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28. Rod Watson and conversation analysis


Conversation analysis focuses on turn-taking in everyday speech

Conversation analysis is part of the ethnomethodological tradition of social research. Ethnomethodology uses a strong version of ethnography, which captures particular instances of ‘naturally occurring’ everyday actions and processes, often using audio and video to record them for analysis later. Conversation analysis focuses on the way different speakers take ‘turns’ in ‘speech exchange systems’, especially in ordinary conversations, exploring how such exchanges serve to produce ‘order’ in everyday social interaction.

Rod Watson joined Manchester Sociology in 1972 and worked here until his retirement. As a postgraduate student at the University of Leicester, his teachers included Norbert Elias and Anthony Giddens. They introduced Rod to the work of Erving Goffman, which proved a decisive influence on his work, re-focusing it on issues concerning communication, social interaction, rules and conduct in the anti-cognitivist approach, developed by Elias to critique the distinction between inner and outer processes. Rod’s early research was on telephoned communications of suicidal intent.

Whilst at Manchester, Rod was influenced by some of the key naturalistic sociologists (including Howard Becker, Erving Goffman, Anselm Strauss, Harold Garfinkel, and Harvey Sacks – who came as visiting professors to Manchester). These were important influences on Rod as a sociologist of the “linguistic turn” considered praxeologically, that is, the examination of purposive human action and communication as developed in ethnomethodology and conversational analysis.

Conversation analysis looks at the resources and methods that the members of an interaction use to manage their own interventions and to make sense of the interventions of others. Rod’s own involvement in conversation analysis has been centred on the use of membership categories in interactional context and the analysis of procedures for utterance sequencing in talk (such as police interrogations). Rod has also applied his approach to the distinctive, but related, task of analysing texts, specifying the practical aspects of describing social order – primarily in social scientists’ writings, such as those of Erving Goffman in his book Analysing Practical and Professional Texts, published in 2009.  Rod’s work has been continuously directed by the aim of sustaining a thoroughgoing naturalistic, observational sociology.


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