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  • Sequence organization in interaction: A primer in conversation analysis, vol. 1
  • Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen
Sequence organization in interaction: A primer in conversation analysis, vol. 1. By Emanuel A. Schegloff. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xvi, 300. ISBN 9780521825726. $111 (Hb).

This volume is the long-anticipated publication of a typescript that has circulated as gray literature for more than a decade among conversation analysts and like-minded scholars. The published version has grown and changed along the way, becoming much denser and convoluted through detours and lengthy footnotes, but it is at the same time much richer. It has now grown [End Page 249] into a treasure trove of insights into human social interaction, which can be mined for small gems hidden in unsuspected places.

Although some of the chapters pull together observations and arguments made in articles and papers already published by Schegloff (1990 is clearly central), there are also fully new parts, including sections on multiple preferences, type conformity, preferred/dispreferred first pair parts, retro-sequences, reciprocal sequences, incidental sequences, and much more. Even those who have followed publications on conversation analysis (CA) closely over the past years will find something new in this book and would be well advised to read it.

The volume is sure to become a bible for CA followers. But it also has a good deal to offer scholars in neighboring disciplines, including linguistics, ethnography, anthropology, psychology, communication studies, philosophy, and others. The subtitle 'primer' suggests qualities such as basic ('elementary', according to one dictionary definition), structured ('any book of elementary principles'), didactically tailored ('aimed at teaching children to read'), and easily understandable—and this book has most, if not all, of them. It sets forth in minute and persuasive detail the case for sequence structure as reflected in talk, a case worked up empirically from actual conversational records, many of which are presented in 'parsed' transcription (their sequence components are identified and labeled in the margin) and are accessible for listening and viewing at S's tone throughout is instructional and at times admonishing, but the message is invariably illuminating. Some may find that in making the case so strongly for structure, the book neglects the role of physical activity (dealt with in passing on p. 10ff.), including posture and gaze (acknowledged, for example, in rather lengthy footnotes on pp. 116 and 118), as well as what Goffman has called the 'ritual' aspects of interaction, including rights and entitlement to knowledge. But the fact of the matter is that structure is foundational for all further inquiry into these dimensions.

Ch. 1 motivates an action-based (rather than a topic-based) view of the 'clumps' of turns that hang together in conversation. These clumps, S argues, correspond to courses of action, which are executed through a succession of turns-at-talk, and 'sequences of turns are not haphazard but have a shape or structure, and can be tracked for where they came from, what is being done through them, and where they might be going' (3). Included in this chapter are 'capsule reviews' on turns (3ff.) and actions (7ff.), and a useful discussion of how actions differ from speech acts: 'We start not from the names of types of action, not from classes of actions, but from singular bits of data, … and seek out what—in that instance—the speaker appeared to be doing, and what in the talk and other conduct underwrote or conveyed that that was what was being done' (8).

Ch. 2 presents the adjacency pair, an ordered set of two turns of which the first initiates and the second responds, as the basic unit for sequence construction and introduces the 'relevance rules' ('conditional relevance') holding between them. These help account for, among other things, (a) what action the talk in second position is implementing, and (b) how silence in this position can be heard (namely with respect to 'who is not talking, and what kind of talk they are not doing' (20)). Ch. 3 treats minimal, two-turn adjacency-pair sequences, which are 'common, and virtually formulaic' in conversational openings and closings (22), although not restricted to these.

The following chapters...


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