‚Membership Categories', Stocks of Knowledge and Social ‘Figuration'

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal 4A KS (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Ruth AYASS, University of Klagenfurt, Austria
Conversation Analysis has attracted attention primarily thanks to its detailed analyses of everyday conversation: the analysis of the sequential structure of the conversation, the interactive production of turns, the negotiation of turn transitions, etc. However, it is a less well known fact that Harvey Sacks is also the originator of a methodological approach for the analysis of social categories and their use known as Membership Categorization Analysis (MCA). Sacks develops this approach with the help of examples, such as “In the last year and a half 26 Negroes were killed in the South, in unsolved murders”. We hear and read this sentence in a specific way: the terms referring to places and people establish an interpretive framework which suggests that the crime has a racist background. 

Since then, MCA has been employed primarily in ethnomethodology and applied to conversations as well as written material, e.g. by Silverman, Francis, Hester, and Wolff. It is to these studies that the presentation will be connected. It will do so by expounding, in a first step, the terminology and principles used in ethnomethodology to date (‘membership categorization devices’, ‘category bound activities’, ‘economy rule’, ‘consistency rule’, etc.), and the findings it has drawn from them. In a second step, the presentation will then demonstrate how MCA can be further developed with respect to both theory and method. In doing so, the presentation will purse the following questions: can MCA be incorporated into general sociology of language and its methodical approaches? Which elements of its repertoire of instruments can be, and need to be, refined? What are the stocks of knowledge that ‘membership categories’ draw on? What degree of context sensitivity do they possess? Which figurations (Norbert Elias) – i.e. which networks of interdependence – are generated by membership categories? Which ‘social topic’ is thus created?