Three Thoughts Around CA & DP.

Thought #1: CA & The Mind

One of the big ideas of our discussion of DP so far is the question of what’s in the mind. We have more or less established that DP believes that there is a mind and does not reject the existence of mental furniture. At the same time, the mind is not considered as the most important site of action for the researcher.

Conversation analysis is a method employed by DP (which is perhaps a more specific tradition). But CA comes with plenty of assumptions about the nature of language and talk. To what extent do those align with DP’s? CA thinks of the mind as quite present. It cannot reject mental furniture all together, as it assumes that there exist conversational patterns which, even if socially based, have to be “stored” somewhere. Sacks conceives of these patterns as “machinery, where you would have some standardized gadget that you can stick in here and there and that can work in a variety of different machines. And you go through the warehouse picking them up to build some given thing you want to build” (Sacks lecture VI, as quoted in Edwards, 1995). Even if conversation works this way, those standardized gears must live somewhere when not in use – the mind?

As Kent (2016) puts it, “When discussing the influence of Sacks’ work on contemporary DP it is without doubt necessary to consider that ‘probably the most salient characteristic of DP, at least at we practice it, [is] that it rejects the cognitivist assumption that minds are revealed or expressed in what people say’ (Edwards and Potter, 2005, 245).” But the way I see it, this puts us in a tiny conundrum. It says that there is a mind which exists, but that that mind is inaccessible through what people say. DP also rejects the possibility of that mind being accessed through surveys. So if there is a mind, how can we actually study it? DP rejects more or less every approach there might be to “getting to” the mind (although I wonder what they would say about neurobiology).

So in turn you might say, “we can accept that there is a mind while rejecting the idea that any method reveals it.” This is perhaps fine and well if we say that these methods do not completely reveal the mind. So do DP scholars see value in survey/category/traditional psych research as revealing some aspects of the mind but not being complete, or do they view the drawbacks of these items as so flawed that they reveal more or less nothing about the mind?

Thought #2: Participatory CA

We talked earlier about the idea of having research groups of participants evaluate their own talk from a CA perspective. I spent the (extremely fun/exhausting) weekend on a youth retreat. It’s true that (as I wrote about previously) this community is particularly disposed to the study of language. There is a strong attentiveness to the constructed nature of discourse (and the constructive but for different reasons that are not my focus). For example, we talked about the word “intersectionality” perhaps having mathematical connotations that do not accurately capture the nature of such an identity/experience.

“Sacks’s view of common-sense reasoning is that it should be neither derided nor replaced, but become the primary object for analysis. The task is to reveal its workings, by examining such things as everyday conversations and texts.” It is actually somewhat strange that nobody (give or take) thought about the miraculousness of us all being able to so systematically organize our talk at any level (Papert writes about Piaget being the first to notice that children do not have water conservation down pat in the same way, and calls the whole thing a kind of collective cognitive repression. But I digress.) Therefore we are all already oriented to talk. So it makes all the sense in the world that CA is a natural place for participant-research.

Thought #3: CA in America

One of the interesting points Jessica made at the onset of this class was how ideas can be bounded geographically (e.g., DP’s prevalence in Europe vs. in America). I was surprised to consider CA through this lens; it originated in California. I know CA as method has been taken up across a variety of disciplines in the US, but much of the DP work we have read has undoubtedly been UK-based. Given the cultural codes necessary to make sense of data (think of researcher as conversational participant: you wouldn’t understand an idiom even in regular talk and would have to ask for clarification), I wonder who/where the major DP-type work in the US is being done. What can we attribute the geographic contrast in DP’s popularity in the US v. Europe. I know Gee is thought of as the eminent discourse analyst, at least in my field, in the US. I don’t really have a question but it’s interesting to consider (at least my impression of) DP’s geographic home in light of remembering that CA comes out of UCLA/UC Irvine.


One thought on “Three Thoughts Around CA & DP.

  1. Ah, that’s a really insightful point. Many CA scholars have historically taken up more cognitivist perspectives to the “mind” and “language” more specifically and this certainly does serve to distinguish it from DP, for instance. But, there are also some more contemporary CA scholars who do not take up this positioning. So, there is a range. But, many CA scholars would argue we could get at “mind” through the proxy of language — at least their analyses read that way (as I’ve never seen a full out discussion of such).

    And, yes, for me there is something incredibly obvious and logical about what Sacks noted about conversations.

    The geography of knowledge production is so intriguing to me. I don’t know why this has always fascinated me, but it has. Partly, perhaps, because I’m really interested in how certain ideas being privileged and ‘known’, while others are hidden away (for a variety of reasons). DP in the US is really pretty under-used. There are only a few scholars that draw upon DP for their work consistently….a very very few, actually. In fact, I could list them on a very small piece of paper — very small.

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