The Interactional Significance of Tears: A Conversation Analytic Study

Harris, Jessica (2006). The Interactional Significance of Tears: A Conversation Analytic Study PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, University of Queensland.

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Author Harris, Jessica
Thesis Title The Interactional Significance of Tears: A Conversation Analytic Study
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2006
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Assoc. Prof. J. Michael Emmison
Abstract/Summary Crying is a universal human behaviour (Darwin [1872] 1965) that occurs in a range of everyday interactional settings. Research has been undertaken on the biological, psychological, literary, anthropological and philosophical aspects of crying. Very little research, however, has been performed on the social organisation of crying in talk. Past sociological and psychological research has tended to use surveystyle studies to elicit information about participants’ crying behaviour, which use the term ‘crying’ as a “unitary and self-evident category” (Hepburn 2004). Similarly, most interactional studies involving crying episodes (Manzo et al. 1998; Whalen and Zimmerman 1998) have described, rather than accurately transcribed, the incidence of crying in interaction. In this way, many of these previous studies have relied upon participants’ and readers’ members’ understanding of what ‘crying’ is, in order to answer survey questions or understand transcripts. The aim of this study is to provide detailed descriptions of how crying episodes are produced and managed in talk in a variety of settings. This research uses the methods and approach of Conversation Analysis (CA) to examine the incidence of crying in three settings: two clinical - counselling, medical training - and one nonclinical - the Australian reality television program “Big Brother”. From these three settings five ‘slots’ of activity, associated with crying episodes, have been identified and used to structure the examinations of the sequential order in these interactions and analysis chapters of this thesis. The first of these slots builds upon Hepburn’s (2004) paper on crying in talk to examine how episodes are produced. This chapter analyses the seven ‘features of crying’ described by Hepburn and proposes two additional actions used in the production of crying episodes. The second analysis chapter extends the scope of previous CA research by investigating the ways that participants in these data display their orientation and respond to crying episodes. A particular focus of this examination is the differences between responses to crying in clinical and non-clinical settings. The aim of the third and fourth analyses is to show that, in these interactions, crying is treated as an ‘accountable’ action. These chapters include descriptions of the solicitations and practices used by the participants to account for their crying episodes. The analyses draw on Discursive Construction and Membership Categorisation Analysis to indicate how the examination of the content of accounts may provide a rich resource for the study of how members explain their crying episodes. The last activities slot, identified as a constituent feature of crying in these interactions, concerns the way in which participants move away from talk about crying and initiate new topic sequences. Particular attention is paid to how participants in clinical settings talk about crying while keeping it ‘outside the business’ of the interaction. This study offers detailed observations of the sequential orders implemented by participants to produce and manage crying in talk. Furthermore, the practical implications and applications of my research for communication in clinical settings are outlined.

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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 14:37:16 EST