Social interaction underpins virtually all aspects of our social lives: we build, maintain, harm, and remediate our relationships with others through our interactions; we navigate countless social institutions through interaction. Think about your health: it's how you talk with physicians and other health professionals that brings much of healthcare into existence. Legal proceedings similarly rely on social interaction – the questions attorneys and judges ask, and the responses that witnesses provide.
Although few of us were explicitly taught to have a conversation, that doesn't mean that it is without guiding rules and norms. My research investigates conversation from a structural perspective to try to identify these underlying rules and norms. I primarily use recordings of spontaneous naturally occurring social interactions to examine social behavior as it really happens among families, friends, acquaintances and strangers in our everyday lives and in clinical settings.
When we identify guiding principles of social interaction we can then ask questions about how these norms affect outcomes of, for instance, physician prescribing in healthcare, or how people design questions and responses in everyday conversation. Studying how and when people use particular interaction practices, and to what effect, can also help us address larger questions such as where the boundary is between human behavior and culture-specific (or language-specific) behavior.
My primary methodology is conversation analysis. However, in some projects, I combine CA with other methods. For instance, I combine CA with statistical methods for comparative work, whether the interest is race/ethnicity, SES, human development or differences in language and culture. I combine CA with ethnographic methods to gain insight into participants' perspectives on, for instance, patients' interactions with their clinicians or the their background to seeking care.
If you are interested in learning more about CA methods or studying social interaction more generally (or in the physician-patient encounter), our PhD program accepts applications up to December 1 each year. The Center for Language, Interaction and Culture (CLIC) accepts student and faculty visitors for 1, 2 or 3 quarters (international or domestic). The International Society for Conversation Analysis has resources for learning more as well.