Understanding the Fuzzy Borders of Context in Conversation Analysis and Ethnography

  • Silvia KunitzEmail author
  • Numa MarkeeEmail author
Reference work entry
Part of the Encyclopedia of Language and Education book series (ELE)


Context is one of the most difficult and contentious issues in the disciplines that study language and social interaction. While, from a historical point of view, it is possible to situate ethnographic and conversation analytic ideas about context in the different intellectual traditions of anthropology and ethnomethodological sociology, the originally sharp contrasts between these disciplines’ analytic treatments of context have become increasingly more nuanced. Furthermore, a compelling argument can be made within conversation analysis that the traditionally rather narrow conceptualization of context that is often used in analyses of ordinary conversation often needs to be expanded in institutional contexts of talk. In this chapter, we trace early developments in work on context and review major contributions to this important topic within the study of language and social interaction. Next we sketch out current work in progress, identify key problems and difficulties, and finally identify future directions for language educators and applied linguists to explore as we seek to understand this singularly difficult construct that underlies so many of our disciplinary endeavors.


Context Conversation analysis Ethnography Multimodality 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

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