IIEMCA2019: The practice of positive evaluation as a transition between tasks in educational interaction

By Angeliki Balantani

The post-PhD process is not a straightforward one; funding has finished and now you are competing for funding bids for a postdoc with other scholars from a range of social sciences. It can be a frustrating and demotivating process. Two years after completing my PhD, I was accepted to present at two very important conferences. Unfortunately, I was working in a teaching-only position at the time that would not finance any research-related activities; I could not afford to attend either. So a decision had to be made: do I attend at least one of them and spend all my savings with the hope of it helping my future career or do I miss them both and try next time again? But as the saying goes, where there’s a will there’s a way: my application for the conference funding got accepted by The Sociological Review.

The conference itself, the IIEMCA, is a biennial conference on ethnography and conversation analysis, which is growing more and more every time. According to the conference organisers, this time has been the biggest conference so far with more than 300 attendees. Conversation Analysis is a relatively recent research method which was established in the late 1960’s by sociologist Harvey Sacks and has since spread into other fields, such as linguistics and psychology.

Conversation Analysis (CA henceforth) on Greek is still in its infancy; therefore, I believe a paper on Greek CA in the conference was of significant importance. My paper examines one of the practices that speakers use when taking turns in a conversation. It researches the Greek particle “orea” (loosely translated into English as “nice”) which is predominantly used to positively evaluate the content of a prior turn.   However, in the data that my colleagues and I have been working on, the particle is used to endorse the successful completion of the prior pedagogic task before moving to the next task. The fruitful discussion following the presentation gave me some insights into new literature and helped me reflect on my conclusion on the distinctiveness of this practice in teacher-student interactions. A further discussion with a colleague from Italy, who approached us in the lunch time, led to the consideration of a possible collaboration on a cross-cultural level. Cross-cultural collaborations are important in our field as it allows us to examine generalities and common practices. Chomsky’s theory on the universal grammar is of major interest up to this day and by comparing practices in different languages, we might be able to shed some light on this question of the existence of a universal grammar.

It was also fascinating and inspiring seeing all the different panels and research areas that were covered in the conference; panel discussions that ranged from multimodality and epistemicity to very theoretically-based discussions on Garfinkel’s approach to culture. But the most rewarding moments were being able to get inspired by the keynote speakers, who were all accomplished conversation analysts, researchers that have offered so much insight into the field and whose legacy we have to strive to continue. Lorenza Mondada’s opening speech was a nice introduction into the “new” wave of conversation analytic work, one that takes a multimodal approach to interaction at its centre. A multimodal analysis describes how talk, gesture, gaze, body posture and the physical surroundings of the participants are jointly used in the performance of social action. On the other hand, John Heritage’s speech that closed the conference brought us back to the classic, traditional approach to CA, thus closing the circle and bringing us back to the start.  

Angeliki Balantani completed her PhD at the University of Essex. Her doctoral research addresses the interactional significance of some of the most commonly occurring tokens in Greek everyday interaction, while simultaneously exploring the real-life consequences of these tokens in communication and the social relations that the interlocutors are building up through interaction. Following her PhD studies, Balantani has worked as an associate lecturer at the University of Birkbeck, teaching the module on “Media and Language”. In May, she took up an appointment as a postdoctoral research fellow in the University of Lausanne on the FNS-funded project “Deixis and Joint Attention: Vision in Interaction (DEJA-VI). Twitter @ABalantani.

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