Position matters. As a conversation analyst examining any form of recorded synchronous human interaction – be it casual or institutional – I constantly monitor for, and organize my collections of target phenomena around structural position: Where on a transcript and when in an unfolding real-time encounter does a participant enact some form of conduct? Because conversation analysis (CA) is primarily focused upon action sequences, I use CA methods to examine the ways in which participants’ audible utterances and visible body-behaviors accomplish particular social actions due at least in part to their positioning within a sequence of interaction – an ordered series of moves between different participants (Heritage, 1984:245).
This chapter attests to the importance of paying close attention to structural position as requisite for understanding how participants design their conduct to be recognizable as particular social actions in interaction. To detail a range of positional issues, this chapter first considers how to tackle the task of identifying the position of participant conduct, and then presents several forms of evidence that an action takes on different meaning based upon how it is positioned – where/when it is done. In the central section, “Position, Action, and Meaning,” I discuss: (i) how the position of a silence affects its meaning; (ii) the reflexive relationship between position and turn design; and (iii) the position of an action within a sequence. I expand this last section by explicating how CA work on preference organization necessitates analyses of structural position, detailing how participants position both their sequence-initiating and sequence-responding actions. Across two sub-sections, I focus on describing how I have gone about analyzing participants’ positioning of sequence-initial actions in both institutional and casual interactions to exemplify how structural position can serve as a key avenue leading directly to findings about the orderliness of human action.