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Title: Inaction and silent action in interaction
Author: Berger, Israel
ISNI:       0000 0004 2738 6812
Awarding Body: University of Roehampton
Current Institution: University of Roehampton
Date of Award: 2013
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How do non-vocal practices function within sequences? This thesis addresses silence and gesture in the context of social interaction involving human participants through the framework of conversation analysis (CA) to answer this question. Although it is certainly possible, and indeed common, for gestures and other non-vocal practices to occur during talk, this thesis focuses on those that occur without accompanying talk. In order to understand the role of non-vocal practices in this environment, we must first understand the role of silence (or the absence of talk) in participants’ interactions. How does silence function within the sequential environment? How does context affect how silence and nonvocal practices are treated by participants? If one organisation (or aspect of an organisation) is affected, are all organisations (or aspects of that organisation) affected? I draw on psychological, sociological, and linguistic literature to show why silence and gesture are related in interactional research and how this affects conversation analytic methodology. The work that forms this thesis brings together cross-cultural perspectives and technical advances with respect to silence and non-vocal practices both individually and when they occur together (i.e. non-vocal practices without accompanying talk). I begin with a broad overview of research and theories of gesture and silence before discussing CA as a method and its relationship to silence and non-vocal practices. The empirical studies begin with silence in relation to culture and context and issues in analysing and transcribing silence. I then examine how one sequential environment, in which psychotherapy clients are obligated to respond by orienting to the therapeutic agenda, has a preference structure that is very different from ordinary conversation. In this sequential environment, silence and elaboration are marks of preferred responses rather than dispreferred. The preference structure is made particularly visible through accountability that becomes relevant when a client’s response is produced promptly following the therapist’s overtly therapeutic action. Silence in this environment contributes Inaction and Silent Action in Interaction 3 to clients’ performance of sincerity and participation in the psychotherapeutic process, and non-vocal practices during longer silences can show that the client remains engaged with the sequence. Many authors have accounted for silences that are not treated by participants as problematic by applying constructs such as ‘continuing states of incipient talk’. This construct, however, is variably used and has not been developed through empirical examination. It does not adequately explain interactions that involve silence or gesture, as I show through a content analysis and systematic review. After recommending that researchers engage with participant orientations in environments that differ from canonical conversations, I describe an environment that is commonly thought of as constituting a ‘continuing state of incipient talk’ – television-watching. I show that contrary to some claims about ‘incipient talk’ environments, although response relevance is relaxed, both sequence organisation and turn-taking are strongly oriented to by participants. Compared to ordinary conversation, television-watching also involves more gestures and other nonvocal practices without accompanying talk. I examine how non-vocal practices without accompanying talk are used in interaction. As responsive actions, gestures can be used without accompanying talk as a resource for doing sensitive interactional work, particularly in places where giving offence might be a concern. Non-vocal practices can also be used in other situations to accomplish sequential actions that could otherwise be spoken. These uses of non-vocal practices create methodological questions for conversation analysis, which has traditionally focused on the talk of participants. By clearly distinguishing between actions and turns (two classic CA concepts) and examining the timing of non-vocal practices, I show that non-vocal practices can have a clearly defined role in sequence organisation. CA can thus be a useful method for examining the entire situation of social interaction, including non-vocal practices.
Supervisor: Rae, John ; Moon, Lyndsey Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: silence ; gesture ; conversation analysis ; social interaction ; non-vocal practice