Conversation Analysis: An Overview

Conversation Analysis (CA) is an interdisciplinary field of study which examines the structure and organization of verbal and other meaningful interaction. CA seeks to understand how people interact with one another in spoken language settings in order to gain insights into how meaning is created and negotiated. It is an important tool for social scientists, linguists, and communication professionals, as it helps to uncover the underlying dynamics of social interaction. CA has been used in a variety of contexts, from the study of everyday conversations to the analysis of political debates.

The roots of Conversation Analysis can be traced back to the pioneering work of Erving Goffman in the 1950s. Goffman studied the structure of everyday conversations and identified a number of recurrent features of talk, such as turn-taking, topic shifts, and the use of hedges. He also identified the importance of non-verbal behavior in the creation of meaning in interactions. His work laid the foundations for CA as a field of study.

Since Goffman’s work, CA has grown to encompass a range of approaches. These approaches share a focus on how meaning is negotiated through interactions between participants. However, the approaches vary in their emphasis on particular aspects of talk. For example, some approaches focus on the overall structure of conversations, while others focus on the use of particular linguistic features.

CA has been used in a wide range of contexts, such as the study of patient-doctor conversations, political debates, and classroom interactions. It has been used to uncover the dynamics of power in conversations, as well as to analyze the effectiveness of communication strategies. CA has also been used to explore how particular linguistic features are used to construct meaning.

The main method used in CA is the close analysis of video or audio recordings of interactions. In this method, interactions are broken down into their component parts and examined in detail. For example, an analysis might focus on the turn-taking patterns, the use of particular linguistic features, or the use of particular non-verbal behaviors.

In conclusion, Conversation Analysis is a useful tool for understanding the structure and organization of spoken interactions. It provides insight into how meaning is created and negotiated in social interactions, and it has been used in a range of contexts, from everyday conversations to political debates.


Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Heritage, J. (1984). Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A Simplest Systematics For The Organization Of Turn-Taking For Conversation. Language, 50(4), 696-735.

Sidnell, J. (2013). Conversation Analysis: An Introduction. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

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