Teachers College, Columbia University Working Papers in TESOL & Applied Linguistics, Vol 12, No 1 (2012)

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Applying Conversation Analysis to Real-world Concerns

Catherine Box, Nancy Boblett

Abstract


A few weeks ago, I sat in the audience of an atypical professional panel at an uplifting conference. The panel and audience members, all enthusiastic alumni and students of my alma mater’s English Department, were discussing the career paths they had (or had not) chosen since college graduation. There were contributions from two lawyers, two English teachers, a global corporate chairman, and a few graduate students, as well as a smattering of undergraduates who were eager and anxious to learn more about possible job opportunities. Despite our diverse backgrounds and at times contentious conversation, we left that conference room having agreed on at least one thing: successful professionals are exceptional analysts. Someone who builds a principled argument in the courtroom, the boardroom, the classroom, or any other room, will go a long way. I had remarked that knowing how to analyze hinges on not only being able to build arguments, but also on being able to break them down. In order to critically engage with or respond to a piece of text, one must understand it in a deep sense, and mull over the connections within or between the lines. From intricate exploration comes enlightening analysis, no matter the context. As a student who entrenches herself in Conversation Analysis (CA), I find this conclusion heartening, for often in social encounters with fellow scholars, teachers, friends, or family members, I must publically wrestle with the following questions: Why do you analyze talk? What, exactly, do you do, anyway? And of course, the dreaded: Seriously, Catherine, who really cares about this stuff?

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