Loughborough University
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The sequential and moral (dis)order of public disputes: how speakers resist, partition and do being reasonable in talk-in-interaction

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posted on 2020-02-06, 09:03 authored by Jack B. Joyce
This thesis puts forward a strong argument for why more up-to-date interactional research is needed into disputes and why disciplines, methodological approaches and theories should come second to the phenomenon. This thesis investigates how people behave in disputes. Disputes are a ubiquitous part of everyday life – we know a great a deal about disputes in particular contexts, how people disagree, and how disputes can be resolved. However, little is known about the specific interactional features of public disputes. Public disputes are disputes which occur in a public place where there are onlookers – for instance, on public transport, on the radio, or during protests, for instance. These are activities which regularly occur throughout everyday life as our opinions, beliefs, views, identity and/or knowledge etc. clash. This research examines actual, naturally-occurring disputes between strangers in public. The focus is on the ways that people challenge those contestations, resist those challenges, and manage their relationship with their co-disputant.
The data comprises a corpus of over 100 recordings of disputes between members of the public. The data were collected, transcribed, and analysed within an ethnomethodological framework using a combination of conversation analysis, membership categorisation analysis, and discursive psychology in order to demonstrate how the phenomenon is handled sequentially and rhetorically. This combination of approaches centres the phenomena rather than focusing on the application of methods. The three analytic chapters are organised around different features of disputes and address the overall structural organisation of a dispute.
The first analytic chapter inspects enticing sequences, which is a way that a challenge can be produced that reverses the logic of the other’s argument. This chapter (Chapter 3) builds on previous research, and lays the groundwork for the other chapters, to show the sequential placement and forms of resistance to challenges. This illustrates resistance as a solution to the practical problem of being trapped in a challenge with nowhere to go. The second analytic chapter investigates how people do partitioning, that is, how they exploit the boundaries of their situated identity, or category (i.e. from radio caller to father). This chapter (Chapter 4) shows how people reconfigure their relationship with their co-disputant(s), and how certain actions (i.e. requests, directives, instructions) trade on the relevance of this new relationship. The final analytic chapter examines how people work to appear ‘reasonable’ in a dispute. People seek to win a dispute and one way of accomplishing that is to be the ‘reasonable’ person relative to the other’s unreasonable behaviour. In this chapter (Chapter 5), I unpack this to show how, through meta-talk, people present their behaviour as reasonable, or the other’s behaviour as unreasonable, to produce a purportedly-rational argument. I reveal that whilst participants rarely express reasonableness, they do respond to transgressions of conversational norms (i.e. turn-taking, sequence). Consequently, this accomplishes a turn-at-talk and a chance to control the direction of the dispute.
The thesis presents a state-of-the-art examination of disputative interactions and contributes significantly to our understanding of the structural organisation of disputes and how people behave in public places. Throughout the course of the thesis, I establish frameworks for future research that combine ethnomethodological approaches, deals with the ‘messiness’ and difficulty of public video-recordings, and develops an understanding of what a dispute actually is.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


Loughborough University

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© Jack B. Joyce

Publication date



A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


  • en


Jessica S. Robles ; Carly W. Butler

Qualification name

  • PhD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

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