Wooffit’s argument in Conversation Analysis and Power seems to adhere to the following structure:

Main claim: Conversation analysis offers a distinctive perspective on issues of power and social control.

Ground I: Selling is an interactional achievement; market pitchers’ communicative skills [enable them to] manage the expectations, obligations, and potential hostile responses of the argument.

Ground II: Through a number of practices and devices (e.g. unequal distribution of argumentative resources) radio show hosts can maintain an argumentative advantage over the caller.

Ground III: CA techniques can illuminate the contingent and socially accomplished nature of gender and gendered social interactions (e.g. rhetoric of date rape campaigns, the interactional basis of sexual harassment)

I’m certainly convinced that Wooffit has made a decent rebuttal to the CA critics who he calls out at the very beginning of the chapter as arguing that “[conversation analysis] does not try to make links between micro-phenomena of interaction and what might be called macro-level order, in which relations of power… are said to operate.” What’s interesting is the position I’m in as a reader, which is really the same position anyone is in as a reader. I’m in the position of the critic. The attacker. The offense. I’m going second and, following Wooffit’s section on power in institutional settings, maybe that means I have the power. I say “maybe” purposively, because I’m just not too sure. I’m just not too sure in part because of Wooffit’s recapitulation of Hutchby’s work, which he summarizes in the Turn-taking and power in institutional settings sub-section.

Hutchby’s main argument is that “the sequential structures out of which the differential distributions of resources emerge are not natural but an oriented-to feature of the interaction.” I’m re-wording this argument as something like: turn-taking orients discussants to particular distribution of (in the following case) argumentative resources. To ground this claim, Hutchby analyzes interactions on radio talk shows.

Wooffit starts with a rhetorical question: Who has the power in [radio talk show] confrontations? The short answer is: the host

Wooffit writes that because “callers are expected to set the topical agenda they are, in fact, paradoxically, in a vulnerable and relatively powerless position.” The “relatively” qualifier is important. Maybe it demonstrates Wooffit’s anticipation of a critique like the one I’m about to make. I will list Wooffit’s grounds (actually Hutchby’s grounds, I guess) and then offer some responses to each.

Callers are in a vulnerable and powerless position because:

  • Callers go first, and those who go first must “make” an argument as opposed to simply taking one apart.
  • Hosts can reformulate the callers’ position to set a different agenda for the argument.
  • Hosts can attribute a position to the caller and then challenge that position even if it is not a position asserted by the caller.

There are some unstated warrants with each of these grounds. In the first, the one who goes first is only on the offense until they making their initial argument. After that act of making, they necessarily adopt a defensive posture, which according to Wooffit (and Hutchby) is disempowering in the radio show examples. Defending an argument requires more work from callers who perhaps do not have access to the same “argumentative resources” as the hosts. I say perhaps just to draw attention to the micro-ness of the analysis under consideration. Anecdotally, and outside the context of radio show call-ins, I have seen speakers who go first who don’t seem to me to be disempowered by their occupation of the first position. These speakers seemingly defend their claims with the same mastery and fluency as they construct their initial arguments. I watched this happen last week in a doctoral student seminar. It was really cool.

On to the second point. It’s true that a host (or any listener for that matter) can reformulate a caller’s (or speaker’s) position to set a different agenda. I would guess that we’d see examples of this all the time on a variety of programs on Fox News. But the caller doesn’t have to assent to the host’s bid for a new agenda. Wooffit’s example has a radio host making a much more extreme claim out of a caller’s initial argument against telethons. The host amplifies the claim to charity in general. “You’re going back to the original argument that we shouldn’t have charity,” the host says. This “places the caller in a disadvantageous position of having to clarify what exactly his argument is, rather than elaborating it, or offering a more forceful defense.” The claim being made here is that elaborating argument and/or offering a more forceful defense of one’s position is more advantageous than having to clarify one’s argument. In an extemporaneous debate, which is how I’d characterize a radio call in show, I’m not sure I agree.

Couldn’t clarifying one’s argument be seen as a kind of elaboration if we understand elaboration as developing or presenting something in detail? Clarifying argument fleshes out the details doesn’t it? Even if that clarification is a response to a host’s attempt to hi-jack the discussion? When the host (mis) characterizes the caller’s argument about telethons to apply to charity writ large, the caller has an opportunity to amplify his original claim. Amplifying the original claim in my mind can also be seen as offering a more forceful defense where the forcefulness of it is partly a function of its clarity.

Ok, the last point. Hosts can attribute a position to a caller and then challenge that position even if it’s one that the caller didn’t assert. I guess the unstated warrant here is that defending a claim one wasn’t prepared to defend in the first place is disempowering in the sense that it potentially asks the caller to “call upon” knowledge of a different argument. In Hutchby’s third example, the caller has made an argument for legislation that would give “people the choice to shop on Sundays if they want.” The radio host ascribed to the caller a different argument: Shop workers should not have a choice about working on Sundays. The two arguments are tightly connected. And in fact I’d think that someone who makes the former argument could rightly accept the latter as a rebuttal/critique of their position.

But even as I read it I thought that the host was just as vulnerable as the caller to the same set of “argumentative resources.” The caller could point out that trade offs will be made. They might attempt to reformulate the host’s counterargument to a more extreme position: so you would only support legislation that favors workers to the detriment of consumers? Or they could even attribute a different claim as the host just did. I think these thoughts align with Hutchby’s ultimate(?) claims. “Power is contestable… there are resources available to the callers by which they can resist the host’s argumentative strategies.”

My original interpretation (re-wording) of Hutchby’s main argument as presented by Wooffitt was: turn-taking orients discussants to particular distributions of (in the following case) argumentative resources. When faced with Hutchby’s ultimate claims, it strikes me that “orients” in my re-wording and “oriented to” in Hutchby’s original text are really important words. I think what’s wrong about my use of the term “orients” is its ascription of action to “turn-taking” itself rather than the person taking the turn. Hutchby’s original wording, while it doesn’t explicitly say that the discussants “orient to the sequential structure out of which the differential distribution of resources emerge,” seems to me to imply human agency. Human agents “orient to” sequential structures that lead to differential distribution of “resources.” Perhaps this this comes through in the way I talked about making and/or assenting to bids and callers accessing and leveraging the same argumentative resources as the host. They can orient to (or not) the normative sequential structures that purportedly empower the host and disempower the caller. Power is contestable.

As the reader, I’m only in a position of power if both I and the writer orient to the sequential structures out of which an asymmetrical distribution of argumentative resources empower me and disempower him. At the end of this entry, I guess I’m no longer “not sure.” I’m sure I’m not necessarily in a power position because I’m subject to the same argumentative resources as Wooffit.

**As an after-thought, all of this really made me think of the following viral video of a fellow named Jeremy Glick on Bill O’Reilly’s television program: http://youtu.be/2IwIRNM5noY?t=35s.**

Knowledge Contributions | Discourse Analysis

design, design research, design theory, knowledge tools, philosophy of science, science, theory

Borrowing from a personal email exchange, in my final paper I’d like to look at “how publications in a journal like Nature talk about their knowledge contributions and how publications in a journal like Design Studies talk about their knowledge contributions.” The interest stems from a parallel research project I’m doing about theoretical vs schematic knowledge contributions.

One of the things driving this topic is the seemingly perpetual comparison (stacking up?) that seems to happen between science and scientific knowledge and other disciplines and other types of knowledge in the academy. I’m not really taking issue with the comparison. Of course, one way disciplines come to achieve “self” knowledge is by comparing themselves to others. It’s important for design to compare itself with science, art, sociology, psychology, medicine, etc. in order to map the intersections and divergences. Divergences. That’s a key for me right now.

Wooffitt writes, in the section on externalizing devices, “How can we use language to establish that something is ‘out there’, and that it has an independent objective existence?” And in the context of the chapter (and elsewhere) it’s quite apparent why we would want to do that. It enhances our credibility in casual conversations and in publishing academic research. I pulled the following from a document that serves both as part of my final project research for this class and as a part of an outside research project:

After skimming five [design research] articles, there seems to be a balance between the use of the language of “truth” and that of the language of “utility” with regard to the knowledge contribution. I looked both at abstracts and conclusion sections as primary sites in the texts for talking about the knowledge contribution(s)…

There are lots of instances of what could be construed as scientific buzz words [words that lend themselves to the idea of objective existence] like “experiment,” “results,” and “hypothesis.” These words are of course flexible and they are not necessarily connotative of [empirical] science. However, when these words are used primarily by authors in talking about their “observations” or “experiments” it seems fairly obvious that, in context, they are imbued with the values of empirical science. In other words, they are tools for affirming the objectivity of the claims being made.

There’s no 1:1 correlation between the language of truth as I describe it in the above paragraphs and the language of utility. And actually the question I’m grappling with right now is whether it’s possible to warrant a claim to utility without appealing to the language of truth. For instance, one of the texts I read contains the following quote:

“We have repeatedly observed that with descriptions of biological phenomena, designers tend to rely on non-analogous associations over analogical reasoning… Our work suggests that specific mapping instructions and problem-independent scenario mapping could enable designers to better focus on analogical reasoning.”

The “observations” in the first sentence seem to me to be an example of language use that establishes that “something is out there” and not “from the researchers themselves.” This is what I’m calling the language of truth. The second sentence is interesting, too, because it contains elements of the language of truth. The blue text imbues “our work,” which is not the same thing as “us,” with the authority of more objective truth to warrant the utility claim highlighted in green. Note that the scientific language in the first sentence reaffirms the “objective truth value” of the blue text. It creates some space between the scientists (who are biased and flawed) from their work, which, so long as it followed a scientific process, transcends their biases and flaws.

Currently, I’m curious to know how these claims can be made in different ways. And so this is where I think something like Jorgensen’s analytical tools can come in handy. Something like substitution, perhaps? How do the words “repeatedly observed” effect the claim? How does the claim “read” differently with words cut and/or swapped out?

With descriptions of biological phenomena, designers tend to rely on non-analogous associations over analogical reasoning… We suggest that specific mapping instructions and problem-independent scenario mapping could enable designers to better focus on analogical reasoning.”

What’s lost? What’s gained? There is certainly objectivity lost. But could it also be argued that “designerliness” is gained? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know yet. It is an agenda-laden question, too. I ask it as someone currently trying to understand what makes a designerly knowledge contribution different from a scientific one and, ultimately, probably, to argue for making more the former in design research publications in order to build design as a discipline.

Critical Discourse Analysis


Some background: I read this week’s readings, went back and re-read the notes I took from last week’s readings, looked at my last few blog entries for this class, and took a (brief) second pass at this week’s readings. Here’s where I’m at: We’re learning different schools of discourse analysis and I’m having a heck of a time drawing lines between them. There are examples in this week’s Jorgensen reading where the lines appear clear.

For example, “Critical discourse analysis engages in concrete, linguistic textual analysis of language use in social interaction. This distinguishes it from Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory, which does not carry out systematic, empirical studies of language use.” Aside from the fact that when I read this, I said to myself, “Ok, so what exactly does Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory “do” when it does analysis then?” The distinction between the approaches is at least clear in theory. But there are other cases where I read the text and the lines blurred.

For instance, the authors write that, “… an important difference between Fairclough and poststructuralist discourse theory is that, in the former, discourse is not only seen as constitutive but as constituted.” Is this supposed to be different from Laclau and Mouffe’s thinking because “constituted” implies that there is an entity external to discourse that is “constituting” it? Maybe. But it seems like it’s possible for both Fairclough (who believes that some social phenomena “are not of a linguistic-discursive character”) and Laclau and Mouffe (who believe that “the whole social field is understood as a web of processes in which meaning is created,” which I’m translating as “all social phenomena are of a discursive character) to subscribe to the idea of discourse as constitutive and constituted without giving up their positions on boundaries between discourse and (external) social practice. In Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory, this process would be internal to the system. It builds (and re-builds) itself. Internal regulation. And in Fairclough’s it would be an interaction between two systems: discourse constitutes social practices and is constituted by them.

I’m especially interested by the issue of line drawing, I think, because this week’s readings (in general) left me wondering a lot about the relationship between the meta-theoretical underpinnings of the different approaches and the actual carrying out of an analysis. I need to do some re-reading of this and past week’s examples of analysis, but I think it would be worthwhile to try and (1) chart the similarities and differences between Luke’s analysis of “texts of home and community life, classrooms, and schools,” Wetherell’s approach to the analysis of Diana’s Panorama interview, and Lester and Gabriel’s analysis of the construction of intelligence in introductory ed psych textbooks and (2) to think about what analyses of the same material from a different approach might look like. If, for example, Luke was looking at constructions of intelligence from a CDA perspective, what would that analysis look like?

European Academy of Design

design, design research, design theory, interaction design, karl popper, philosophy of science, science, theory

I’m really excited to have the opportunity to travel to Paris this coming April to present a paper written with Erik Stolterman at the 2015 EAD conference. Our paper is part of the design theory / design philosophy track, which you can read more about here. The paper abstract follows:

This paper asks, Can there be scientific theories of design that do not scientize design? And it answers in the affirmative. Not only can there be scientific theories of design that do not scientize design but also that a scientific lens can potentially reveal important aspects of the design process. We apply Karl Popper’s criteria for the scientific status of a theory to four seminal theories of the design process: Bounded Rationality, FBS Framework, Figural Complexity, and C-K Theory. We demonstrate that (1) some theories about design can be construed as scientific in Popper’s terms, and that (2) these theories do not “scientize” the design process.

I will post a version of the paper to my academia.edu page for those interested in reading it.

Patterns and Breakdowns


This is certainly not the first week of the course where patterns have come up in the readings. By patterns, I’m referencing what Wetherell describes as “regular ways of doing things which guide people and their discourse.” In discussing identity and group formation, Jorgensen describes discourse as a provider of “behavioral instructions,” which I guess manifest themselves in behavioral patterns in everyday interactions. And actually it was in the very first Jorgensen reading where it is suggested that all DA approaches agree to, among other things, the fact that “discursive patterns are maintained and transformed in practice.”

I’m interested in patterns and pattern recognition because it seems as though this is an area that’s probably rich for computational thinking. There’s actually some really interesting work going on in complex systems research here at IU that seems like it has elements of discourse analysis: looking at patterns in social media posts in order to predict the rise and fall of the stock market, for instance. But equally interesting to me is the notion of breakdowns. What do we make of these in discourse analysis?

I think I got stuck on breakdowns for at least two reasons. First, I guess there was some residue from last week’s reading left in my brain. Potter talks about deviant cases, which, and maybe I’m conflating the terms here, I’m understanding as a breakdown. Potter says that deviant cases may be some of the most important in assessing claims, but I think the importance has more to do with the analyst’s process than any larger implications for the interaction under investigation. Second, as I was reading this week’s Jorgensen text on Laclau’s and Mouffe’s discourse theory I couldn’t stop thinking about discourse as a designed artifact. Discourse is constructive. It builds the social. And if it builds, then there has to be a design. If there’s a design, then there’s probably a designer. And for the designers, breakdowns are essential. They signal an opportunity for designing.

The interesting thing is that discourse is both the design (the plan) and the design (the artifact) and its constituents are the designers. It designs/builds reflexively:


Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c8/Ouroboros-simple.svg/2000px-Ouroboros-simple.svg.png

I mentioned before that breakdowns in design signal an opportunity for intervention–an opportunity for a designer to step in and create a design in order to turn the existing situation into a preferred one. But when there is a breakdown in discourse, the designer is also the subject. I’m assuming here that a breakdown is some kind of failure of language-in-use. For example, a person fails to comprehend the meaning of a floating signifier. The discourse analyst doesn’t step in and act as a designer–analyzing the breakdown to understand why it occurred, generating insights from the analysis, and ultimately providing some kind of plan or proposal to avoid future breakdowns of the same kind. Instead, the person in the interaction presumably redesigns  their language-in-use on the fly.

I suppose we all do this. When someone misunderstands what we mean, we tend to correct the misunderstanding instead of letting it go. We redesign our language-in-use and, provided we understand discourse as language-in-use, then we also at the same time redesign the discourse, which makes me think further about the relationship between discourse and language. I sketched a diagram representing the relationship during our first small group discussions in class a few weeks ago, and actually, it strikes me that it fits quite well into this blog post:

Discourse Language