Conversational repair and human understanding: An introduction

Makoto Hayashi, Geoffrey Raymond, Jack Sidnell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Introduction. Any serious effort to contend with the real time production and understanding of human actions in everyday interaction can scarcely avoid noting that they are characterized by the routine occurrence of troubles, “hitches,” misunderstandings, “errors,” and other infelicities. Indeed, these phenomena - and participants' efforts to contend with them - are so ubiquitous that very few approaches within the human and social sciences have avoided commenting on, or contending with them, in some way. In many approaches within the social sciences, researchers looked past these phenomena altogether, treating them as epiphenomenal to the proper object of study (however that is defined) or as matters to be reduced, remedied, or otherwise overcome. More recently approaches from various disciplines have recognized their import in different ways, thereby raising the more nettlesome issue of just what is to be done with them or what can be done with them. Here, approaches vary considerably: some have simply incorporated these phenomena into the larger domain of human conduct being investigated (whether it is the psyche in psychology, ritual and culture in anthropology, or social structure in sociology), conflating a range of matters that are more profitably treated as distinct from one another. In many such cases, however, scholars interested in learning about the mind, self, language, society, and culture have treated these phenomena as special - as even more informative than other types of conduct. For these approaches the ubiquity of such troubles (and their management) makes them especially attractive since their occurrence in the stream of conduct impacts on virtually every aspect of it. The perception that such troubles are special derives from a belief that they entail (or reveal) an authenticity obscured by more “practiced” behavior, or that they offer a window into the mind, or the depths of personhood, identity, and social relations, otherwise obscured by socialization, experience, or politeness. In these respects we might say that such approaches “exploit” such troubles insofar as they are not interested in them as such, but for how the apparently “unpracticed” character of such hitches, or the apparently revealing character of errors and the like, has seemed to promise a special opening through which analysts could empirically investigate the human phenomenon of “real” interest to their respective disciplines but which remain “hidden” because of the reflexive character of human consciousness, experience, and action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationConversational Repair and Human Understanding
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages40
ISBN (Electronic)9780511757464
ISBN (Print)9781107002791
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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