an acceptance or refusal, a question requires an answer, and so on. Failure of the second speaker to supply the second part is met with renewed attempts and also has normative consequences (e.g., the speaker may be reprimanded or criticized). Adjacency pairs themselves often occur in sequences. For example, a request-agreement pair (e.g., Will you go to the movies with me?—Love to) may be preceded by a question-answer pair (called a presequence) that prepares for the request (e.g., Are you busy tonight?—No, I don't think so). In some cases, the utterance of the first part of the presequence allows the recipient to project what is coming up and skip ahead to the second part of the next pair (e.g., Do you know where the paper is? [Yes; Where?] On the table). Note that this suggests a way of handling the problem of indirect speech acts. That is, it is not that the second speaker has to interpret a question asking for information as a request (the indirect act), but rather that the question projects a subsequent request (Where?), and it is this request to which the second speaker responds (see Levinson, 1983).

    Adjacency pairs are involved in one of the most complicated (and interesting) concepts in CA, that is, preference. Conversation analysts have argued that there are two types of possible responses to the first parts of adjacency pairs: preferred and dispreferred. Put simply, preferred responses are those that are expected or conventional; dispreferred responses are those that are not. Note that preference refers to the design features of utterances, not to individual dispositions (e.g., personal wishes or expectations). For example, the preferred response to a question is an answer, to an invitation an acceptance, to a self-disparagement a denial, and so on. We all know that invitations may be issued and accepted even though both parties would be pleased if they were refused. It is obvious that both preferred and dispreferred responses do occur. What is striking is that the two sorts of response are likely to be very different in structure as well as in content. Preferred responses tend to be delivered promptly, to be brief (nothing extraneous is added), and to be clear-cut and positive rather than hedged or qualified: “Can you come for dinner on Saturday?” “We'd love to.” In contrast, dispreferred responses usually contain a delay component (e.g., an initial pause), and they often begin with the term well, which discursively identifies the status of the response as a dispreferred one and further delays the answer.

    Most important, dispreferred responses are likely to include accounts (excuses or justifications). Thus, a refusal of an invitation to dinner is likely to look something like the following: “(pause) Well, it'd be great but we already promised to have dinner with the children.” The person who refuses by simply saying “No,” or even, “Sorry, no,” or who offers an insulting account, “Love to, but your cooking is terrible,” is not likely to receive future invitations. The finding that dispreferred responses differ in structure from preferred responses is consistent, robust, and general. The finding is important, because it shows the way in which priority is given to certain second parts over others (because they are simpler and easier to manage), such that requests are more likely to be fulfilled, agreement is more likely than disagreement, and so on.

    The story of preference is more complex than the one we have presented here. For example, the terms preferred and dispreferred are also used to refer specifically to the shape or structure of responses. Thus, it is possible to give a response that is dispreferred in content (i.e., performs a dispreferred action, e.g., a refusal) but that is preferred in structure, that is, it has a “preferred” format (e.g., “No”). For further discussion, see Heritage (1984), Hutchby and Wooffitt (1998), and Nofsinger (1991).

    Another very important set of principles concerns the organization of turn taking. Sacks et al. (1978) proposed a model of the management of turn taking in everyday conversation that has become the foundation for the analysis of a wide variety of conversational practices. Turn construction units can be of various sizes (words, phrases, clauses, or sentences). Their important feature is that participants can project where they will end and where speaker change becomes relevant (a transition-relevant place). Sacks et al. also described three practices by which turns may be distributed or allocated: The current speaker selects the next speaker; the next speaker self-selects; the current speaker continues (see Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998, and Nofsinger, 1991, for detailed discussion). The features described by the model are the basis for some obvious features of conversation, for example, that speaker change occurs, that usually only one person speaks at a time, that turn length varies, and so on. But the model also helps to account for other features. For example, Sacks et al. consider the way in which the treatment of silence depends upon where it occurs in relation to turn construction and allocation. A lapse occurs during and after a transition-relevant place (TRP) when no one speaks. A gap is the silence at the TRP between the talk of the current speaker and that of a self-selecting next speaker. A pause is a silence that occurs within a person's turn (e.g., when a speaker is silent at a non-TRP or where the speaker selected by the current speaker delays the start of her or his turn; see Nofsinger, 1991, for details). The distinctions are important because they entail different attributions for the silence; for example, the pause belongs to the person within whose turn it occurs, the gap belongs to no one, and the lapse belongs to everyone.

    The turn-taking model also provides for a much finer analysis of the notion of interruption. Briefly, the model allows us to distinguish between overlapping or simultaneous talk that occurs at or approaching the TRP (and which arises from the normal operation of the turn-taking system) and simultaneous talk that does not (and which apparently violates turn-taking norms; cf. Schegloff, 1987). The model is also implicated in the organization of conversational repair. There has been a good deal of work on repair; we can only mention some basics here. Schegloff et al. (1977) described four different types of repair:

    • Self-initiated self-repair: The initiation—the marking of a trouble source—and the carrying out of repair are both done by the speaker of the trouble source. For example, “Is it l-is it in a liquid form?” (from Nofsinger, 1991, p. 125).
    • Other-initiated self-repair: The repair is initiated by recipient but carried out by speaker of trouble source. For example,

      In this example (from Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998, p. 62), we see Roger in Line 4 initiating the repair (an example of what is called a next-turn repair initiator, i.e., it comes in the next turn after the trouble source) and Dan in Line 5 carrying it out.

    • Self-initiated other-repair; for example,

      In this example (from Hutchby & Wooffitt, p. 63), the speaker initiates repair by referring to his trouble remembering the name, and the second speaker carries out the repair.

    • Other-initiated other-repair; for example,

    In Line 3, Jean (the second or other speaker) simultaneously initiates and carries out the repair of the trouble source in the first speaker's utterance (from Hutchby & Wooffitt, p. 63).

    The four types of repair are different in several ways. For example, the last type is more explicit in attending to an error by the speaker (see Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998), and the turn-taking system provides for more self-repair than other-repair (see discussions in Drew, 1995; Hutchby & Wooffitt, and Nofsinger, 1991, for explication and discussion of implications; see also Chapter 7).

    There is also CA work on argument. For example, Jackson and Jacobs (1980) consider argument in the sense of speech events relevant to disagreement. Argument can involve making an argument (offering reasons for a claim) or having an argument (as a matter of interactional disagreement) and often the combination of both (Nofsinger, 1991; see also Hutchby, 1996). And there are a host of other useful notions, for example, extreme case formulations (ways of referring to an object or event that take it to the extreme of some dimension or property; cf. Pomerantz, 1986; see also previous discussion on fact construction in section on DASP and discussion of Buchanan & Middleton, 1993, in Chapter 3). We cannot begin to describe all of them here; Atkinson and Heritage (1984), Nofsinger (1991), and Hutchby and Wooffitt (1998) cover a variety of devices and types of resources (e.g., alignment, conversational closings, topic organization, story structure), and there are numerous individual articles, for example, by Lerner (e.g., on responsive list construction, 1994; on compound turn construction, 1996) and Maynard (on news delivery sequences, 1997).

    Not all work in CA involves collection-based analyses of particular features of everyday conversation. CA can also take the form of single-case analysis, the examination of a single conversation (or a portion of one) in order to analyze extended sequences of talk and to “track in detail the various conversational strategies and devices which inform and drive its production” (Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998, p. 121). Yet another form of work involves what Heritage and Greatbach (1991) refer to as the branching out of CA studies from the “ ‘home base’ of ordinary conversation to ‘institutional’ settings in which more or less official or formal task-based or role-based activities are undertaken” (pp. 93-94). Organizations and institutions are studied both in their own right and also for purposes of comparison with everyday interaction and with each other (Heritage & Greatbach, 1991; Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998). As we have discussed elsewhere, the idea here involves the ways in which institutionality is oriented to and produced by the participants themselves. Heritage (1997) has identified six places in which to probe the institutionality of interaction:

    • turn-taking organization;
    • overall structural organization (phases or sections);
    • sequence organization;
    • turn design (kinds of actions performed and means by which performed);
    • lexical choice (e.g., “police officer” vs. “cop”);
    • interactional asymmetries (of participation, of interactional and institutional “knowhow,” of knowledge, of rights of access to knowledge).

    There is now a good body of such research. For example, Heritage and Greatbach (1991) have considered the distinctive turn-taking procedures in news interviews; Atkinson and Drew (1979) considered features of turn organization and design in court, including the production of accusations and of defenses; ten Have (1991) has addressed issues of asymmetry in doctor-patient interaction. Other work has involved classrooms, counseling sessions, and calls to emergency services (see Heritage, 1997; Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998).

    CA can sometimes seem to entail either trivial observations (e.g., with respect to turn taking) or esoteric notions, and it may thus seem to be rather removed from the concerns of both everyday interactants and other discourse analysts, particularly those doing CDA. In contrast, we want to stress the utility of both the individual concepts and of the approach as a whole. CA has contributed major insights to our understanding of talk in both everyday and institutional contexts. It has also provided new ways to consider specific social problems. One example is an analysis of investigations of child sexual abuse. Lloyd (1992) examined the ways in which preference and turn structure served to confirm child sexual abuse through adults'; offering of particular sorts of responses in the first part of question-answer sequences. Another is the use of CA to develop a feminist perspective on sexual refusal (Kitzinger & Frith, 1999) that draws on the body of work in CA on the dispreferred status of refusals and their structure in everyday conversation.

    Critical Discourse Analysis

    CDA is a term that is most often used to identify a set of perspectives that emphasizes the relations between language and power and the role of discourse analysis in social and cultural critique. CDA can be defined in part by its focus on social issues and social problems (e.g., racism, sexism, nuclear disarmament), although these topics are also addressed by discourse analysts who work within other traditions. Fairclough and Wodak (1997) discuss eight theoretical approaches to CDA: French discourse analysis; critical linguistics; social semiotics; sociocultural change and change in discourse; socio-cognitive studies; discourse-historical method; reading analysis; and the Duisburg School. (The list is not exhaustive; as Fairclough & Wodak note, critical feminist studies also belong to CDA; see Glossary). These approaches differ in a number of ways, for example, the extent to which they incorporate a historical perspective, their relative emphasis on reproduction versus innovation, their view of the mediation between the text and the social, and the extent to which they stress the multifunctionality of texts. We comment briefly on those that are most accessible or closest to the sort of analysis we have discussed in the book.

    Critical linguistics (Fowler, Hodge, Kress, & Trew, 1979) can be seen as both a precursor to and a form of CDA. The emphasis is on the relation between linguistic form and ideology, and the concern is to demonstrate the ways in which various aspects of grammar (syntax and semantics) are connected to power and control. For example, to be described consistently (e.g., in the media, in policy documents) as the object rather than the subject of a verb is to be positioned as a victim rather than as an agent. Fowler (1996) has continued to develop the original approach, which was based on Halliday's (1985) work.

    Social semiotics is the term used by Hodge and Kress (1988) to describe the extension of critical linguistics in the social dimension; that is, the goal is to analyze systems of meaning from the viewpoint of social structures and processes rather than taking the structure of language as the starting point for analysis, and to extend the analysis beyond verbal language, that is, to other sign systems. Hodge and Kress identify a very broad set of components for their “alternative semiotics” and apply these to the analysis of a wide range of topics and texts, including poems by Sylvia Plath and family photographs.

    Sociocultural change and change in discourse refers to the work of Fairclough, whose overall aim has been to link linguistic analysis to social analysis (e.g., 1992a, 1992b, 1993, 1995). His system for doing so is extensive and elaborate. Briefly, Fairclough views discourse (language use) as social practice, as a “socially and historically situated mode of action” that is “socially shaped, but … also socially shaping, or constitutive” (1993, p. 134). He uses a three-dimensional framework to analyze linkages between discourse, ideology, and power; the framework draws on a variety of sources, including Foucault (e.g., 1979) and Halliday and Hasan (1985). “The aim is to map three separate forms of analysis onto one another: analysis of (spoken or written) language texts, analysis of discourse practice (processes of text production, distribution and consumption) and analysis of discursive events as instances of sociocultural practice” (Fairclough, 1995, p. 2). The first (extended linguistic analysis) focuses on the analysis of form—the structure and organization of the text both up to and above the level of the sentence—and includes some of the concerns of pragmatics (e.g., utterance force) and conversation analysis (e.g., turn taking). The second includes “explication of how participants produce and interpret texts” (Fairclough, 1993, p. 136), as done in pragmatics and conversation analysis, and it also includes intertextual analysis, that is, the way in which texts draw upon orders of discourse—“the particular configurations of conventionalized practices (genres, discourses, narratives …) which are available to text producers and interpreters in particular social circumstances” (Fairclough, 1992a, p. 194). The third considers issues of hegemony, ideology, power, and systems of power relations at different levels of social organization (situational, institutional, and societal contexts; Fairclough, 1993).

    Socio-cognitive studies refers to the CDA work of van Dijk, who has carried out an extensive program of work on ethnic prejudice, racism, and related topics. As illustrated in his (1993b) analysis of the reproduction of racism in parliamentary discourse, his work involves multiple levels and types of analysis, for example, participants'; positions, speech acts, topics, text schemata (argumentation), propositional structures of clauses and sentences, variations of syntax and lexicon, and rhetorical features. In contrast to the perspective we have adopted in this book, van Dijk's work is marked by an emphasis on cognition as the mediator of discourse and social structures. Furthermore, van Dijk rejects the notion of poststructuralism (1993a) that runs through a number of discourse-analytic perspectives, including DASP and some versions of CDA. Briefly, poststructuralist approaches can be characterized as “suspicious both of claims to reveal a world outside language and of claims that we can experience any aspect of ourselves as outside language…. Post-structuralism provokes a deconstruction of the ‘truths’ we take as given” (Burman & Parker, 1993, p. 6; see also Potter, 1996).

    CDA is “not a homogeneous method, nor a school or a paradigm, but at most a shared perspective on doing linguistic, semiotic or discourse analysis” (van Dijk, 1993a, p. 131). There is, rather, an emphasis on principles (only some of which also characterize other perspectives). For example, van Dijk (1993b) proposes a number of principles such as multidisciplinarity, an explicit sociopolitical stance, a focus on social (between groups) rather than personal power and on both the abuse and challenge of power, and an examination of privileged access to discourse and communication. Fairclough and Wodak (1997) identify “a version of CDA based on eight principles of theory or method” (p. 268), including the ideas that power relations are discursive, that discourse constitutes society and culture, that discourse does ideological work, and that the link between text and society is mediated (e.g., by orders of discourse). It draws on various sorts of work in linguistics, philosophy, and sociology—including CA. Thus, we do not see CDA as useful in the sense that it provides us with unique sets of specific analytical concepts for the sort of work we discuss in this book. CDA has also been subjected to a number of critiques, for example, that it imposes a priori linguistic categories and relies on analysts'; own understanding of texts and assumptions about the reality of social circumstances (see, e.g., Potter, 1996) and that it involves a “mostly taken-for-granted approach to power and social reality” (Edwards, 1997, p. 229). But CDA is important both for its general stance and for the work done within this perspective on a variety of specific issues. It represents a range of possibilities, as can be seen in a recent collection of readings edited by Caldas-Coulthard and Coulthard (1996), which includes a range of theoretical accounts of CDA and its application (e.g., by Wodak, who has carried out a number of studies of racism under the rubric of CDA). We give just one brief example here to convey a bit of the flavor of CDA.

    Fairclough (1993) examined the marketing efforts of British universities via promotional discursive practices in advertisements for academic posts, materials for an academic conference, a curriculum vitae, and undergraduate calendar entries. We mention only a few aspects of his analysis of the first of these texts. At the level of discourse practice, he identifies various genres and discourses, such as commodity advertising (realized, e.g., in “catchy” headlines), that contribute to a hybrid construction of the advertisements that is partly promotional. At the level of text, he considers such features as personal pronouns, modality, agentless passives, transitivity, and narrative style for the ways in which they construct institutional and personalized identities. At the level of social practice, he discusses the appearance of the advertisements in relation to the breakdown of the division between polytechnics and universities and the links between the former and the business community. Fairclough's approach is appealing in part because of its sweep and inclusiveness, but these features also make it somewhat unrealistic in practice and also subject to the danger of less-than-thorough analysis. In the meantime, it is likely that discourse analysts will continue to draw selectively on the elements of Fairclough's approach.


    Pragmatics has been defined as “the study of the principles and practice underlying all interactive linguistic performance—this including all aspects of language usage, understanding, and appropriateness” (Crystal, 1987, p. 120). Pragmatics can even be seen to include CA. For example, Levinson (1983) has referred to CA as “the outstanding empirical tradition in pragmatics” (p. 285).

    According to Levinson (1983), pragmatics is essentially concerned with the problem that the meaning of an utterance (language as used) cannot be fully accounted for by looking at the “literal” meaning of the sentence or words by which that utterance is performed. Utterance meaning is not the same as sentence meaning (or ironic communication would be very difficult): “Meaning is not something which is inherent in the words alone, nor is it produced by the speaker alone, nor by the hearer alone” (Thomas, 1995, p. 22). Although all work in pragmatics is concerned with the issue of meaning in use, there are a number of different approaches to the issue, approaches that differ in numerous ways, including their relative emphasis on the central concepts. And in addition to what we might see as core (or linguistic) pragmatics (e.g., Leech, 1983), there are numerous other strands of pragmatics, for example, applied (Levinson, 1983); cross-cultural (e.g., Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989); developmental (e.g., Ochs & Schieffelin, 1979); psychological-cognitive (Clark, 1979); social-psychological (Turnbull & Saxton, 1997). Some of this work may be useful to readers, depending on their particular interests. But our focus here is on central themes and devices.

    Austin's (1962) theory of speech acts is arguably the centerpiece of work in pragmatics. We have described some of the basic notions of the theory in Chapter 1, namely the ideas that language is used to do as well as to say things and that there are conditions that must be met in order for illocutionary acts to be successful. Speech-act theory is problematic for use in discourse analysis (see, e.g., Potter, 1996), but it is worth reviewing for the basic ideas (see Nofsinger, 1991, for accessible description).

    Conversational implicature (a particular type of pragmatic inference) is a central concept in pragmatics, both because it is a “paradigmatic example” of the way in which principles that concern social interaction can affect the structure of language and because it provides an account of how it is possible for an utterance to mean more than it says (Levinson, 1983, p. 97). Grice (1975) argues that there is a general principle (the Cooperative Principle [CP]) that conversational participants are expected to observe: “Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged” (p. 307). The CP consists of a number of more specific maxims related to the quantity, quality, relevance, and manner of contributions. It is clear that participants often fail to follow these maxims. However, Grice's argument is not that people follow them in a strict way, but that they orient to these principles in a way that gives rise to implicature. (Note that the term implicature refers to inferences that go beyond semantic content; it contrasts with terms such as logical implication, entailment, and logical consequence, which refer to inferences derived solely from logical content; see Levinson, 1983.) Specifically, even though it may appear that the maxims are not being followed, people generally nonetheless assume that the maxims (or the overall CP) are being followed in some way and make the appropriate inferences to support this assumption. We have space for only one example (see Grice, 1975; Nofsinger, 1991). An adviser who writes a letter of recommendation for a student stating only that the student has an excellent command of English is flouting the Quantity maxim. The violation cannot be explained on the basis of a clash with other maxims (e.g., the adviser is unable to say more or does not know that more is required). It is difficult to reconcile with the assumption that the speaker is observing the CP, unless one assumes that the writer has information that he or she is reluctant to put in writing, which in turn suggests that the adviser thinks poorly of the student. This is what is implicated.

    There is much more that could be said about the theory (and its problems; see, e.g., Levinson, 1983). We point here to the importance of implicature for the understanding of conversation (and other forms of discourse) by both participants and analysts. Implicature is an instance of the more general principle that expressions or utterances only make sense against certain background assumptions. (The precise nature and status of these assumptions, e.g., as cognitive entities, cultural discourses, etc., varies considerably, but the principle appears implicitly or explicitly in all discourse work, e.g., in the notion of the taken-for-granted in CA.)

    The term deixis concerns the ways in which certain features of language (referred to variously as deictics, deictic forms, indexicals, or indexical expressions) refer directly (point) to the characteristics of the situation. There are three traditional categories of deixis: person (e.g., use of words such as I or you); place (e.g., this vs. that, here vs. there); and time (e.g., now, then, verb tense). Two additional categories have recently received attention. Social deixis refers to the encoding of the social relationship between the speaker and addressee (grammatically or via pronouns [e.g., tu vs. vous] or address forms [e.g., Ms. Jones vs. Sally]). Discourse deixis concerns the encoding of reference to other portions of the discourse (e.g., “I said no and that is what I meant”; the use of anyway at the beginning of an utterance to signal that the utterance is not related to the discourse that immediately precedes it, but to discourse that is one or more steps back; time and place deictics [e.g., terms like earlier, in the last paragraph]; see Levinson, 1983).

    The term markers refers to words or phrases that do not contribute to propositional meaning, but that function in other ways, for example, as commentary on the propositional meaning (e.g., “Unfortunately, I am cold”), as a signal of the force of the basic message (e.g., “I promise that I will be there on time”), or (as noted previously in the discussion of discourse deixis) to indicate or impose a “relationship between some aspect of the discourse segment they are a part of … and some aspect of a prior discourse segment” (Fraser, 1999, p. 938; e.g., “We left late. However, we arrived on time”). Fraser (e.g., 1996, 1999) provides discussions of a wide variety of such expressions that can be examined for the way in which they serve social functions. These discussions are rather technical, but discourse analysts can gloss over the fine distinctions (e.g., between discourse and pragmatic markers) and simply look for the expressions and suggestions about their functions.

    We mention briefly two examples of work on specific expressions. The discourse marker well, when used in the initial position of an utterance, has neither a specific semantic meaning nor a grammatical status (Schiffrin, 1987), but it serves a number of functions, many of which concern the flow and organization of conversation (e.g., as a preclosing device, Schegloff & Sacks, 1973; to shift talk to another topic, Labov & Fanshel, 1977; to mark the insufficiency of a speaker's response, Cathers, 1995, and Jucker, 1993; as a delay device, Jucker, 1993; and as a frame for summing up a previous topic, Cathers, 1995, or introducing a new topic or level of conversation, Jucker, 1993). As we noted previously, well can serve to preface an utterance that is a dispreferred response and, in so doing, to signal its appearance and mitigate its force (e.g., Jucker, 1993). Finally, well can be used alone as a speech act to invite or challenge another to speak (Cathers, 1995).

    The term like (unless used as simile or as a colloquial substitute for for example) is often viewed as a sort of random utterance, as a pause filler or meaningless interjection, as poor style. However, a number of analysts have argued that like has specific functions in the organization of discourse. For example, Miller and Weinert (1995) have shown that the use of like is not random. Their analysis identifies two major functions of like. First, like is used in clause-final position to counter objections and assumptions, for example, “just something to leave a memory of us LIKE”; like is used here to counter an inference that the news sheet that is being described will be remarkable (p. 389; the word just fulfills a similar function). Second, like is used in other positions as a focusing device, to highlight information that elucidates a previous comment (e.g., “like I knew that I coulnae apply for Edinburgh because …”) or to ask for details elucidating a previous comment (e.g., “like are there strict rules”; Miller and Weinert, p. 388).

    Modality refers to the linguistic encoding of “speakers'; claims about the necessity, probability or possibility of beliefs and actions” (Turnbull & Saxton, 1997, p. 145). The primary modal elements are auxiliary verbs (e.g., must, will, shall, ought to, can, may); Turnbull and Saxton also consider certain adjectives (e.g., necessary), adverbs (e.g., probably), and parenthetical expressions (e.g., I think) as modal or modal-like linguistic elements (see pp. 147-151 for discussion and other examples). Modality is an important resource for fact construction (e.g., see Edwards & Potter, 1992, pp. 105-106, for discussion of hierarchies of modalization), for identity construction (e.g., what one can do) and for a variety of other discursive actions (e.g., denying responsibility).

    In sum, we encourage attention to the grammatical and pragmatic features of discourse. As we have stressed throughout, any detail can be important, even those that appear at first glance to be mere aberrations in the smooth flow of discourse or to involve some sort of linguistic nit-picking. But as we have also argued, we are interested in linguistic features not in their own right, but as they are in relation to their social functions. And as for all features of discourse, we cannot rely on the literature in pragmatics to supply us with ready-made interpretations but must work up and ground these in the discourse at hand. Nonetheless, these features can be used to develop and support our arguments concerning, for example, social comparisons (e.g., the use of tense and durative verbs in the comparison of old vs. new members in the Widdicombe & Wooffitt study, 1990), the construction of character descriptions (e.g., the syntax of “You're not lonely, are you?” in the Coupland et al., 1991, study), and the working up of particular versions of events and responsibility (e.g., via basic grammatical devices such as agentless passives) and of utterances themselves (e.g., the simple conjunction but in the classic disclaimer, “I'm not a racist, but …”). There is also a role for analyses in which the focus is on particular expressions (such as well and like) rather than on the overall discourse in which they appear. Such analyses are not in principle different from the focus on a particular structural feature or sort of expression (e.g., idioms) that has been the concern of some CA work; such analyses can make a contribution to discourse-analytic work as long as they follow the more general requirements for analysis, including attention to discourse sequence and context.


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    About the Authors

    Linda A. Wood (Ph.D., York University, Canada) is Professor of Psychology at the University of Guelph. Her research concerns issues of language and social interaction, and discourse and social structure. She has published articles and chapters on loneliness, identity, forms of address, politeness, facework, aging, abuse, and sexual assault. Her current work is focused on discourses of child sexual abuse in legal, scholarly and media accounts, and on the reproduction of gender in discursive practices of address and naming as represented, for example, in expressions such as guys and in surnames. She is a member of the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (IALSP), the International Communication Association, and the International Pragmatics Association.

    Rolf O. Kroger (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley) is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Toronto. The general focus of his research has been on the social conditions of self-report as found, for example, in personality testing, hypnosis experiments, and everyday self-disclosure, as well as on discursive issues (politeness, facework). His current work is concerned with the discursive respecification of personality and the social psychology of address forms. He is a member of IALSP and of CHEIRON. The two authors have collaborated since the early 1980s on studies of discourse and on the critical examination of the metatheory and methodology of social psychology.

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