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Step 7: Generate Theory

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We have noted that conversation analysis is an inductive methodology that uses real world observations to make generalizations about some particular phenomenon. Indeed, a primary objective of inductive methodologies is the generation of theory through generalization. However, the scope of investigation will vary from study to study and not every CA analysis will be of such a scale that it leads to the generation of theory. Indeed, this final step in the CA analytic procedure is optional depending on the analyst’s purpose. As our purpose here is to simply demonstrate the methodology of CA, we will not make any attempts to generate theory.

Having declared this, we should also point out that, even if our purpose were to give serious consideration to generating theory, we would be extremely limited if we only had
our example transcription extract to work with. We have already noted that the extract is relatively short and, as such, it does not contain enough data to make valid, encompassing generalizations. We would need longer extracts in order to determine whether or not any identified patterns are typical behaviors, for example. In addition, the extract is taken from only one environment (private office) and between just two adult males. We could not legitimately, therefore, make any generalizations regarding the conversational behavior of females, or conversations amongst large groups of people in public spaces, for example. Moreover, our ability to generate new theory is largely dependent on in-depth knowledge of any currently prevailing theories. This takes a lot of academic study and it is for this reason that such additions to our understanding are typically the product of larger concerns such as universities or dedicated research institutes.

Whether or not an analyst considers the generation of theory as part of his or her goal depends on the original analytical purpose. A speech and language therapist, for example, may use CA as a clinical tool: perhaps to gain insights into how a particular language impairment is preventing someone from conversing with their spouse. A teacher may wish to understand better how he or she can encourage more verbal contributions from pupils in small groups. A student of human communication may simply need to pass a written assessment, demonstrating their understanding of CA methodology, and so on. The need to generate theory may not, therefore, be of immediate concern to such practitioners.


Appendix 1: Transcription Conventions

Appendix 2: Conversation Extract

Appendix 3: Exercises

Appendix 4: Answers to Exercises

Supplementary Articles (CA in Action)