Invited Symposium: Convenor Douglas Macbeth

Invited Symposium: Convenor Douglas Macbeth | Ohio State University
Doug Macbeth is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at Ohio State University. His studies take up Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology and sequential analysis through Sacks and Schegloff, and his focus over the last 20 years has been classroom studies of order and instruction as grammars of action. The early grades, especially, are a window onto novitiate instruction wherever we might find it, and thus the instructed character of competent worlds. The aim is to write an alternate praxeology of instruction as it is played out in fine durations of material detail, and to address the conceptual confusions that continue to haunt studies of ‘teaching and learning’.

The epistemics of Epistemics: a Panel and Symposium
This invited symposium provides a focused discussion of what is surely the single greatest conceptual innovation in our shared community of study in this new century. It aims to discuss and take the measure of the wealth of literature written by John Heritage, Geoffrey Raymond and their colleagues and collaborators under the heading of “Epistemics”. It is a thick literature, assembled across a remarkable series of publications, remarkable for their pace, their proposals and their vision for sequential analysis within a new ensemble of studies devoted to the interactional distribution of knowledge, through natural language.

These are themselves epistemic matters. Through a panel of papers, the symposium offers a close examination of the Epistemic Program (henceforth EP), for its intellectual history, its emergence as a recognizable program that is marked, as all recognizable programs are marked, by programmatic claims, distinctions, tasks and ambitions. The papers address how the EP positions its arguments and materials to speak on behalf of the epistemic endowments of speakers and recipients. They address the corpus status of the collections recurrently used in the EP, and examine how exemplary materials can be read in light of that corpus. The panel is especially interested in the EP’s ties to the corpus of studies received through Garfinkel, Sacks, Schegloff, and their colleagues and students in what Sacks referred to as “ethnomethodology/conversation analysis,” and concludes with reflections on the conceptual landscape the EP recommends to our community, and the measures in which it may both extend and depart from those earlier and radical–conceptual initiatives. We think this is a propitious time for such a sustained address and inquiry. And we can think of no better occasion for it.

The panel
Douglas Macbeth (Convener), Ohio State University
Jonas Ivarsson, University of Gothenburg
Oskar Lindwall, University of Gothenburg
Gustav Lymer, Uppsala University
Michael Lynch, Cornell University
Wendy Sherman–Heckler, Otterbein University
Jean Wong, The College of New Jersey

The papers

1. Introduction to the Symposium, its history and aims

2. The Epistemic Program and the recognizability of action
Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis (CA) share an interest in the methodic practices through which actions are (recognizably) produced. Action formation joins turn organization, sequence organization, preference structure, recipient design, and repair as among the fundamental structures of talk-in-interaction. However, in the EP literature a fundamental concern has been raised that “CA has not progressed very far in developing a systematic analysis of ‘action formation’” (Heritage, 2012). The EP sets out to address this lacuna by proposing a set of analytic assumptions about the recognizability of social actions: that the recognition of an action is fundamentally tied to determining whether an utterance is delivering or requesting information; that interactants continually monitor their relative epistemic status on a turn-by-turn basis; and that epistemic status is an omnirelevant feature of both action formation and its recognition. This paper reviews what has become a thirty-year project on behalf of these topics, and locates their main inflection points while critically examining their underlying assumptions.

3. Indexing ‘Oh’, animating transcript
The expression ‘Oh’ in natural conversation has become a signal topic and interest in the development of the EP. This paper attempts to bring into view both the complexity of its treatments, and a sense of place for this simple expression in the EP. The paper begins with the early discussion of ‘Oh’ as a “change–of–state token”, and continues with an interest in two aligned developments: one is the rendering of ‘Oh’ as a “particle”, rather than a turn, or an expression in turn-initial position. The other is how as of this rendering, a new, underlying structure is indexed for leveraging the work of “animating transcript”, or how we portray talk as social action. We think these two moves are closely connected within the EP. And we think they yield a very different vocabulary of motives for the EP, different from the vocabulary we find in the natural language studies of sequential analysis.

4. The turn to information and cognition in the EP
“Epistemics” was the name for a cognitivist philosophy in the late 1960s. Although the Epistemic Program in CA has no direct relation to this earlier development, it does exhibit a turn toward cognitive linguistics. In its long engagement with linguistics, CA pursued a rival and incommensurable understanding of how formal sentence grammar enters into the organization of interaction. Proponents of CA sought to ground the analysis of talk in the intelligibility of communicative actions. Interactional organization was fundamental, and irreducible to minds, brains, motives, or other properties of a biological and/or psychological subject. Nor were the achievements of talk–in–interaction—common understanding, progressivity and the sociality of worlds in common—leveraged from the metaphor of information or its transfer. In many places the EP explicitly affirms CA’s distinctive conception of communicative actions. However, in both argument and analytical practice, it also turns to informationalism and a cognitivist conception of speech production and reception. To demonstrate how these moves matter for CA, this presentation will examine how transcripts are presented and analyzed in several key EP publications.

5. Data session: On collections
This session takes up a collection of transcripts that are recurrently used in the EP. Key publications occasionally refer to large collections of interrogatives, declaratives, and assessments. More commonly, however, dozens of transcribed fragments are mobilized to document epistemic structure, and it is from these that a core collection recurs across its publications. Many of them are drawn from prior CA studies, and in this way EP collections provide insight onto how the Epistemic Program proceeds with familiar materials, differently. These differences include an apparent shift from a treatment of the local production of talk-in-interaction to a focus on epistemic structure as the engine of talk-in-interaction. The discussion will be developed through readings of transcribed sequences and their analyses.

6. Conclusion: From occasioned productions to formal structure

7. Discussion