The Boston talk as it actually was: Transcription of Gail Jefferson, Boston University Conference on Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis, 9 June 1977

Transcribed by Maurice Nevile

Social Objects for Innovation and Learning
Department of Design and Communication
University of Southern Denmark, Kolding

Background and motivation

I produced the transcription from the film recording of a conference talk by Gail Jefferson in Boston in 1977, made available by George Psathas, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Boston University. Prof Doug Maynard (University ofWisconsin) arranged for the original film recording to be digitised. I am grateful to Julia Ruser (Univ. Southern Denmark) for converting the transcription from Word into CLAN, and for precisely timing silences.

Jefferson later developed elements of this talk into the paper ‘On the poetics of ordinary talk’ (Jefferson. G. 1996, in Text and Performance Quarterly, 16,1:1-61). An indication of the significance of the talk is given in the paper’s abstract, where Jefferson notes that, “The 1977 talk was specifically directed to loosening up people’s sense of the sort of work done in the field of Conversation Analysis” (p.1). Jefferson describes the 1996 paper as “a more considered and elaborated version of that talk” (p.1). She notes also that at the time of the talk, a year and half after Harvey Sacks’ death, conversation analysis (CA) was becoming identified very closely with the 1974 Sacks, Schegloff & Jefferson paper ‘A simplest systematics...’. Her talk was therefore developed as “an antidote to that drastically constricted version of the field” (p.1), and as “an expression of the wild side of Conversation Analysis” (p.1). Jefferson refers in the paper to a transcription of the talk completed and sent to her by Robert Hopper. I have not seen that transcription and don’t know of its level of detail, but I note that the 1996 poetics paper begins with text apparently paralleling the talk’s content, under the heading ‘The Boston talk (as it never was)’ (p.2) - this would therefore seem to be adapted from Hopper’s transcription. So in my transcription I aim to give a clearer sense of the Boston talk as it actually was.

I developed the transcription primarily as a more detailed record of the talk, as a talk, with no intention to pursue any kind of analysis. I was interested in representing at least something of the content and flow of Jefferson’s spoken analytic voice, especially as reflecting and contributing to the early years of CA’s development and emergence. I hope that the transcription can make further visible the nature of Jefferson’s contribution in the early years, such as her approach to data and phenomena, and as representative of the collegial and collaborative context in which she was working.

Especially by Jefferson’s own high standards the transcription is not in any way finished. At a couple of points I have failed to capture what I think are her versions of an exaggerated New York accent, and possibly even an impression of Groucho Marx... I’m happy for someone to advise or correct me on those matters! Also, I make no attempt to transcribe details of embodiment, so at least one distinctive aspect of the presentation, her continual pacing from side to side, is missing. Nor do I transcribe various forms of audience response and participation (e.g. indistinct chatter and mumbling, laughter, coughing, groans).The talk is given as a monologue and so I have used some headings for guidance, some of which echo those of Jefferson (1996). The period of audience questions and discussion after the talk I have transcribed only relatively minimally.

A personal comment

It was a delight to listen to and transcribe this video recorded talk by Gail Jefferson, and to see her present on her work in 1977 during the first years of conversation analysis. Apart from the professional interest, I learned that we shared an interest in American football. As an Australian, I met and knew Gail only much later when I was fortunate to be taught by her in Denmark at two week-long summer schools for new researchers (2000, 2003), and later at atwo-day masterclass (2007). These courses were demanding, and in equal measure immensely rewarding and challenging (to say the least), as she responded to and critiqued our analyses of data, and our own transcriptions. I remain indebted to Gail for her insistence on precision in the pursuit and representation of interactional phenomena.

Of different occasions, socially and collegially, of Gail Jefferson I have especially strong and fond memories of a restaurant dinner in Odense with Maria Egbert and Johannes Wagner, and together with Johannes Wagner driving from Denmark to Sweden for the 2007 IPrA Conference in Gothenburg, where she gave what I understand was her final formal conference presentation. Some months later she was kind enough to reply to an email message and tell me of her advanced illness. I remember too her parting comment after one summerschool, “see you in Australia some time”. Unfortunately in Australia I have had no relevant department/discipline position or substantial CA connections, and so I was not able to invite her.

I am certain that Gail would have thought this transcription to be inadequate, but I hope she would not have minded it as a personal, respectful, and appreciative attempt to capture and detail one brief moment of her wider contribution to the field as she gives “a guided tour through the data”, providing in 1977 a view of the “wild side” of CA.

Nevile, M. (2015) Transcription of Gail Jefferson, Boston University Conference on Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis, 9 June 1977.

Maurice Nevile, June 2015

Boston 1977 | Talkbank