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Applying Conversation Analysis to interviews with Japanese politicians about the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Faculty Mentor: Holly Didi-Ogren

Student: Russell Wolf

In our MUSE project we employed methods from Conversation Analysis (CA) in an analysis of verbal interactions in a 1.5-hour long panel discussion about Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP has been extremely controversial in Japan, and we selected the NHK panel discussion partly because of our interest in examining how panelists manage conflict in their verbal interactions. The television program that comprised our data aired on NHK, Japan’s main national broadcasting channel, in fall 2011. The five-member panel was comprised of academic experts and members of Japanese Prime Minister Noda’s cabinet.

Conversation Analysis (CA) is an approach to the study of natural conversation with a focus on turn-taking (e.g., how speaking turns shift from person to person), constructing sequences of utterances across turns (e.g., how a person’s argument might change or develop over the course of several utterances in response to input from others in the interaction), and identifying and repairing linguistic/interactional problems (e.g., saying the wrong word). CA has been fruitfully applied to the study of interviews, including how participants in interviews create, maintain, and modify stances on a particular topic within an interview. Although most of this research has focused on English, there is a growing body of work on Japanese as well, including interactional patterns in Japanese interviews. Building on previous work done on broadcast interviews and panel discussions using methods from CA, we focused our analysis on turn-taking patterns at points of conflict or disagreement in the program.

As suggested by previous research on broadcast interviews, the moderator plays a key role in facilitating and at times overtly allocating turn-taking among the panelists. For example, at one point the moderator intervened in a discussion between two panelists in order to bring in the perspective of another panelist on a slightly different topic. The moderator thus used his role at times to both allocate turns and to channel the focus of the discussion.

We also examined turn-taking strategies among the panelists themselves, again focusing on points in the interaction where there was disagreement. This aspect of our analysis supported some findings from previous research on turn-taking in Japanese interviews, but added information about turn-taking in a panel discussion setting where there are more people responding to the moderator’s questions than in a one-on-one interview.