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The Handbook of Conversation Analysis by Tanya Stivers, Jack Sidnell

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30

 Conversation Analysis in the Courtroom

MARTHA KOMTER

Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

Introduction

The aim of this chapter is to show how participants in courtroom interaction orient to aspects of context. The traditional way of viewing context is to see it as an interpretive framework that ‘surrounds’ a text, and that ‘exists’ independently of the participants’ communicative actions. Conversation Analysis treats context as created in and through talk. This is a dynamic process in that ‘context’ is not just used by the participants as an interpretive resource, but it also emerges out of the activities of the participants in the unfolding interaction (Drew & Heritage, 1992a); or, as C. Goodwin and Duranti (1992) have put it, talk shapes context as much as context shapes talk. It is then the task of the analyst to show what features of the context the participants demonstrably orient to (cf. Schegloff, 1992c).

For institutional talk, Drew and Heritage have proposed three dimensions of interaction that show the distinctive institutional orientations of the participants (1992a: 22). First, participants of institutional interaction orient to one another’s institutional tasks, goals and identities. Studies of courtroom interaction have shown that the participants in the courtroom are concerned with establishing the facts of the matter, with determining the seriousness of the wrong that has been done, and with ascertaining the guilt or innocence of the defendant; or, in other words, ...

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