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The Handbook of Conversation Analysis by Tanya Stivers, Jack Sidnell

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5

 Basic Conversation Analytic Methods

JACK SIDNELL

University of Toronto

For myself I believe that human social life is ours to study naturalistically, sub specie aeternitatis. From the perspective of the physical and biological sciences, human social life is only a small irregular scab on the face of nature, not particularly amenable to deep systematic analysis. And so it is. But it’s ours.

(Goffman, 1983: 17)

Introduction

Conversation Analysis is meant to be a kind of exploration, the goal of which is the discovery of previously unknown regularities of human interaction. Like the cartographers of the 18th century who mapped large sections of the globe, the conversation analyst is not content simply to identify new phenomena.1 Rather, the conversation analyst must also “map” them and thus describe what kinds of things they are.

To do this, conversation analysts employ a distinctive set of methods and analytic techniques. Mondada (this volume) discusses methods used in data gathering, and Bolden and Hepburn (this volume) discuss methods for transcribing interactional data. In this chapter, we consider methods used by conversation analysts to identify and describe the recurrent practices of interaction that constitute the central object of study.

The basic analytic method of Conversation Analysis, as described in this chapter, involves moving back and forth between, on the one hand, the detailed examination of particular cases and, on the other, a more synoptic view of the collection ...

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