There are many metaphors used to describe conversation structure. For some, conversation is like a dance, with the conversational partners coordinating their movements smoothly. For others it's like traffic crossing an intersection, involving lots of alternating movement without any crashes. However, the most widely used analytic approach is based, not on dancing (there's no music) nor on traffic flow (there are no traffic signals), but on an analogy with the workings of a market economy.
In this market, there is a scarce commodity called the floorwhich can be defined as the right to speak. Having control of this scarce commodity at any time is called a turn.In any situation where control is not fixed in advance, anyone can attempt to get control. This is called turn-taking.Because it is a form of social action, turn-taking operates in accordance with a local management systemthat is conventionally known by members of a social group. The local management system is essentially a set of conventions for getting turns, keeping them, or giving them away. This system is needed most at those points where there is a possible change in who has the turn. Any possible change-of-turn point is called a Transition Relevance Place,or TRP. Within any social group, there will be features of talk (or absence of talk) typically associated with a TRP.
This type of analytic metaphor provides us with a basic perspective in which speakers having a conversation are viewed as taking turns at holding the floor. They accomplish change of turn smoothly because they are aware of the local management system for taking those turns at an appropriate TRP. The metaphor can be applied to those conversations where speakers cooperate and share the floor equally. It can also be used to describe those conversations where speakers seem to be in competition, fighting to keep the floor and preventing others from getting it. These patterns of conversational interaction differ substantially from one social group to another. In order to illustrate the system at work, we will focus on the conventions of one social group—middle class English speakers in public—while remaining aware that other social groups will have substantially different assumptions about the meaning of various features.
Conversation analysis (commonly abbreviated as CA) is an approach to the study of social interaction, embracing both verbal and non-verbal conduct, in situations of everyday life. As its name implies, CA began with a focus on casual conversation, but its methods were subsequently adapted to embrace more task- and institution-centered interactions, such as those occurring in doctors' offices, courts, law enforcement, helplines, educational settings, and the mass media. As a consequence, the term 'conversation analysis' has become something of a misnomer, but it has continued as a term for a distinctive and successful approach to the analysis of social interaction.
Conversation analysis is an approach to the study of natural conversation, especially with a view to determining the following:
· Participants’ methods of
o constructing sequences of utterances across turns
o identifying and repairing problems, and
o employing gaze and movement
· How conversation works in different conventional settings
Here are some examples of conventional settings in which conversation analysis could take place: