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An Ethnomethodological, Conversation Analytic Approach to Investigating Race in South Africa

  • Author(s): Whitehead, KA
  • et al.
Abstract

This primarily methodologically oriented article describes how an ethnomethodologically informed, conversation analytic approach can be used to investigate the ways in which racial categories become relevant in ordinary interactions in post-apartheid South Africa. Drawing on descriptions of the data and procedures employed in a broader study of the continuing centrality of race for everyday life in South Africa, the article explicates the central features and assumptions of the approach and its utility in studying the operation of social category systems (or 'membership categorization devices') such as race in recorded interactions. This methodological discussion is illustrated by presenting some excerpts from the data on which the broader study was based, thereby demonstrating some of the analytic payoffs of employing this type of approach. Specifically, I briefly describe a generalising practice through which speakers can treat race as relevant, or potentially relevant, for what they are doing. This empirical illustration demonstrates the utility of this approach in exploring how racial categories (and other social categories) may surface in interactions in which they have not been pre-specified as a topic of interest. The approach I describe thus offers insights into the deployment, and hence reproduction, of common-sense knowledge associated with social categories and racial categories in particular, in ordinary episodes of interaction. © 2011 Copyright South African Sociological Association.

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