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Analyzing Turn Taking In Multiparty Conversations: Power, Integration, And Personality

2880 words - 12 pages

Conversations or communication events are often overlooked as simple exchanges of information among individuals. However, conversations can often reveal more than the information being exchanged. Conversations can reveal the roles and personalities of participants. They can also help distinguish levels of integration and group cohesiveness. According to Nancy Bonvillain, communication exchanges ¨reveal underlying cultural models of behavior, rights, and obligations,¨ which are often factors that influence individual identity and group construction (Bonvillain 2010: 114).
However to extract these underlying elements, conversations have to be analyzed in-depth. According to Bonvillain, conversations are composed of turn-taking exchanges that can reveal power roles, status, and influence of participants in a conversation (Bonvillain 2010: 114). Multiparty conversations allow for a deeper analysis of turn taking because they are looser in pattern, equality, and format than two-party exchanges (Bonvillain 2010: 115). Turns can vary in length and in style. Thus, they are a perfect analytical tool for long conversation that can contain more than one topic and lack a distinct focus. As a result, I chose to analyze the turn-taking patterns in a 15-minute excerpt from a longer conversation among nine college-age students. Through the analysis, I was able to identify the role, status, and level of cohesiveness among members of the group.
The conversation takes place in a classroom among nine college age students involved in a peer mentor program. The students have just finished a class on Careers and Resume preparation. This is their last discussion class and they have planned to go out to dinner and celebrate afterwards. One of the students, Cameron, is in charge of leading the main topic and brings-up the diner. The conversation begins as a discussion on careers and resumes with the goal of reflecting on what was learned in the lecture. However, the conversation deviates from the directed goal until the end of the excerpt when the group begins to discuss careers. The conversation ranges from discussing food to walking habits and living spaces to watching television and movies.
Two of the participants are juniors, Cameron and Paula, while the other seven are sophomores. There are three males: Cameron, Brad, and Lucas. The other six participants are females: Nicole, Adria, Amanda, Jocelyn, Kalen, and Paula. All of the participants know each other because of the class, but not all of them interact outside of it. They have attended the class once a week for about 12 weeks. They are all relatively comfortable with each other, but do not know each other too intimately.
In order to analyze the conversation, I adopted some of Harvey Sacks´ five mechanism of American turn taking in conversations. Bonvillain describes the five mechanism as the following: 1) speakers change, 2) one party talks at a time, 3) occurrences of more than one speaker are common, but...

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