For example, in a study
o f pre-adolescents’ use o f insults, Evaldsson
(2005) notes that on occasion her participants’
use of insults bordered on the production of
physical aggression. However, her data revealed
that even young children are adept at managing
the boundaries of insults so that they are kept
within an interactional context of playfulness.
Mizushima and Stapleton (2006) have likewise
shown that this use o f insults as a form o f teasing
play also arises among adults. In a similar fashion,
it has long been noted in discursive research
that arguments serve a variety of functions other

than that o f introducing bouts o f violence.
Schiffrin (1984), for example, separated out the
ideas of argument as engaging in dispute from
argument as a sociable or enjoyable form of
social interaction. Billig (1987) has also stressed
the discursive richness of argument as a form of
interaction. Placing rhetoric at the heart o f social
interactions, Billig suggests that establishing dif­
ferences through argument is an important facet
of the way that we understand the social world.
By presenting opposing points of view, speakers
are able to present, develop, and maintain con­
trasting discursive versions of the conversational
topic under discussion. In this sense, disagreement
is as important to the discursive formulation of

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the social world as is agreement. Antaki (1994)
takes issue with Billig’s analytic focus on rhetor­
ical persuasion as a matter of formulating or
reformulating a conversation’s topic. However,
he too draws attention to argument as a per­
vasive device in talk, especially in terms of how
the structure o f conversation routinely allows
for turn positions in which what is said in an earl­
ier turn can be disputed. Indeed, it is because
disagreement and argument are so pervasive in
everyday life that we have developed a range of
interactional forms which help to manage it.

Some of the fine-grain detail of how disagree­
ment is managed in conversation was revealed
By Pomerantz (1984) in her examination of the
way that disagreements, like other “dispreferred”
next actions, are typified by features such as
pauses, hesitancy, and reformulations. She con-

Fine-grain detail Characteristics of talk examined
at the level of construction of individual turns
(e.g-> lexical choice) and turn-by-turn sequences



1 think it’s functional non­
functional and I mean it looks very
I haven’t seen anything quite so nasty
for a long time

TNo it isn’t
(McKinlay 8( McVittie, 2006, p. 803)


Supplied by the British Library 14 Sep 2017, 13:39 (BST)


eludes that, even if disagreement is a regularly
occurring activity in talk, speakers routinely ori­
ent to it as more unpleasant, difficult, and risk­
ing threat or insult or offense, and so in many
contexts speakers produce disagreements in a
careful way which indicates to hearers that what
is being said is understood to have that potential
status. As an example o f what can happen when
disagreement is not handled sensitively in this way,
consider the following extract where two people
are evaluating something.

In this extract, Stephen produces his positive
evaluation as the end-point of a three-part list
structure: functional, non-functional, and looks
nice. Harry’s negative evaluation response at line
2 takes the form o f a strong oppositional formu­
lation: he has not seen anything so nasty for a long
time. The problem posed for the participants is
that Harry does not perform the conventionally
expected work of orienting to his own turn as a
dispreferred response, e.g., through the use of delay
devices or weakly stated disagreement components.
As Pomerantz points out, the absence of such turn
features makes it more likely that the subsequent
turn will take the form of an overtly stated dis­
agreement. In this sense, then, there is no con­
versational place for them to go other than for
Stephen to utter an outright rejection of Harry’s

The preceding extract occurred during a

group discussion among members of an arts and
crafts guild. The guild members were assessing
the work of other artists and artisans who had
applied to join the guild. The frequent occurrence
o f outright disputes between guild members
would represent an interactional problem for
them, in terms o f both the cohesiveness o f the guild
as a collective and the more localized requirement
that the guild members reach a decision on each
of the applicants. However, as other extracts
from their group discussion revealed, the guild
members were adept at deploying conversational