Associate Professor Michael Emmison: AIEMCA 2012 Keynote 1
„Epistemic engine‟ versus „role-play method‟:
divergent trajectories in contemporary
School of Social Science
University of Queensland
‘If you‟re going to have a science of social life, then, like all other sciences
of something or other, it should be able to handle the details of something
that actually happens. It should be able to do that in an abstract way, while
handling actual details. My research is about conversation only in this
incidental way, that conversation is something we can get the actual
happenings of on tape and transcribe them more or less, and therefore
that‟s something to begin with. If you can‟t deal with the actual details of
actual events then you can‟t have a science of social life. That
sociologists or anthropologists don‟t study this sort of thing is more cause
for considerations about what are they trying to do, than anything else. I
take it that this is the most obvious thing one would study if one had the
interest of building a science of social life’.
- Harvey Sacks, Lecture 2, Fall 1968
„It‟s (CA) a form of sociology that studies everyday interactions between
people. One of the starting assumptions is that we really don‟t know
much about how humans interact; we don‟t know what the basic units of
interaction are. It‟s largely uncharted terrain. We‟re sort of like explorers
who want to study the plant life in a new land. We collect specimens of
interaction that exist out there, then systematically examine and
- Steve Clayman, circa 2007
EM and CA on „applied‟ work: the classic positions
“Ethnomethodological studies are not directed to formulating or
arguing correctives. They are useless when they are done as
ironies. … They do not formulate a remedy for practical actions,
as if it was being found about practical actions that they were
better or worse than they are usually cracked up to be”.
- Garfinkel, ‘Studies’ p viii
“It needn‟t have any relevance. … I take it that there‟s an enormous
amount of studies that are not intended to be relevant. For example
studies of how cancer does cancer are not intended to build better
cancer. And there are all kinds of studies directed to what other
animals do, in which we‟re not intending to improve them.”
- Sacks, Lecture 30, Spring 1966
“Dismantling the epistemic engine”
1 A: „What train are you catching?‟
(Here we have an imbalance in what A knows relative to B - that
is A speaks from a K- epistemic position)
2 B: „The three-fifteen‟
(B, who occupies a K+ position, acts to resolve the imbalance
by imparting the knowledge that A requires)
3 A: „Ok then we should leave for the station at half-past one‟
(By this A displays that he/she is now K+ as regards the train
time and an equilibrium has been reached. However….)
4 B: „Oh, right I better go and pack‟
(This indicates that A’s turn has generated a new imbalance such
that B didn’t realise that it would take so long to drive to the
station i.e. B became K- as a result of this additional information).
What role does an epistemic imbalance play in the
production of „talk for an overhearing audience‟?
Levinson ‘rape trial’ data
A: …you have had sexual intercourse on a previous
occasion haven’t you?
A: On many previous occasions?
B: Not many
A: With several men?
A: Just one?
A: Two. And you are seventeen and a half?
‘The fact that here the questioning is being done neither to
‘inform’ the questioner [i.e. to resolve a K+/K- imbalance,
comment added] (nor of course to ‘test’ the witness’s
knowledge of her own past experiences) is displayed by the
design of the questions. They are hearable neither as ‘real’
questions or ‘exam’ questions… Moreover the fact that
these questions are designed to elicit information for the
„bystanding‟ judge and jury (emphasis added) is displayed,
inter alia, by the questioner’s avoidance of any form of third
turn receipt item in favour of a move to the next question.’
- Heritage, Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology, p289
Jack Sidnell: „Declaratives, questioning, defeasibility‟
Heritage convincingly demonstrate that epistemic status
‘trumps’ turn design in determining the action performed by
analysing examples where declaratively formatted utterances
are treated by recipients as requests for information.
i.e. if a declarative [K+] is seen to be addressing matters in the
recipient’s epistemic domain then it will be treated as doing
questioning [K-], such as requesting information/confirmation
However under certain conditions the status of such a turn as a
request for information is defeasible – i.e. it can be annulled.
When this occurs the turn, in other words, reverts to its [K+]
declarative status and becomes heard/understood as an
Can we specify these defeasibility conditions? Are they likely to
be found in some environments but not others?
Helen Razer interview with Steven Berkoff
Helen Razer interviews Steven Berkoff:
06 SB: ->
19 SB: ->
Well look I- I- Ie- I- I- hoped you’d be a curmudgeon
for me and a curmudgeon you are being. Mr Berkoff you
are in Australia,
*no kidding. I didn’t realize that. (.) *I though it
Well done. Well done. And you are in Australia
to perform your new wor[k.
You gonna help me out with this Steven.
Yeah well speak normally to me an I’ll f-an’ I can
Hih hih ha I don’ Loo’ I have to say *I
*you say you’re
in Australia like I think I don’t know I’m ‘ere.
Razer: “Mr Berkoff you are in Australia”
‘The recipient (Berkoff) responds, ironically, to the declarative as an
assertion – claiming to have been informed by it and thereby
suggesting that this (and not questioning) was its intent.’
‘What is crucial here then is what Berkoff assumes Razer assumes
Berkoff knows. So Berkoff assumes Razer assumes Berkoff does
not know what country he is in’ (!) [! Added]
However he (Sidnell) adds in a footnote that ‘it is unlikely that
Berkoff actually thinks this. Rather he is being facetious. Be that
as it may, his talk implies that he believes it and it is this believestructure (sic) that underwrites his utterance‟
6 kinds of „applied CA‟
Interventionist: the focus of the
chapters in his collection
See for example:
• Liz Stokoe on communication skills training - ‘CARM’,
• Celia Kitzinger on working with childbirth helplines,
• Doug Maynard et. al. on improving response rates to
telephone survey interviewing,
• Ray Wilkinson on aphasic conversation,
[and (!) Heritage and Robinson on ‘unmet concerns’ in medical
Celia Kitzinger: „Working with Childbirth Helplines: the
contributions and limitations of Conversation Analysis‟
„while CA can certainly make important contributions to workplace
training and practice, our enthusiasm for CA should not over-ride our
willingness to acknowledge that other approaches may at times be
more appropriate or more fitted to the aims of the organizations that
have supplied us with data‟
„For the most part call-takers‟ questions are not – or not without
considerable „translation‟ work on my part – conversation analytic
questions. As a feminist I admire and respect the work call-takers
are doing and want to help them, on their terms. But as a
conversation analyst, my primary interest in these data is not even
in the „applied‟ arena but rather as a resource for developing
understandings of basic patterns of interaction‟
Her solution? Essentially a pragmatic one. Keep the two ‘analytical’
interests – ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ - separate and don’t even try to
Liz Stokoe: „The Conversation Analysis Role-Play Method‟
Background: neighbourhood relationship mediation research and the
problem of ‘converting callers into clients’.
1. Identify a data extract (or series of extracts) in which a particular
interactional problem seems to arise, or in which a ‘successful’
outcome (i.e. a client agrees to mediation) is accomplished.
2. The data are transcribed and both sound file and written transcript
3. The transcript is presented, line-by-line, synchronised with the
audio file. This allows workshop participants to ‘live through’ the call
as it happens. For this to occur they are not provided with transcripts
in advance of listening to the call.
4. One or several lines (turns) in a call are presented. Workshop
participants then discuss possible trouble and perturbations in the
call so far and make suggestions about candidate next turns.
5. The next turn of the call is then played/shown, and participants
discuss it as a possible solution to the trouble displayed earlier in the
Combining „epistemics‟ and the „role-play method‟
A call in the life of a Kids Helpline counsellor …
Call 5_1_51 [extracts]
what do you think you’re scared about¿
I dunno, (0.4) it has a big long thing underneath its bottom.
it has a big wha:t?
long thing¿ under its bottom¿
ri::ght, so what’s important about tha:t,
it keeps wobbling (0.4) around,
would you know what that was,
what do you think it is,
I don’t know (0.4) it looks like a stick.
it sounds like you’re actually with a few people
now=do any of them know what it is,
no no one’s here my mummy’s asleep and my daddy’s at work,
who’s the person that keeps saying ‘woof woof’,
that’s my dog.
are you sure it’s not a person sa::ying it,
n- you su:re¿
>hey guess what=this is a prank=see ya<