Colorado Research in Linguistics
Colorado Research in Linguistics -- ISSN 1937-7029

Volume 23-1, 2012

Between the Ordinary and the Institutional: Questions, Embodiment and Space in Political News Interviews

Nina Jagtiani

Abstract for paper presentation at the International Institute for Ethnomethodolgy and Conversation Analysis (IIEMCA) 10


This paper examines the two different interview styles occurring in a political talk show on German broadcast television. The focus is on the interviewers’ different questioning techniques and their relationship to the alignment of body and space among the host and the participants.

It has generally been argued that political interviews are organized by a normative turn-taking system that restricts participants to either asking questions or answering them (Heritage, 1985; Greatbatch, 1986; Heritage & Greatbatch, 1991; Heritage & Roth, 1995; Schegloff 1988/89; Clayman 1988; Clayman, 2010). The interviewer’s primary task is to encourage the interviewees to discuss their different positions on the topic for the overhearing audience (Heritage, 1985; Greatbatch, 1992; Clayman, 2010). However, interviewer’s questions have changed to a large extent over time, becoming less respectful and more aggressive (Clayman & Heritage, 2002; Clayman, Elliott, Heritage & McDonald, 2006).

As Goodwin (2000) argues, however, speech occurs within what he calls a “contextual configuration”, an array of localized semiotic fields to which participants orient themselves. In addition to the talk itself, gestures as well as posture and orientation of the body are crucial properties of interaction. Talk and embodied actions mutually elaborate each other within larger sequences of events (Goodwin, 2000; Goodwin, 2007). The body represents discernible meaningful action in the construction of relevant multimodal interaction (Goodwin, M.H. & C. Goodwin, 2000). In discourse, participants align their bodies with each other to establish and maintain a shared focus of attention (Goodwin, 2007).

This paper shows how the interviewer creates an environment for ordinary conversation inside the political talk show, even though such specialized institutional interaction can be regarded in many ways as different from mundane conversation (Atkinson, 1982). It is my contention that this environment is constituted through forms of questioning, embodied actions, and the manipulation of the physical space of the interaction. All of this, I suggest, contributes to the construction of a space for ordinary conversation within an institutional setting.

Using Conversation Analysis, this paper analyzes data from political talk shows (Anne Will) representing two separate interview formats in one show. These talk shows were aired on the public channel ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland) during summer 2008 in Germany, focusing on various current political topics. The questions to be analyzed in this context are how the shift from conflict to ordinary talk is indicated. How the alignment of the interviewer’s body to the interviewee moves to suggest intimacy as well as how the spatial set up of the studio enables this shift.

Nina Jagtiani is a PhD student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Colorado, Boulder.   She can be reached at Nina.Jagtiani@Colorado.EDU.

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Colorado Research in Linguistics is the working papers journal of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Colorado.


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