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This paper is meant to provide a conversation analysis (CA) of interaction in institutional settings taking a political news interview of Amr Mousa, the Secretary General of the Arab League as an example. The discussion is in 6 parts. Part 1 is an outline of the relationship between CA and political news interviews. Part 2 is methodology. Part 3 is a description of data. Part 4 is a conversation analysis. Part 5 is conclusion. Part 6 is a selected bibliography.
CA & Political news interviews
CA is one of the key methodological approaches to the study of discourse. It was first developed by Harvey Sacks in the early 1960s in California (Wooffitt, 2005; ten Have, 1999). Sacks was working for a suicide prevention centre where he used to receive calls from people attempting suicide. The idea of CA came into his mind when he realized that some callers were not willing to reveal their names pretending that they cannot hear well. He and his colleague Schegloff were concerned with providing alternatives to the established forms of sociological discourse through recording phone calls and listening to them once and again (Hutchby and Wooffitt, 1998). In so doing, Sacks could describe the organization of action that underpins social life through the investigation of detailed casual conversation (Lerner, 2004). Now CA is best understood as an approach to describe the orderliness, structure and sequential patterns of interaction in both casual or ordinary conversation and institutional settings (Wooffitt, 2005; Hutchby and Wooffitt, 1998).
Although CA was originally developed with the focus on ordinary conversation where it achieved a great success, now it is widely applied in institutional setting too (Heritage, 1998; Drew and Heritage, 1992). This study is not concerned with casual or everyday conversation (e.g. conversation among friends, talk at family meals, telephone or internet chats). It is only concerned with conversation in institutional settings. The literature suggests that there are many examples of CA applications to data derived from educational (Gibson, 2009; Watson, 1992), judicial (Atkinson and Drew, 1979), clinical (Heritage and Maynard, 2006; Haakana, 2001; Byrne and Long, 1984), and media (Ekstrm, 2007; Nielsen and Wagner, 2007) settings.
This study is concerned with the media setting and more specifically political news interview. This is a distinctive genre of broadcast talk (Clayman and Heritage, 2002). The prominent place the political news interview occupies in political communication today from one side and the increasing numbers of world political conflicts on the other have drawn the attention of CD analysts to the political news interview as a rich source for CA applications and investigations.
Method & Tools
Here I analyze an excerpt of a political news interview in terms of interaction in institutional setting. The method of analysis this study adopts is within the general framework of CA. The rationale of adopting CA is that "The news interview is, first and foremost, a course of interaction to which the participants contribute on a turn-by turn basis, for the most part by asking and answering questions" (Clayman and Heritage, 2002: 13). Likewise, a fundamental assumption of CA is that conversation is a socially organized interaction process between its participants. It is not only a matter of utterances. CA is essentially concerned with both the way utterances are produced and the context that surrounds the conversation. In this it pays special attention to all discourse elements such as repetition, turn taking, laughter, hesitation, and nodding.
Accordingly, it was necessary to develop a way by which all the elements and details of the interaction are represented. In this, numerous transcription systems have been developed for capturing all aspects of speech production (Bucholtz, 2007). However, Jefferson's (2004; 1985) transcription system for Conversation Analytic research is the internationally recognized 'gold standard' for transcribing the interactionally relevant features of talk-in-interaction"(Lerner, 2004: 3)
In CA, it is required that the data must be actual talk derived from the real-world and actual contexts (Liddicoat, 2007). Based on this assumption, this study takes a news interview of Amr Mousa, the Secretary- General of the Arab League as a data for this study. The interview is concerned with some recent news events such as the Iraq crisis, Arab-Israeli conflict, and piracy in the Red Sea. The data thus is based on the video recording of this interview which was downloaded from http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7qeoy_arab-solution-the-only-one-for-iraq_news. The advantage about video recording is that it is better than any other mean such as audio recording, note-taking, or recall in capturing all aspects of interaction between the participants in the conversation. The reason of selecting this interview in particular is that it exhibits many of the features which make it an excellent context for study and investigation. Furthermore, it touches many of the hot issues many people are familiar with. The following is a transcript of an excerpt of the interview.
Both the IR and IE are aware of the fact that interaction in institutional settings has specific objectives that need to be met. Furthermore, they both consider the interview etiquette well. This is discussed in the points below
The Role of the IR in the interaction process
From the very beginning, the IR is aware of the significance of the interactional dimension. He knows quite well that his success in obtaining information from his guest depends in the first place on his ability to keep the sequence of the interview in effect. This is achieved by means of keeping a friendly (or not hostile) atmosphere that can be encouraging for the guest to feel easy, not interrupting or correcting him, and demonstrating agreement with his guest. This is more illustrated in the following points.
The IR first produces an extended monologue in which he introduces his guest to the audience with respect and high esteem. The use of monologues at the beginning of news interviews, however, is a tradition and it reflects the degree of formality the interview is shaped by. However, he did not raise any controversial issue about Amr Mousa in this monologue as an indication that the interview atmosphere is not meant to be hostile.
The IR uses a polite and deferential style and his treatment of controversial issues is not hostile. After he gives his monologic opening, the IR welcomes his guest with no titles in a way that reflects his desire to seem close to him: "Welcome Amr Mousa".
The IR starts his series of questions with an open-ended question. This may reflect his intention to give his addressee the opportunity to express himself well at the beginning of the interview.
He attempts to appear as neutral and not taking the side of any party. He says "one may say that the results have, well, not really met the expectations" as if the question is not his but generated by others.
Turn taking is well observed. This is achieved through a typical question-answer method although there is an overlapping talk at the end of questions. Each of the questions the interviewer asks functions as a "move" within the interview game at a particular point in its state of play. Furthermore, the IR does not intend to interrupt his guest. Even when Amr Mousa is repeating words or pausing for a while to arrange his thoughts, the IR does not intend to repair or correct that.
The Role of the IE in the interaction process
In his answers to the IR's question, Amr Mousa produces a maxim of cooperative with his IR. He attempts to make his answers relevant to the questions of his IR. Furthermore, he keeps the maxim of quantity as giving sufficient examples to support his argument. Most importantly, it seems that Amr Mousa wanted to make use of the event (the interview) to defend himself and the organization he is heading against the accusations they have been recently receiving. So he is aware too, just like the IR, to achieve some interactional goals through this interview. The way he does this is summarized in the following points.
From the very beginning, Amr Mousa asserts that he has the same feeling other ordinary people and commentators may have. In his answer to the first question "one may say that the results have, well, not really met the expectations of the many people in the Arab world itself", he interrupts the IR to express his agreement with his interviewer saying "Indeed, Indeed". The effect the overlap gives in this context is of strong agreement.
The way Amr Mousa replies to the question is that he is aware of the questions and issues which are raised by his IR. He could anticipate the topics which came up during the interview. This is quite obvious in his quick responses to the questions of his IR. At the very end of each of the IR's questions, there is a very overlapping talk Amr Mousa produces. The one concerning the role of the Arab League in resolving conflicts was meant to demonstrate agreement, the overlapping talk concerning the terrorism issue "This accusation" was a strong expression of disagreement. However, the overlapping talk is unproblematic. The IR already finished his talk and Amr took the opportunity to start his talk. Worth noting, Amr Mousa is not saying your accusation. He is just saying the accusation. So it is not a personal disagreement. When he expressed agreement concerning the League role, he replied: "You are right and I accept that". This makes a contrast between expressions of agreement and disagreement.
In Lines 35 and 67, Amr Mousa speeds up his delivery as he approaches a transition relevance, thus rushing through the place where turn initiation might be attempted. This also reflects the IE's awareness that the message and interaction should be delivered and completed within a fixed time limit.
Amr Mousa uses repairs to build arguments. In lines 28-31, he initiates a repair sequence. This initiation is not repaired by either participant and it is followed by a silence after which Amr Mousa provides more examples for asserting his argument.
Based on the points above, it can be claimed that
The extract is a typical example of news interviews. It is news oriented, features a politician who is also a public figure and newsworthy guest, and largely maintains the question-answer format (Clayman and Heritage, 2002). Both the IR and IE act under the auspices of impersonal institutional roles in spite of the no hostile atmosphere.
The setting of the interview is highly formal. The participants (the IR and IE) focus on particular tasks, the order of participation is fairly rigid; and the number of turns is very limited. (Wooffitt, 2005)
The sort of interaction is impersonal. This finding can be generated to the assumption that interaction in institutional setting, unlike casual conversations, is formal and impersonal.
CA is an effective approach in the study of interaction in institutional settings as it involves the direct observation of naturally occurring interaction between participants as captured on audio and video recordings.