Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The "artful practices" of interaction: Garfinkel, Goffman and Sacks

The indexical system of interaction plays a central role in ethnomethodology and is a systematic method for illustrating, through conversation, the co-operative and contextual methods participants use to create meaning and organise experience. For Garfinkel (1984), indexical expressions are accomplishments that illustrate the complex organisation of everyday life what he would call ‘artful practices’. In many ways this system when interrogated systematically highlights the complexities in context and meaning that are underneath the majority of conversational sequences. The indexical scheme is one of organisation, centrally located in specific language systems that are culturally specific. On one level indexicality illustrates the management of local context and on another is demonstrates the maintenance of localised order. It is the turn by turn accounts in communication that illustrate the tacit knowledge’s that are at play in everyday experience.
Sacks (1995:163,333) shows the use of indexical expressions in everyday language through words such as ‘you’, ‘we’,’ they’ and ‘us’. Particularly these terms for Sacks are devices that illustrate the production of membership categories through language and are evidence of the machinery of social organisation (1995:40). These categories are produced with the implicit understanding that other members or non-members will know a lot about any given category; they are inference rich:

By that I mean a great deal of knowledge that members of a society have about the society is stored in terms of these categories. And by ‘stored in terms of’ I mean that much of the knowledge has some category term from this class as its subject. And the inference rich character of these categories constitutes another warrant for their occurrence in early parts of first conversations: When you get some category as an answer to a ‘which’- type, you can feel that you know a great deal about the person (Sacks 1995:40-1).

The inference rich character of indexical expressions illustrates a conditional application of context and knowledge to the maintenance of local order through conversational sequence. Sacks uses the term ‘you” to illustrate the complex nature of identifying the different meanings attributed to ‘you’ depending on the context in which it is used(1995: 348). ‘You’ can mean the person speaking, the person hearing (or everyone present) and such understandings are implied through the utterances relationship to the speaker and the hearer. Such that the speaker will not explain what ‘you’ means and the hearer will not tell how they come to understand who ‘you’ is, but the collaboration between the speaker and the hearer brings both parties to the same conclusions. Thus indexical expressions rely on the construction of categories and activities for that category to apply specific meaning. These expressions derive their context from the order, sequence and time in which they were given – meanings as such are never context free but context specific; the example of laughter as an indexical expression illustrates such properties (Garfinkel and Sacks 1986:160-1).

Not only is laughter produced in an orderly fashion, but it appears that an occasion of laughing together is an activity in its own right, an achievement of various methodic procedures (Jefferson, Sacks et al. 1987:158)

Laughter has to be placed sequentially within a conversation in order to understand the meaning with which it is given as a turn to an utterance (Jefferson, Sacks et al. 1987). It is a strategic method for affiliating or disaffiliating with a topic or person in a conversation and is a tool for aligning conversation, topics and people in particular ways without using explicit language. Laughing is never context free, but must be understood in terms of the sequence in which it is heard, that is what came before and after the opportunity to laugh.

Inference mechanisms and indexical systems are important to the systematic ordering of conversation and progress toward social order that is driven though language systems; the devices of control are locally represented through conversation in the ways participants construct their own categories and reference points for others to agree or disagree.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose that explains why language, taken out of context creates such trouble.