What are the Similarities/Differences between CA and DA?

For different reasons, discourse analysis and conversation analysis show that language can be studied in its own right. Conversation analysts show that ordinary language can be analysed to look at how we perform interpersonal actions and how these actions are organised socially. Discourse analysts show that language is a consequence in that accounts and descriptions cannot be treated as neutral representations of an objective social reality.

In conversation analysis, the function of language is looked at in terms of the design of utterances and their location within the turn-by-turn development of interaction. In discourse analysis, the function of discourse is much broader. While they have some interest in specific conversational activities and the sequential context, they are not restricted to this technical level.

Both discourse analysis and conversation analysis are qualitative in nature and analyse the functional and sense-making properties of language. However, these similarities stop at this broad level, and when examined in depth the intricate differences emerge.

Both conversation and discourse analysis reflect the concerns of ethnomethodology. Ethnomethodology, pioneered by Garfinkel (1967), is primarily concerned with how social action is accomplished through the competencies of participants. Much of social life is mediated through spoken and written communication, and, therefore, language is central to ethnomethodology in sociology. However, the conversation work of Sacks focuses on the communicative competencies that inform ordinary conversation and looks more objectively at the structures of interaction, whereas ethnomethodology is somewhat interpretative.

Our answer to this question is based on the materials found in the book by Robin Wooffitt. You may find this a useful reference:

  • Wooffitt, R. (2005). Conversation Analysis and Discourse Analysis: A Comparative and Critical Introduction. London: SAGE Publications.

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