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Watching sitcoms together: a discursive analysis

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posted on 30.07.2020, 11:43 by Scott Varney
In this thesis I use conversation analytic (CA) and discursive psychological (DP) principles to examine the ways in which groups of people watch situation comedy shows (sitcoms) together. More specifically, this thesis addresses three aims, the first of which is to explore how people watch, engage with, and understand sitcoms together in a domestic setting. My second aim is to examine the ways in which laughter is utilised by sitcom viewers. Finally, this thesis also aims to explore the ways in which people interact with each other whilst watching TV. To address these aims, almost twelve hours of video and audio recordings were made of groups of people watching sitcoms together in their homes as part of their usual TV watching routines, with 25 participants in total. The only inclusion criteria for this research was that participants would be watching a sitcom with another person as part of their usual TV watching routine. This ensured that recordings could be made of naturally occurring sitcom watching, that is, sitcom watching happening outside the artificial setting of a laboratory or requiring the intervention of a researcher. As such, recordings made via unobtrusive video cameras offer an insight into how individuals ‘do’ sitcom watching in their own homes.
The main findings from this thesis demonstrate that sitcom watching audiences are not just passive receptors of the show that is playing out on-screen, but that they are engaged in a range of hitherto undiscovered interactional business. This interactional business deals with i) the ways that laughter is deployed by viewers, ii) the ways in which certain types of humorous content is oriented and attended to by viewers, iii) how individuals respond to each other’s responses to the sitcom, and how co-viewers work collaboratively to understand on-screen content. More specifically, in Chapter 3 I offer a close inspection of the laughter produced by the sitcom viewers and demonstrate how multifaceted and diverse the laughs produced by these individuals are. This is discussed in relation to how laughter is transcribed for research and this chapter offers suggestions for how we can better capture the performative qualities of laughter in the transcripts we create for CA/DP research.
Continuing with the topic of laughter, Chapter 4 builds upon the observations of Chapter 3 and outlines how laughter is deployed by individuals in ways that are sensitive to the material to which the laughter is responsive to. I show how laughter can be designed and utilised by speakers to accomplish a range of social actions, such as displaying shock or disgust. Here, the CA/DP concepts of accountability and stance will be discussed and the role in which laughter plays in managing will be examined. In Chapter 5, I explore the ways in which sitcom watching is a collaborative accomplishment and how issues of understanding what is happening on-screen are facilitated through interaction between co-viewers. My specific focus here is on the ways in which viewers ‘get’ the jokes in sitcoms, the role that laughter plays in this, and how this is tied to issues of accountability management.
Finally, the last chapter of this thesis discusses the implications of my findings in relation to current understanding of laughter, TV audiences, transcription of talk, and humour more generally. I demonstrate how watching sitcoms together is a social activity which individuals work together to accomplish. In addition, more general concerns about naturally occurring data and the adequacy of video recordings to capture this are considered in relation to the sitcom watching dataset. Also, the ways in which this present work contributes to discussions about the taken for granted nature of everyday life and the social organization that underpins it, will also be discussed here.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


Loughborough University

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© Scott Varney

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A doctoral thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.




Elizabeth Peel ; Marco Pino

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