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On Sacks and the Analysis of Racial Categories-in-Action


In this chapter, I consider Sacks’ (1984, 1986) penetrating analyses of a single instance of a speaker’s use of a racial categorization while telling a story in everyday conversation. These analyses provide for at least three important observations, namely that 1) using a (racial) category in referring to an actor can serve to tacitly provide an account for their actions, 2) in this way, racial (and other) categories, and the common-sense knowledge associated with them, can be reproduced as a “by-product” of whatever else participants are doing, and 3) speakers who use racial categories in these ways may become vulnerable to criticism of their conduct as effectively racist. I then build on this work by examining how speakers producing complaints claim membership in a racial category implicated as an object of the complaint. This demonstrates speakers’ orientation to a maxim, if you can claim membership in a category about which you are complaining, then do so. Consistent with Sacks’ emphasis on the co-constitutive relationship between membership categories and actions-in-interaction, this analysis demonstrates a mechanism for the reproduction of category (co-)membership as a basis for rights or authority to complain, while exemplifying how generic interactional practices and structures enable these phenomena.

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