Project "Verbal and communicative displays of understanding in talk-in-interaction"

Sub-project: (Re-)production of social structures in processes of understanding

This project examines the role of socially determined conditions in the accomplishment of tasks of understanding in verbal communication, in particular in the context of migration counselling as well as classroom and workplace interaction. The analyses are based on the assumption that the meaning as well as the interactional functions of utterances must be studied in their pre-determined social context. For the most part, the latter are reflected by hegemonic relevancy systems and culturally determined patterns of interpretation, which often differ fundamentally from the perspectives of the clients. This can either result in open conflicts or processes where the client party is socialized into a superior, or institutionally verified, relevancy system. The key issues of this sub-project are: By means of which verbal practices do participants identify tasks of understanding? Which consequences do these practices have for maintaining understanding and/or adjusting differing perspectives? Moreover, it is asked by means of which interactional practices a participant's biographically determined relevancy system is adjusted to collectively shared relevancy systems and hegemonic knowledge structures. Such adjustment processes are accomplished, for instance, by assigning certain social features to participants, by instructing, assessing and sanctioning specific forms of their utterances as well as by inter-discursive references to socially valid expectations which usually guide processes of understanding, by patterns of interpretation based on social position as well as by historically determined concepts of identity and relationship. From an interactional-sociological perspective the following questions are of interest here: Under which conditions will these adjustment processes take place without problem, how will resistance be articulated, when and how will certain interpretation schemata require further explication and legitimation, and which consequences do different forms of negotiation have for (re-)producing social structures. In terms of its theoretical perspective, this project aims at making an empirically-founded contribution to the "Micro-Macro-Issue" of the interrelationship between interactional and social structures. More precisely, it aims at investigating the relationship of reproduction, emergence and/or change of social structures in specific interactional situations. Methodically, this is to be achieved by employing an ethnographic, conversation-analytic approach. In particular, the study contrasts adjustment processes which are carried out one-sidedly, hierarchically and which, consequently, often result in conflict, with pre-event, submissive adjustments which are oriented at consensus. Apart from this, the project aims at comparing adjustment processes in institutional contexts with those in non-institutional settings and informal situations of interaction. The data investigated are audio-recorded conversations of migration counselling, other institutional contexts and private conversations as well as video recordings of classroom interaction. contact: Dr. Ulrich Reitemeier, reitemeier(at)