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Laughter in medical interaction: From quantification to analysis, and back

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This study discusses the use of quantification in analysing interactional practices, especially in conversation analytical work. The paper concentrates on laughter in medical interaction and starts from a quantitative point of view. West (1984) found certain statistical patterns of laughter in medical interaction: the patients laugh more than the doctors and most laughter is not reciprocated, i.e. the interactants mostly laugh alone. This statistical pattern is also found in Finnish data but it is approached again from the micro-analytical point of view and some features of it are problematised through analysing in more detail: (1) the ways in which laughter is made relevant; (2) how laughter is responded to; and (3) the interactional functions laughter can have. The paper shows that Schegloff’s (1993) critique of quantitative interactional work is indeed called for, but nevertheless also presents advantages of quantification: the distribution of laughter between the participants in medical interaction turned out to be an interesting issue, one which is revealing of their different interactional roles and footings.

Keywords: Conversation analysis; doctor–patient interaction; laughter; quantification

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-9481.00185

Affiliations: University of Helsinki, Finland

Publication date: May 1, 2002

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