How should we analyse conversations? With more poor drawings…

Two people meet.

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They talk.

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How do we analyse this?

My new practical guide is SALADA !  Just a guide…

  • SA: Social/contextual analysis first
  • LA: Language analysis next
  • DA: Discourse analysis to understand what is said in terms of the social contexts

SA + LA = DA

You need to do all these if you really want to understand what people are doing and saying.  Needs intensive forms of research or else intensive questioning in therapy or similar forums.

Social analysis

  1. Each person’s broad life contexts and conflicts, resources they need, relationships through which they exchange, secrecy, monitoring, social relationships, economic contexts, what opportunities/privileges or barriers they have from societal stratifications or ‘structures’, cultural patterns from their groups, and historical contexts which might be relevant.

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Note: These are context bubbles NOT speech bubbles.  Big difference here. What is said does not come from the head but the many contexts making up our lives.

2. The the local contexts of the two people who have met.  Many of their life conflicts and worries they will not raise in conversation (because of the contexts) and much of what is said will be immediately shaped by the responses of the other person (unlike thinking, which comes later).  So many things they might have said are not said, and the other person’s responses might shape them to say things  they would not in another context.

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These contexts are what are REALLY being ‘talked about’ in this conversation!

Elsewhere I give a guide and divide them into two categories just to start with:

  • Getting someone to do something
  • Shaping or repairing the relationships

Also, you do not GUESS the social analyses as most researchers do but use appropriate research methods to find this out.

Language analysis

  1. Examine all the features of the language and the discursive strategies which are possibilities in this conversation
  2. Brainstorm possibilities for what the strategies might be doing here in this conversation (getting someone to do something, shaping relationships, and all the minor strategies that are used for doing these two)

In this case, one person starts by portraying a story of visiting someone(s), with a lacuna in the story (bored waiting) which then leads to what is meant to be a surprise or an event with shock value (seeing Mary and James). This obviously does not get the reaction expected.

Discourse /Contextual analysis

The point now is that when putting the social analysis with the language analysis (SA+LA=DA) you are actually analyzing the many contexts which shape the words in conversation but which are buffeted around by the other person’s contexts.

You are NOT analyzing the person’s internal drives and ideas–the external contexts of the two persons are what are shaping this whole event not the ‘inner person’–but in conversation this is both the local and broader contexts for both. [Very different if they wrote letters to each other. Worse still on FB!]

The effects or outcomes of the conversation are not on the two PERSONS but on their separate and shared contexts–that is where the effects occur.

The interaction and the outcomes are shaped by and have effects on the two persons’ external context and life conflicts.

The actual conversation could have gone very differently although their broad contexts would have been similar and not changed much.

The local contexts could have been changed within the conversation event, however.  For example, if the one person had started by saying instead:

Oh I met Mary the other day. You know her, don’t you? She is such a lovely person, I really like her!

And the broader contexts could also have been changed but less likely. For example, if the one person had started by saying instead:

Oh I met Mary the other day. She said you know her, don’t you? She was really saying how much she likes you! Said really nice things about you.


“Wow, so glad I met you. My work has some new openings coming up and two of them really fit you. I was really hoping to meet you and urge you to get an application in, I will help make it happen! You would be perfect.”

Morals of this story

  1. You must do all of SALADA
  2. More attention and analysis is needed of the SA (see Guerin, 2016 for guidelines)
  3. You are analyzing how the contexts or life worlds of two people intertwine
  4. ‘Intertwine’ here means: what they get the other to exchange or do for them; how they manage the relationship (social exchange); and all the littler strategies people use to accomplish these
  5. You are not analyzing the two people or their inner whatevers…
  6. The ‘conversation’ exists not inside the people or from one inside to the other
  7. The ‘conversation’ exists in the external life contexts of the two people and the mixing when they mix
  8. The conversation is really between two particular configurations of contexts not between two people

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