Elliott Hoey has a fascinating article in the current issue of ROLSI (viewable here). What happens when there’s silence between people? Are all silences the same? Does everyone have equal rights to break it? Elliott has provided a very lively short version of his article as the blog below, and you can (if you have access) read the full piece here.
Given that CA has traditionally focused on conversational interaction, it’s understandable that little has been written on lapses. These silences, after all, develop when all participants recognizably do not engage in talk-in-interaction. However, a great many social occasions are brought off partially or completely without talk. For such activities, participants must assess the relevance of talk itself as a medium for conducting their social affairs, regularly asking themselves, ‘Is this a place for talk?’.
For the latest issue of ROLSI, I looked at lapses occurring across a range of activities in ordinary and institutional settings, specifically examining how participants arrive at places where lapsing out of talk becomes a possibility, and how they deal with that contingency then and there.
Among other things, I found that the pathways leading to a lapse are numerous. Participants can anticipate, return to, progressively enter, negotiate, and encounter lapses in interaction. And how the way that participants arrive at a lapse is strongly tied to how they treat it as and once it emerges. Three broad orientations appeared in my data, where participants treated lapses as 1) silence where silence should be; 2) silence where either talk or silence could be; and 3) silence where talk should be. The significance of a given lapse for participants is an interactive achievement, and turns on their situated understandings of how talk fits into their current projects and potential courses of action.
From the beginning, CA has been concerned with how participants initiate social encounters, transact social business through talk and other conduct, and bring those encounters to a close. This paper keeps to this basic level of inquiry in detailing how participants organize moments of talk with moments of silence, and respecifies engagement in talk-in-interaction itself as a member’s concern.
Hoey, E. M. (2015). Lapses: How people arrive at, and deal with, discontinuities in talk. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 48(4).