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The role of context in conversation analysis: Reviving an interest in ethno-methods

By Bregje de Kok


This paper discusses whether and how cultural context can be used in studies using conversation analysis (CA) and ethnomethodology (EM). I start with inspecting CA and EM principles regarding the use of (cultural) context. There is a risk of treating participants as ‘puppets’ of socio-cultural forces, and contextual features should only be taken into account if observably relevant for specific interactions. However, I argue that CA is overly cautious in attending to cultural particulars, in part because identifying universal conversational ‘rules’ has become its end-goal. In the second empirical part I discuss how, in interviews about infertility in Malawi, participants make relevant the cultural context. Examination of the sequential context of references to the cultural setting demonstrates their interactional function. Thus, respondents actively build Malawi's cultural context in situ, for the purposes at hand. I conclude that, notwithstanding CA's and discursive psychology's dispreference for interviews, using such data is an appropriate way to remedy analysts’ lack of cultural knowledge, as cultural particulars are brought to bear ‘there and then’. Moreover, if CA shifts its focus from universal turn-taking procedures to cultural particulars, it revives EM's interest in ‘ethnomethods’: reasoning and accounting practices, shared by members of collectivities

Year: 2008
OAI identifier: oai:eresearch.qmu.ac.uk:1238
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