CA and Its Heresies


  • Douglas Macbeth



My title refers to two heretical moments for Conversation Analysis (CA). The first was the discovery of conversation as the primordial site of natural language use. The second is found in contemporary calls for "heretical"; innovations for CA's program. The paper discusses three such proposals, and pursues the third through a re-analysis of transcript. The first two are the arguments developed by Stivers (2015) on the coding of CA transcripts, and then Kendrick (2017) on aligning CA with laboratory experimentation. Each begins with similar moves: CA is rendered a "methodology" and thus a technique, as one among others that could join in the pursuit of shared inquiries, on the premise that inquiries and methods are freely iterable. If agreeable, CA would then join a project of methodological "pluralism" (Kendrick, 2017: 1). And each proposal is framed as a "heretical" one that must nonetheless be considered. In doing so, each assigns an orthodoxy to CA, while leaving without remark the orthodoxy of 20th century social scientism that ethnomethodology and conversation analysis took to task. The paper then turns to a recent study that proposes that long recipient eye blinks are social actions, oriented to the completion of TCUs and self-repairs (Homke, Holler and Levinson, 2017). The study, and then an exemplary transcript, is examined to show how the relevance of "long blinks" is reverse engineered: first, they are technically measured, and then a statistical narrative of their placements in the talk is produced. The paper concludes with a discussion of how Schegloff (1993, 1999) anticipated proposals such as these. It begins with a reflection on Schegloff's withdrawal from our professional community.







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