Questioning – using ‘why’

It may seem random, but I am interested in ‘questioning’ and saw this article by Galina B. Bolden & Jeffrey D. Robinson on the topic. According to these authors,

In conversation, the action of directly asking someone to account for some event frequently involves the simultaneous, and sometimes tense, management of sensemaking (Mills, 1940) and social/moral order (Garfinkel, 1967; Goffman, 1971; Scott & Lyman, 1968). This article is a conversation-analytic examination of direct account solicitations implemented by why-interrogatives (e.g.,Why did you do that?). We argue that account solicitations indicate that the event to be accounted for does not accord with common sense and is, thus, possibly inappropriate or unwarranted. Accordingly, why-interrogatives communicate a challenging stance toward responsible agent(s) and are frequently coimplicated in additional, negatively valenced actions, such as complaining, criticizing, and blaming. We show that account solicitations play a role in negotiating issues of interactional (dis)alignment and interpersonal (dis)affiliation.” (p.94)

“A theoretical understanding of why-interrogatives as direct account solicitations is provided by the writings of Heritage (1984b) on questioning and social epistemics and Schutz (1962) and Garfinkel (1967) on intersubjectivity. On one hand, Heritage (2007) argued that the act of questioning, however it is managed, invokes a claim that [‘]the questioner lacks certain information (or lacks certainty about it)—we can think of this as the ‘‘lack of knowledge’’ (or K−) position, and that the addressee has this information—we can think of this as the knowledgeable (or K+) position (p. 2).[‘] As types of questions, why-interrogatives index an epistemic gap (K−/K+) between questioners and answerers and thus the possibility that answerers are able to provide answers that questioners did not previously know about, which could render the accountable event as, after all, according with common sense and being socially nonproblematic.” (p.95)

Bolden and Robinson continue: “On the other hand, Heritage (2007) noted that, depending on the type and format of interrogatives, questions can embody different grades of members’ relative access to, and rights over, knowledge.” (p.96)

“In a series of conversational breaching experiments—where, for example, experimenters asked people to clarify the meaning of ‘‘perfectly understandable’’ utterances, such as I had a flat tire . . . What do you mean?—Garfinkel found that people typically ‘‘trust’’ each other to use the general thesis of reciprocal perspectives (e.g., to understand what it typically means to ‘‘have a flat tire’’) and that violations of such trust (e.g., by asking What do you mean?) can incur moral outrage and social sanctions. Schutz’s socially shared stock of typified knowledge includes motives and other types of accounts for behavior (Mills, 1940).” (p.96)

Also interesting to me is that Bolden and Robinson point out that: “There is a vast literature on types of accounts (McLaughlin, Cody, & O’Hair, 1983; McLaughlin, Cody, & Rosenstein, 1983; Scott & Lyman, 1968), their theoretical functions (Schonbach, 1990; Weiner, 1986), and their relative credibility and ‘‘success’’ (e.g., Dunn & Cody, 2000). In contrast, there is far less research on actions that are [-p.97] designed to solicit accounts (i.e., actions that make accounts conditionally relevant; Schegloff, 2007).” (pp.96-97)

“Although prior research tacitly acknowledges that why-interrogatives tend to solicit accounts (McLaughlin, Cody, & O’Hair, 1983; McLaughlin, Cody, & Rosenstein, 1983; Sch¨onbach & Kleibaumhuter, 1990; Weiner, 1992),” they continue, “we know little about how people understand why-interrogatives as a type of social action in terms of the types of responses that why-interrogatives make relevant.
Conversation-analytic research examining why-interrogatives has focused on those that serve as vehicles for actions other than soliciting explanations, excuses, and justifications. For example, Koshik (2005) argued that, under certain conditions—such as when wh-questions (including why– and how come-) are asked in environments of ongoing complaining and disagreement and are asked from a position of epistemic strength (i.e., about something that the questioner has more rights to know about)—wh-interrogatives can function as ‘‘reverse-polarity questions’’ that are treated as assertions that accomplish challenging/complaining rather than questioning (e.g., What difference does it make? meaning It makes no difference).” (p.97)

“In summary, prior research on direct account solicitations has implied, if not overtly argued, that some why-interrogatives are completely ‘‘neutral’’ (i.e., doing ‘‘simply questioning’’ or ‘‘mere explanation seeking,’’ with no critical/challenging undertones), whereas others are completely ‘‘nonneutral’’ (i.e., are not doing questioning at all, but rather criticizing, challenging, etc.). This article provides a less binary interpretation. Using conversation analysis, we argue that all account solicitations implemented via why-interrogatives are Janus-faced, at least when their speakers have (and are recognized as having) the epistemic capacity to competently assess the [-p.98] accountable event.” (pp.97-98) It is probably this last statement that makes my interest in questioning obvious – it has clear relevance to teaching!

They also observe that: “…because addressed speakers are not always responsible for the accountable event, and because it can be normative to challenge certain events (e.g., others’ self-deprecatory claims; Pomerantz, 1984), the challenging stance taken up by why-interrogatives can either affiliate/align or disaffiliate/disalign with recipients (on alignment vs. affiliation, see Stivers, 2008).” (p.98)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Galina B. Bolden & Jeffrey D. Robinson (2011) Soliciting Accounts With Why-Interrogatives in Conversation. Journal of Communication 61, 94–119


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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