Literary and Critical Theory Conversation Analysis
Raymond Person
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0129


Conversation Analysis (hereafter CA) has its origins in qualitative approaches in sociology. In the 1960s and 1970s Harvey Sacks assumed that language is fundamental to all social interaction, so that the study of naturally occurring conversation as the most basic form of language is essential to understanding all human interaction, because of how language creates and shapes even institutional forms of interaction. That is, in order to understand institutional talk, one must first understand everyday conversation and then determine how practices in ordinary talk are adapted in institutional settings. Because of its emphasis on “naturally occurring” conversation, few scholars of CA have applied this method to written texts. Since CA has now had a significant influence in various disciplines—sociology, linguistics, communication, anthropology, and psychology—many of which have also influenced the study of literature, a growing number of literary scholars are using CA in their research. Furthermore, with newer technological forms of communication, a growing number of scholars of CA are applying their methods to written forms of communication. Therefore, the possible interdisciplinary cooperation between CA and literary studies is the topic of this entry. The below bibliography is arranged to provide an introduction to studies by scholars of CA before introducing a representative group of studies by literary scholars who have applied CA in their research. (see also Jack Sidnell, “Conversation Analysis,” Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics; Michael Emmison, “Conversation Analysis,” Oxford Bibliographies in Sociology; Raymond F. Person Jr., “Conversation Analysis and Biblical Studies,” Oxford Bibliographies in Biblical Studies).

CA: Introductions

Conversation Analysis (CA) poses certain difficulties for interdisciplinary approaches, because of its transcription system and technical jargon (for example, one “turn at talk” in common parlance may include multiple “turn-construction units” or “TCUs,” because the speaker has maintained control of the speech by self-selection, despite there having been multiple “transition relevance places” or “TRPs” at which a change in the speaker was possible). Because of this difficulty, those unfamiliar with CA might begin with a good introductory textbook, such as Hutchby and Wooffitt 2008 or Clift 2016, and work through a good introduction to transcription, such as Jefferson 2004 with Schegloff’s online transcription module. For a more thorough understanding of CA, Sidnell and Stivers 2013 is an excellent resource.

  • Clift, Rebecca. Conversation Analysis. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781139022767

    A textbook written by a linguist who specializes in CA.

  • Hutchby, Ian, and Robin Wooffitt. Conversation Analysis: Principles, Practices and Applications. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2008.

    The first edition (1998) was the first introductory textbook devoted exclusively to CA. Hutchby and Wooffitt are two sociologists who specialize in CA.

  • Jefferson, Gail. “Glossary of Transcript Symbols with an Introduction.” In Conversation Analysis: Studies from the First Generation. Edited by Gene H. Lerner, 13–31. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004.

    Jefferson is primarily credited with the transcription system used in CA, so this is a helpful resource for those learning CA.

  • Schegloff, Emanuel A. Transcript Symbols for Conversation Analysis.

    This website provides an excellent introduction to CA transcription with audiofiles to illustrate the sounds the transcription symbols represent.

  • Sidnell, Jack, and Tanya Stivers, eds. The Handbook of Conversation Analysis. Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2013.

    A more technical work than introductory textbooks, but one that gives a generally thorough overview of CA with chapters written by leading CA scholars. In addition to sections introducing the field and its basic observations, the handbook includes sections summarizing studies according to populations (for example, children and those who are deaf) and settings (for example, news interviews and classrooms). The volume ends with a discussion of CA’s influence on various social science disciplines (for example, psychology and linguistics).

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