Constructing transparency by talking about what is going in a process

Mie Femø Nielsen, Ann Merrit Rikke Nielsen, Sabine Ellung Jørgensen

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Interaction in institutional settings is inherently asymmetrical, since unequal participant status implies unequal rights to certain activities and unequal access to knowledge. If what is going on and why is unclear, this may potentially lead to distrust, which is potentially detrimental to social relations and interactional projects. Creating transparency into processes, stakes and interests, goals and agendas is thus one way of building trust, and the concept is widely discussed in sociology and psychology. In EM/CA a lot of work has been done on how explanations and accounts may serve to e.g. alleviate responsibility (Antaki, 1984; Atkinson & Drew, 1979; Edwards, 2007); how online commentary may serve to shape patient expectations (Heritage & Stivers, 1999), and how making references to institutional procedures may serve to negotiate the procedure in the encounter, and accomplish it as a procedure even when participants are distancing themselves from it (Nielsen et al., 2012). In this paper we explore process talk in terms of negotiating practical trust (González- Martínez & Mlynář, 2019). Data consists of audio/video recordings from meetings and everyday interaction in state resocialization facilities and social psychiatric residences between citizens and professionals. The data contain a lot of talk about what is going on and why, and we have identified different kinds of process talk:
 Process prefaces: forward pointing explanations of what is going to happen, when and how it is going to happen and why/why not this or that is happening (e.g., "when I do it like this with such an action plan conversation" HPS l. 24), cf. 'online explanations' (e.g., Billings & Stoeckle, 1989: 58-59; referred after Heritage & Stivers, 1999: 1502);
 Contextualization reports: referring to, animating, presenting or reporting from other encounters, documents, institutions, sources of authority, decisions or larger processes that the encounter may be part of, as related to the ongoing process (e.g., "in fact there IS not any (0.7) it is not anything law related that says (.) that it has to be like this (1.0) this is simply something that the directorate has decided" COMP l. 1-3);
 Live process reports: verbalizations of registrations of what is seen, heard or felt moment-by- moment ‘as we go along’ (e.g., "8000 (.) 385 (0.7) that's pretty good", NBCT l. 120-122), cf. the concept 'online commentary' (Heritage & Stivers, 1999) coined for general practitioners' "running commentary" (Byrne & Long, 1976: 18);
 Process sidebars: sidestepping talk about what is going on, putting progression of the activity on hold and making a shift to a processual in-medias-res focus (e.g. "Do you get a bit affected now?"; Nielsen et. al, forth, Ex1);
 Pre-conclusions and closings inplicative conclusions: backward/forward pointing talk about what just happened, including assessments, instructions, prognoses, predictions and announcements of what may happen next (e.g., "but shouldn't we do that that we print it out (...) and then you must (.) sometime next week see to (.) meet with him and get a signature on it right" HPS l. 906-916).
We explore how process prefaces, live process reports and process sidebars are interactionally negotiated as doing transparency with respect to the process that the participants partake in.
Antaki, C. (1994). Explaining and arguing: The social organization of accounts. SAGE.
Atkinson, J. M., & Drew, P. (1979). Order in court. Palgrave Macmillan.
Edwards, D. (2007). Managing subjectivity in talk. In A. Hepburn & S. Wiggins (Eds.), Discursive
research in practice: New approaches to psychology and interaction (pp. 31–49). Camb Univ P. González-Martínez, E., & Mlynář, J. (2019). Practical trust. Social Science Information, 58(4), 608–
Heritage, J., & Stivers, T. (1999). Online commentary in acute medical visits: A method of shaping
patient expectations. Social Science & Medicine, 49(11), 1501–1517.
Nielsen, M.F., Nielsen, S.B., Gravengaard, G. & Due, B. (2012). Interactional functions of invoking
procedure in institutional settings. Journal of Pragmatics, 44(11): 1457-1473.
Original languageDanish
Publication date29 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2023
EventInternational Conference on Conversation Analysis - The university of Queensland, Briabane (Meanjin), Brisbane, Australia
Duration: 26 Jun 20232 Jul 2023


ConferenceInternational Conference on Conversation Analysis
LocationThe university of Queensland, Briabane (Meanjin)
Internet address


  • social work and social conditions

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