- SSMS 3145
Kevin Whitehead (Department of Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)
"Conversation analysis, context and membership categories: How far can participant orientations go?"
While the specification of various types of context is a typical component of social scientific research, the conversation analytic (CA) approach to context differs from many other approaches in its emphasis on the centrality of participants’ orientations as a basis for empirical grounding of claims about the relevance of particular contexts. Critics of the CA approach have claimed that CA’s “myopic” sequential focus and overly “narrow” view of participant orientations make it an inadequate analytic approach for critically-oriented research. In this presentation, I take up two interrelated questions that emerge from these debates. The first of these concerns whether and how the relevance of “distal” contexts can be grounded in participants’ orientations (particularly with respect to contexts associated with membership categories), while the second relates to what counts as adequate evidence of participants’ orientations to particular membership categories, especially in implicit or ambiguous cases. Using empirical examples from a corpus of recordings of South African radio broadcasts, and focusing in particular on a collection of complaint sequences in which racial categories become (possibly) relevant, I demonstrate some analytic resources that can be brought to bear on these questions while maintaining the use of participant orientations as a primary source of evidence for analytic claims. Based on these analyses, I suggest that CA’s scope can extend further than its critics have previously recognized.