Edwards & Potter, Discursive Psychology, pp. 77-177

Chapter 4

One of the quotes that seems representative of this chapter’s argument is on p. 91: When examined in context for the interactional work that they do, what appear to be simple descriptions of actions, events, states of affairs and so on may be revealed as accomplishing important ‘attributional work’…

The argument here is that there is no such thing as a neutral relation of events. It can be a rhetorical move to make it appear that a description is neutral, but when we present a version of events, it almost always assigns some kind of agency, blame, or, as E&P say, it does some work. The exceptions to this, I think, can be found in talk that goes beyond mundane to downright boring. “I went to the store today.” “I’m eating spaghetti.” But for me this was the main point of chapter 4: accounts of events include attributions.

On p. 93 there is a kind of summary of what I see as Piaget’s cognition in relation to assimilation and accomodation. When we see what we consider “normal” it just fits right in there to our schemas, but if something is abnormal, we have to do some work with it. To me, this rings of the preferred and dispreferred responses. If it’s a yes to an invitation, we’re done. If it’s a no, we have to do some work. I didn’t really see how they were undermining the idea of equilibrium and disequilibrium until I got a little further on the page:

“The ‘puzzle’ to be resolved is simply given, in the world, or by experience; no scope is allowed for how puzzles might be discuively constructed as such, and resisted, denied, reformulated and so on, rather than merely solved.”

So this helped me see where they were going with the argument. How and whether or not we attend to the puzzle will be situational, and to take it on there will have to be some kind of stake involved.

Chapter 5

This chapter seemed to continue with the arguments of chapter 4. There are a few standouts for me.

106—The function issue is concerned with the way the production of a specific version as real allows it to serve as an activity. That is, what can factual accounts be used for?

I was glad to see a kind of vindication of my summary statement from class Monday: It’s not just what you remember/attribute, but what for?

123: “On the contrary, the provision of more and more ‘facts’ may merely provide further warrant for the narrators status as truth-teller, or accurate rememberer, such that the more contentious part of the story can be camouflaged amidst a mass of ‘realistic’ detail. Again, one might say it is the novelist’s art to create a believable world for the purveyance of fiction.”

This quote really shows the cynicism for me. It would be hard, I think, to do this kind of description without an intent to deceive, however, the novelist analogy helps me put it into a more benign context. Fiction can serve great purposes, I don’t have to look at versions as lies–they could be metaphors or codes that help get a message across in a creative way.

125: “That is, her management of the accountability in the story is a way of constructing  her own accountability for refusing to take the patient.” They of course harp on this as a great insight, but I fully agree with them. We use accountability of others to divert it from ourselves, and I think E&P do a good job of showing how this oversight really casts doubt on the research they critique.

In Chapter 6 I feel like I got the extension of the other chapters to identity. The self and the world are co-constructed. I saw a parallel here to phenomenology in that the self can’t be extricated in any way from its environment or time. They all collaborate to inform both the self and others as to who the self is (for now, anyway). In reference to the Lawson resignation, and the Prime Minister’s and interviewer’s descriptions, E&P say, “Put simply, to build his mind each of them has to build a version of his world” (p. 142). There can not be one without the other.

One other standout for me in this chapter was when the PM used the phrase tittle tattle to refer to some of the interviewer’s questions. I saw that quickly as a move to dismiss as childish some of the concerns he raised. She was no pushover, and E&P hint at the use of DP for examining ideology. As I went through Chapter 7, I thought that people like Margaret Thatcher are experts at the elements of DP without ever studying them. Without being good at the “game” of what DP studies, one probably can’t get very far up the chain of command. Again I was struck by the terrible assumptions about people that DP seems to espouse.

So in the spirit of DP, I wonder if one can’t play another type of conversational game entirely in order to be successful without assuming other people are always scheming or stumbling to get their way. I think it’s pacifism, loving-kindness, or something along those lines. I’m not yet sure it’s necessary–one implication I pick out so far from DP is that, if we all make these rhetorical moves on a regular basis, then we should be forgiving of each other for when it is offensive.

At any rate, Chapter 7 was a great overview, and with the new examples from the Gulf War and the teachers, I felt confident about my current understanding of DP. I’ll be interested to start on my field articles to see how my understanding will be affected.

One thought on “Edwards & Potter, Discursive Psychology, pp. 77-177

  1. “The argument here is that there is no such thing as a neutral relation of events. It can be a rhetorical move to make it appear that a description is neutral, but when we present a version of events, it almost always assigns some kind of agency, blame, or, as E&P say, it does some work.” YES! You got it.

    “I was glad to see a kind of vindication of my summary statement from class Monday: It’s not just what you remember/attribute, but what for?” Indeed – and HOW you construct that remembering is what leads to the “what for” (action that is accomplished).

    “Fiction can serve great purposes, I don’t have to look at versions as lies–they could be metaphors or codes that help get a message across in a creative way.” Right, and that’s similar to how I don’t see DP as a necessarily overtly “manipulative” view of the world – just one that acknowledges that we create a lot of “fictions” for very specific purposes – good and bad.

    “As I went through Chapter 7, I thought that people like Margaret Thatcher are experts at the elements of DP without ever studying them. Without being good at the “game” of what DP studies, one probably can’t get very far up the chain of command. Again I was struck by the terrible assumptions about people that DP seems to espouse.” I do think some people – particularly advertisement executives and politicians – have a very real understanding of language as action – we are all good at it in our own way, it’s just certain professions (including academics and lawyers) train up apprentices on how to use language to accomplish very specific tasks. That’s what the dissertation is all about.

    I’m not sure about DP having “terrible” assumptions (see my comment above.) It’s just realistic, to me anyway. People are trying to get things done. Language is our tool for doing it.

    “So in the spirit of DP, I wonder if one can’t play another type of conversational game entirely in order to be successful without assuming other people are always scheming or stumbling to get their way. I think it’s pacifism, loving-kindness, or something along those lines. I’m not yet sure it’s necessary–one implication I pick out so far from DP is that, if we all make these rhetorical moves on a regular basis, then we should be forgiving of each other for when it is offensive.” Yes, this would be good – to figure out ways to talk about this that don’t take up what really does sound like negative language most of the time. And where I see the power of DP for change is its ability to really identify “where things go wrong” – where people get offended or do things other than what they may have intended – and it provides a way to see what the alternative could be.

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