Defining Language and Social Interaction

In preparation for my comprehensive exams, I wrote a few posts related to my first question on faith-based organizing, postcolonial theory, and representation. Now, as a follow up, I want to share with you about the topic of my second question: the field of language and social interaction (LSI) research.

If you have never heard of LSI research before, you are not alone. Scholarship that is interested in language and social interaction is dedicated to the meaning of discourse in specific situations, thus grounding it contextually. As Tracy and Craig (2010) said, what we have in common is the foundation that “to understand social action, interaction, or communicative practices–whatever this stuff is to be called–requires looking at it in the context in which it occurred” (p. 146).

There are, of course, a lot of nuances to what language and social interaction involves based on different scholars’ theoretical positions, but each approach shares a commitment to closely analyzing language use (Tracy, 2015). This commitment to understanding how language works is what unites us across the LSI area and what makes our research valuable to the broader discipline of communication.

Tracy and Haspel (2004) noted that “LSI is best thought of as a multidisciplinary confederation rather than a single intellectual area” (p. 791). LSI scholars often have other topical homes, such as health communication, interpersonal communication, or organizational communication. What they share is a belief that studying situated interaction and its particularity is the best way to understand communicative life. The idea that speaking is a kind of social action is taken-for-granted in a lot of communication scholarship, but LSI scholars take that claim as their starting point (Tracy & Haspel, 2004).

Outside of the communication discipline, the term “discourse analysis” (DA) is more commonly used for referring to the variety of LSI approaches (Tracy, 2015). However, LSI scholars would assert that there are a variety of DA approaches. Gordon (2015) distinguished between five types of DA: conversation analysis, the ethnography of communication, interactional sociolinguistics, critical discourse analysis, and additional hybrid approaches such as action-implicative discourse analysis (AIDA).

These types of DA differ in significant ways. For example, conversation analysis is interested in “unmotivated looking”, or understanding the linguistic moves separate from speaker’s identities or any context not mentioned explicitly in the talk itself. In contrast, the ethnography of communication emphasizes context as a key feature for understanding discourse in specific situations. Both conversation analysis and the ethnography of communication are typically interpretive in their epistemology, which sets them apart from the focus on critiquing systems of power and inequality in critical discourse analysis.

In my next post, I will discuss the specific types of LSI approaches I focus on in my own research. If you have any questions about LSI research or its many variations let me know in the comments!

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