Nathan A. Crick
When John Dewey announced that communication was the most wonderful of all affairs, he recognized the centrality of communication within the tradition of American pragmatism. In other traditions of philosophy, such as idealism or empiricism, communication certainly played a role, but usually it was a secondary function of transmitting ideas from one mind to another. In idealism, ideas were discovered through intuitive revelation of the whole and only later expressed through transcendent eloquence, whereas in empiricism, particular data was attained purely by the senses and communication served a kind of documentary function of fact gathering. Pragmatism, however, inverted this traditional hierarchy. By arguing that the meaning of our ideas was only found in their effects and consequences in experience, particularly those consequences brought about through shared experience, pragmatists made communication both the origin and consummation of knowledge—regardless if that knowledge was practical, scientific, aesthetic, or social. Consequently, pragmatists believed that improving the quality of communication practices was central to improving not only the state of knowledge but the quality of our experience living together in a common world.
Conversation analytic research on “preference organization” investigates recorded episodes of naturally occurring social interaction to elucidate how people systematically design their actions to either promote or undermine social solidarity. This line of work examines public forms of conduct that are highly generalized and institutionalized, not the private desires or preferences of individuals.
For each action a person does in interaction—be it sequence-initiating or sequence-responding—there are alternative ways of doing it. These alternatives are not, however, symmetrical or equally valued. Rather, each alternative has different implications for “face,” “affiliation,” and the relationship of the participants involved.
As an example of a sequence-initiating action, in accomplishing the transfer of something of value (e.g., a loan of money, a ride, information about fellow participants) from one person to another, a participant may do the action of offering, or requesting, that valued item. But the interactants do not treat these offering or requesting alternatives as equivalent. Several studies demonstrate that the social action of offering is “preferred” over the action of requesting. Participants display their orientation to actions as “preferred” by producing them straightforwardly—without delay, qualification, or account. Correlatively, participants treat actions as “dispreferred” by withholding, delaying, qualifying, and/or accounting for them. More specifically, when opening face-to-face encounters, participants treat offers of information as valued and thus “preferred” over requests for that information, because such offers engender solidarity by enabling people to feel included (rather than excluded): Offers of information identifying unfamiliar persons are preferred during introduction sequences; and when a newcomer arrives to an already-in-progress interaction, an already-present speaker’s offer of information about the previous activity/topic of that interaction is preferred.
As an example of a sequence-responding action, after a participant issues a request, the addressed-recipient can grant, or refuse, that request. Again, participants do not treat these alternative response types as equally valued. Whereas participants recurrently do the action of granting in the preferred format—as this response is usually affiliative and supportive of social solidarity, they tend to do the action of refusing in the dispreferred format, as this response is most often disaffiliative and destructive of social solidarity.
Preference organization research illuminates how interaction works in both casual and institutional settings. For an example of the latter, during parent-teacher conferences, there is a marked contrast between how parents and teachers do the actions of praising and criticizing students: Whereas teachers design their student-praising utterances in the preferred format, parents treat their articulation of student praise as dispreferred. Correspondingly, whereas teachers treat their student-criticizing utterances as dispreferred, parents routinely produce their student criticisms as preferred. This regular pattern of parent-teacher interaction constitutes an endogenous method for circumventing conflict. Research on preference organization thus empirically demonstrates that human interaction is organized to promote social affiliation at the expense of conflict.
Jennifer A. Malkowski, J. Blake Scott, and Lisa Keränen
Rhetoric, commonly understood as the art, practice, and analysis of persuasion, has longstanding connections to medicine and health. Rhetorical scholars, or rhetoricians, have increasingly applied rhetorical theories, concepts, and methods to the texts, contexts, discourses, practices, materials, and digital and visual artifacts related to health and medicine. As an emerging interdisciplinary subfield, the rhetoric of health and medicine seeks to uncover how symbolic patterns shape thought and action in health and medical texts, discourses, settings, and materials.
In practice, rhetoricians who study health and medicine draw from the standard modes of rhetorical analysis, such as rhetorical criticism and rhetorical historiography, as well as from social science methods—including participant observation, interviewing, content analysis, and visual mapping—in order to deepen understanding of how language functions across health and medical objects, issues, and discussions. The objects of analysis for rhetorical studies of health and medicine span medical research, education, and clinical practice from laboratory notes to provider–patient interaction; health policymaking and practice from draft policies through standards of care; public health texts and artifacts; consumer health practices and patient advocacy on- and offline; public discourses about disease, death, bodies, illness, wellness, and health; online and digital health information; popular entertainments and medical dramas; and alternative and complementary medicine. Despite its methodological breadth, rhetorical approaches to science and medicine consistently involve the systematic examination and production of symbolic exchanges occurring across interactional, institutional, and public contexts to determine how individuals and groups create knowledge, meanings, identities, understandings, and courses of action about health and illness.
Chase Wesley Raymond
The adjacency pair is the most basic and normatively accountable sequential structure in interaction. This structure can be expanded through pre-sequences, insert-sequences, and post-expansions, which can be seen to be relevantly oriented to by interactants themselves. Various forces drive this normative organization, including issues related to epistemics, intersubjectivity, progressivity, and affiliation. Larger structures—for example, sequences of sequences, overall structural organization, and storytelling—also exist in interaction but are nonetheless composed of smaller units of talk. While potentially open to a certain amount of cultural variation, sequence organization exists cross-linguistically and cross-culturally as a general structural feature of human social interaction.
As the use of online technologies has grown in recent years, so has the study of computer-mediated communication.
Online communication began in universities through the use of e-mail. Soon, spaces such as multi-user dungeons (MUDs), Listserv, and bulletin boards were developed, which not only allowed people who knew each other offline to interact but also enabled individuals who were not previously acquainted to communicate via the Internet. The development of Web 2.0, which allowed for more user-generated content, led to new and innovative ways of interacting online, most notably thorough social media sites. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, allow not only for text-based interaction to occur but also for image- and video-based interaction.
Through all these developments, interactional norms and practices have developed. A key factor in these norms is what the medium enables, or affords, participants to do. Features such as whether an interactional platform is synchronous or asynchronous can impact the nature of the interaction. Similarly, the lack of visual or verbal contact when interacting may impact upon the interaction, through the potential for misunderstandings. Participants do, though, develop practices to suit the medium. If we examine these practices in detail, it is possible to also analyze the role which technology plays in the interaction. One method that has been used to do this is conversation analysis, which was developed for and using spoken interaction. Conversation analysis examines conversation in forensic detail to illuminate the norms and practices through which we conduct our everyday lives. In using this method for analyzing online interaction, we can not only understand the practices but also examine the affordances of particular interactional platforms.
Various interactional features of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have been examined from a conversation analytic perspective, including sequential organization, openings, turn-taking, and repair. A common focus of these studies it to explore the interactional patterns but also to understand how these might be impacted by the technology itself. The development of norms for a variety of forms of technologized interaction demonstrates how individuals are capable of adapting their interactional practices for new contexts.
Galina B. Bolden and Alexa Hepburn
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
The transcription system for Conversation Analysis (CA) was originally developed by Gail Jefferson, one of the founders of CA, in the 1960s. Jefferson’s transcription conventions aim to represent on paper what had been captured in field audio recordings in ways that would preserve and bring to light the interactionally relevant elements of the recorded talk. Conversation analytic research has demonstrated that various features of the delivery of talk and other bodily conduct are basic to how interlocutors carry out social actions in interaction with others. Without the CA transcription system it is impossible to identify these features, as it represents talk and other conduct in ways that capture the rich subtlety of their delivery. Jefferson’s system of conventions evolved side by side with, and was informed by the results of, interaction analysis, which has shown that there are many significant aspects of talk that interactants treat as relevant, aspects that are entirely missed in simple orthographic representation.
Insistence by conversation analysts on capturing not only what is said but also details of how something is said, including interactants’ visible behaviors, is based on the assumption that “no order of detail in interaction can be dismissed a priori as disorderly, accidental, or irrelevant” (Heritage, J., Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology, 1984, p. 241). Conversation analytic transcripts need to be detailed enough to facilitate the analyst’s quest to discover and describeorderly practices of social action in interaction.
Katherine E. Rowan
Explanations designed to teach, rather than to support scientific claims in scholarly works, are essential in health and risk communication. Patients explain why they think their symptoms warrant medical attention. Clinicians elicit information from patients and explain diagnoses and treatments. Families and friends explain health and risk concerns to one another. In addition, there are websites, brochures, fact sheets, museum exhibits, health fairs, and news stories explaining health and risk to lay audiences. Unfortunately, research on this important discursive goal is less extensive than is research on persuasion, that is, efforts to gain agreement. One problem is that explanation-as-teaching has not been carefully conceptualized. Some confuse this communication goal and discursive type with its frequent verbal and visual features, such as simple wording or diagrams. Others believe explanation-as-teaching does not exist as a distinctive communication goal, maintaining that all communication is solely persuasive: that is, designed to gain agreement.
Explanation-as-teaching is a distinct and important health communication goal. Patient involvement in decision making requires that both clinicians and patients understand options underlying health-care choices. To explore types of explanation-as-teaching, research provides (a) several ways of categorizing health and risk explanations for lay audiences; (b) evidence that certain textual and graphic features overcome predictable confusions, and (c) illustrations of each explanation type. Additionally, explanation types succeed or fail in part because of the social or emotional conditions in which they are presented so it is important to note research on conditions that support patients, families, and clinicians in benefiting from explanations of health and risk complexities and curricula designed to enhance clinicians’ explanatory skill.