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The Handbook of Conversation Analysis by Tanya Stivers, Jack Sidnell

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18

 Epistemics in Conversation

JOHN HERITAGE

University of California, Los Angeles

Introduction

Within Conversation Analysis (CA), research into epistemics focuses on the know­ledge claims that interactants assert, contest and defend in and through turns-at-talk and sequences of interaction. The topic involves a remarkable confluence between the disciplines of Psychology, Linguistics and Sociology that finds a singular and unique expression within conversation analytic investigations.

Social psychologists and sociologists have long recognized that mutual action and joint understandings in interaction rest on the parties’ abilities to recognize what each knows about the world and to adjust actions and understandings in accordance with that recognition (Mead, 1934; Schütz, 1962b; Garfinkel, 1967b; Clark, 1996; Enfield, 2006; Tomasello, 2008). However, systematic psychological investigation of this ability only emerged in the 1980s with the use of the ‘false-belief’ task (Wimmer & Perner, 1983). Success in this task requires the subject to distinguish what they know to be the case from what others may or may not know. This ability arises in children aged 3–4 years, and has been extensively researched by psychologists working within the theory of mind (ToM) tradition (Astington, 2006). It is clearly a precondition for much of what we take for granted in social interaction. Without recognizing the nature and content of knowledge held by others and distinguishing it from our own, it ...

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