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The Handbook of Conversation Analysis by Tanya Stivers, Jack Sidnell

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32

 Conversation Analysis and Sociology

JOHN HERITAGE

University of California, Los Angeles

TANYA STIVERS

University of California, Los Angeles

Introduction

Sociologists have long acknowledged the significance of language for social life. For Marx (Marx & Engels, 1964 [1845]: 42), language represented “practical consciousness.” For Durkheim, it was a prime example of a “social fact” (Durkheim, 1982 [1895]), enduring and transcendent of individual members of society. For Mead (1934), language was the vehicle by which shared symbolization and a reflexive sense of self emerges in the life of each individual. For Parsons (1937, 1951), language was part of the cultural system, the means through which norms and values are transmitted across generations. Yet, despite these acknowledgments, the role of language in human affairs has historically been registered more by mention than by investigation.

This inattention may be traced partly to a disciplinary division of labor forged in the early 20th century in which the study of language was treated as the proper preserve of Linguistics which took language rather than, for instance, language use as its primary object. In part, too, it may be traced to a belief that the details of language use should be studied in an idealized fashion because they are too random and disorderly to sustain principled empirical investigation (Chomsky, 1965). A parallel position with regard to action was present in Sociology. Social theorists had a longstanding ...

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