In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Institutional Pragmatics

  • Introduction
  • Theoretical and Methodological Orientation

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Linguistics Institutional Pragmatics
Hanh thi Nguyen, Minh Thi Thuy Nguyen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0316


Pragmatics of institutional interaction is concerned with how utterances acquire their meanings in professional or organizational contexts. Most of the insights on institutional interaction or “talk at work” come from ethnomethodological and conversation analytic studies. A majority of research in this area focuses on the interaction between the providers of institutional services (institutional agents such as doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, store clerks, teachers) and the receivers of those services (laypersons such as patients, clients, customers, students). Less research has been on “backstage” interaction among members of the institutions themselves. The sections below will first introduce publications on overall theoretical and methodological approaches, then summarize selected studies in two main domains of institutional discourses, professional-layperson interaction and professional-professional interaction.

Theoretical and Methodological Orientation

A data-driven discussion of key characteristics of agent-layperson interaction in institutional contexts is provided in the first three chapters of Drew and Heritage 1992. The authors’ idea is that institutional interaction is different from ordinary conversations due to participants’ orientation to institutionally defined goals, tasks, and identities as well as institutional constraints and institution-specific inferential framework. These orientations then shape how participants take turns, design turns with lexical and syntactic choices, organize actions, repair communication problems, manage role relationships, and so on. Sarangi and Roberts 1999 draws distinctions between professional discourse (what professionals do to perform their responsibilities) and institutional discourse (what professionals and clients do as part of institutional practices, rules, and regulations). It also differentiates between frontstage and backstage interaction, that is, public interaction between institutional agents and laypersons and internal interaction among institutional agents. McHoul and Rapley 2001 brings together conversation analysis, discursive psychology, and discourse analysis as key theoretical and methodological approaches to understand workplace interaction. Grant, et al. 2004 provides in-depth coverage of aspects of institutional discourse, including conversations, narratives, rhetoric, and tropes, while drawing on eclectic methods such as conversation analysis, pragmatics, systemic approaches, and critical discourse analysis. The chapters in this volume center around key issues in institutional discourse, such as how sense-making is achieved, how meaning is negotiated, and how intertextuality shapes meaning-making. Richards and Seedhouse 2005 focuses on applied conversation analysis as a theoretical and methodological framework for understanding interaction in institutional contexts, including language learning situations. Arminen 2005 outlines a coherent theoretical and methodological framework for analyzing institutional interaction and illustrates how institutional contexts bear procedural relevance to participants’ conduct in talk across workplace settings. Expanding the methodological repertoire in research on workplace discourse, Koester 2006 introduces quantitative corpus-based genre analysis in conjunction with qualitative analysis of single cases. Drawing researchers’ attention to the embodied, object-related, spatial aspects, and sensory elements of interaction, Mondada 2019 is an insightful overview of multimodal analysis with useful implications for analysis of pragmatics in institutional settings. Holmes 2021 provides an up-to-date synthesis of research topics and methods on workplace pragmatics. Garcia 2023 offers an accessible overview of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis as they are relevant for the study of talk at the workplace, with examples from a wide range of institutional contexts.

  • Arminen, I. 2005. Institutional interaction: Studies of talk at work. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

    A coherent monograph drawing on existing empirical studies to explicate various aspects of institutional interaction.

  • Drew, P., and J. Heritage, eds. 1992. Talk at work: Interaction in institutional settings. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A seminal edited volume that sets the ethnomethodological and conversation analytic foundation for research on social interaction in institutional contexts, with theoretical discussions and empirical studies on varied settings. A must-read for anyone interested in research on institutional discourse.

  • Garcia, A. C. 2023. An introduction to interaction: Understanding talk in the workplace and everyday life. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

    An introductory text with an overview of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis as the conceptual and methodological foundation for research on workplace interaction, followed by analyses of talk in institutional settings such as medical, legal, business, broadcast media, emergency service, and air traffic communication.

  • Grant, D., N. Phillips, C. Hardy, C. Oswick, and L. L. Putnam. 2004. The SAGE handbook of organizational discourse. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781848608122

    A comprehensive edited volume on methodological and theoretical issues and empirical studies in discourse-based research on institutional interaction, including multimodal aspects involving technologies, tools, and material objects.

  • Holmes, J. 2021. Researching workplace discourse. In The Bloomsbury handbook of discourse analysis. Edited by K. Hyland, B. Paltridge, and L. Wong, 139–151. 2d ed. London: Bloomsbury.

    An accessible overview chapter on methods and topics in discourse analysis of workplace interaction with a sample study focusing on identity and power issues.

  • Koester, A. 2006. Investigating workplace discourse. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203015742

    A monograph introducing the use of both qualitative and quantitative approaches, including discourse analysis and corpus-informed genre analysis, to understand the interactional patterns and social aspects of workplace communication.

  • Mondada, L. 2019. Contemporary issues in conversation analysis: Embodiment and materiality, multimodality and multisensoriality in social interaction. Journal of Pragmatics 145:47–62.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.pragma.2019.01.016

    A useful theoretical and methodological overview packed with references to key studies on multimodality in institutional interaction and a sample study of seller-customer interaction.

  • McHoul, A., and M. Rapley. 2001. How to analyse talk in institutional settings: A casebook of methods. London: Continuum.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350933927

    An influential edited volume with three opening chapters on theoretical and methodological approaches, followed by empirical studies on workplace interaction in varied settings.

  • Richards, K., and P. Seedhouse, eds. 2005. Applying conversation analysis. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    An edited volume with empirical studies on interaction in various institutional settings including language teaching and learning contexts, with a useful foreword and an introduction chapter on applied conversation analysis as a method for examining workplace interaction. An accessible volume across chapters.

  • Sarangi, S., and C. Roberts, eds. 1999. Talk, work and institutional order: Discourse in medical, mediation and management settings. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

    An edited volume with conversation analytic studies followed by a useful discussion of methodological issues. Offers broad coverage.

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