on conversation

Two friends chatting during lunch break in Iquitos, Peru.

As Emanuel Schegloff famously put it, talk-in-interaction is the primordial site of human sociality [1].  It is through talking to others that children learn a language, lived cultures change and spread, and the social institutions that organize life as we know it emerge and reproduce. The most fundamental and rudimentary form of talk-in-interaction is ordinary, informal conversation, whose natural specimens we can collect and inspect in order to investigate the mechanics that propel quintessential social processes, such as communication, cooperation, and relationship formation and maintenance.

To study the practices and structures that shape everyday occasions of talk in interaction, I take on the perspective and methods of conversation analysis (CA).  CA is an inductive and primarily qualitative approach to the scientific analysis of collaborative action and intersubjectivity in naturally-occurring interaction. Developed in American sociology in the 1960s, the CA method stands out across other observational methods in the social sciences in that it uses audio/video recordings of talk and other conduct in interaction as primary sources of data. Recordings are then transcribed and collections of cases created to repeatedly and detailedly cross-examine participants’ sense making practices and concerted organizations of situated understanding [2].

Broadly, my CA research aims to understand how we come to recognize and manage moral obligations surrounding different kinds of exchange in everyday social life. From garden-variety counter sales, such as buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks, to gifting the cup of coffee to our roommate or discussing with them whose turn is it to do the dishes if whoever is talking made dinner that evening, my research aims to disentangle (sometimes conflicting) norms that regulate market and non-market transactions in and through social interaction.

One important, exciting, and very rewarding line of my work on CA seeks to advance interactional research in Spanish and indigenous languages in Latin America by, first, conducting my own research into the sociocultural particularities of spontaneous talk-in-interaction in Peru, and, second, promoting the field of Conversation Analysis (Análisis de la Conversación) in Spanish-speaking academia. This is a collective and multidimensional effort among a group of colleagues from different nationalities and working across the Americas and Europe. You can read more about this project by browsing the tab AC en español above.