Representing Reality: Discourse, Rhetoric and Social Construction

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Jonathan Potter

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    Dedication

    For Michael Mulkay and Peter Stringer

    Acknowledgements

    This is the first description in a book about the business done with descriptions. The book is asking how people construct their world in their talk and texts, and what is done with those constructions. Acknowledgements do business of all sorts and are often the occasion for some pretty ambitious psychology and sociology. They are fenced around by conventions – even the ironies on the conventions are conventional! How is it possible to acknowledge influence and debt? What is visible and what is transparent? What discourses should be drawn upon to constitute the world of acknowledgement?

    Let me start more psychoanalytically with my parents – Mary and Percy. Of course, if this was a serious psychoanalytic account I would refer to their toilet training but, given that this might be family reading, I will stress, instead, their wonderful combination of (almost) thoroughgoing scepticism and sense of social responsibility.

    For a somewhat more recent socialization account, I want to thank my PhD supervisors. Indeed, I have dedicated the book to them. In Peter Stringer and Michael Mulkay I was blessed with two supervisors (at different times) who each combined enormous originality of their own with wonderful support for me, personally and intellectually. I cite them occasionally in the book that follows – but that does not do justice to the enduring impact that they have had on my thinking and approach to social science.

    To bring out some issues in sociology and ideology, I would like to thank my wife for staying at home and giving me such wonderful support. I can't thank her, however, as I am not married. Margaret Wetherell who was originally going to write this with me got bored with waiting and wrote a book about men and masculinity instead (surely a coincidence!). So I blame the shortcomings in my book on her lack of input, but have to accept that many of its qualities are a result of the specific comments that she made on draft chapters as well as her general intellectual example.

    By rights, Sue Jones and Ziyad Marar from Sage ought to be part of an economic and practical account. But, by chance or otherwise, I have dealt with two Sage editors who were genuine academics who made valuable contributions to the content of this work.

    My immediate social network has been great. I have written so much with Derek Edwards recently that it seems odd to be writing something without him. Luckily he was there with detailed suggestions and long discussions about the ideas developed here. The book would have been very different without his intellect, support and wit. Mick Billig and Malcolm Ashmore provided further intellect and humour in spades.

    Over the years Loughborough's Discourse and Rhetoric Group has provided a nurturing, although always argumentative, environment for exploring these ideas. I am particularly conscious of the input from Anne Smith, Ava Horowitz, Belinda Cripps, Dave Middleton, Jon Fong, Katie Macmillan, Mick Roffe, Mike Gane, Sumiko Mushakoji. Outside of Loughborough, I received helpful comments on various drafts from Anna Madill, Alexa Hepburn, Kathy Doherty, David Bamberg, Hedwig te Moulder, Nancy Budwig and Nigel Edley.

    In direct institutional terms, the United Kingdom Economic and Social Research Council provided support (grant R000231439) for the work on making a current affairs television film that is drawn on occasionally through the book. More importantly, the Social Sciences Department at Loughborough University has housed, paid and supported me throughout.

    Last, but by no means least, I am particularly grateful to the various people who allowed their talk to be recorded and used for the research on which this book depends. Without them nothing would have been possible.

  • Appendix Transcription Conventions

    The transcription conventions used in this book are based on the system developed by Gail Jefferson (for example, Jefferson, 1985; Sacks et al., 1974). The system evolved to use symbols mainly available in a standard typewriter character set and to pick out features of talk that conversation analysts found important in interaction. Useful summaries of this system can be found in most collections of papers in conversation analysis (e.g. ten Have and Psathas, 1995). A more thoroughgoing overview and discussion of using transcript in practice is provided by Psathas and Anderson (1990).

    Most of the conventions in the Jeffersonian system can be illustrated briefly using the following extract from Chapter 7:

    • Underlining (walked out) indicates words or parts of words which are stressed by the speaker.
    • Colons mark the prolongation of the sound immediately before (the:n); more colons would show a longer prolongation (Ah:::).
    • Arrows precede marked rises and falls in intonation (↑Oka↓y).
    • The question mark in line 1 marks a questioning intonation (there is no necessary correspondence with utterances participants treat as questions).
    • The full stop (for example, in line 2) marks a completing intonation (not necessarily a grammatical full stop).
    • The comma in line 6 marks a continuing intonation (not necessarily a grammatical comma).
    • A dash (for example, Thanks- Tha:nksgiving) marks a noticeable and abrupt termination of a word or sound.
    • The brackets across lines 2 and 3, 8 and 9, 10 and 11 mark the onset and completion of overlapping talk.
    • Where one turn runs into another with no interval this is marked by an equals symbol (lines 1 and 2, 9 and 11).
    • Numbers in brackets (0.5) are the times of pauses in tenths of a second; where there is just a full stop in a bracket (.) this is a pause which is hearable but too short to measure.
    • Talk that is quieter than the surrounding talk is enclosed by degree symbols: °Yeh°.
    • Talk that is louder than the surrounding talk is capitalized (WHERE).
    • Arrows in the margin (line 7) simply pick out lines of transcript for discussion in the text; they do not mark features of delivery.
    • Where the transcriber is doubtful of a word or phrase it will be placed in parentheses; if no guess is plausible these parentheses are left empty.
    • Clarifactory comment is placed in double parentheses: ((laughs)), ((stands up)).
    • Where material from the tape has been omitted for reasons of brevity this is indicated by square brackets around three full stops […].
    • The code at the end of the transcript provides a range of information. For example, this extract is from a transcript produced by Derek Edwards and Jon Fong (DE-JF). The talk is from the second couple in the sample (C2) in their first session (S1) and it appears on the fourth page of the transcript.
    Have, P. ten and Psathas, G. (eds) Situated Order: Studies in the Social Organization of Talk and Embodied Activities. Washington. DC: International Institute for Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis and University Press of America.
    Jefferson, G., (1985) ‘An exercise in the transcription and analysis of laughter’, in T.van Dijk (ed.), Handbook of Discourse Analysis, vol. 3 (pp. 25–34). London: Academic Press.
    Psathas, G. and Anderson, T. (1990) ‘The “practices” of transcription in conversation analysis’, Semiotica, 78: 75–99. http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/10.1515/semi.1990.78.1-2.75
    Sacks, H., Schegloff, E.A., and Jefferson, G. (1974) ‘A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation’. Language, 50(4): 696–735. Reprinted in J. Schenkein (ed.), Studies in the Organization of Conversational Interaction (pp. 7–55). New York: Academic Press.

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