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Constituting agency in the delivery of telephone-mediated victim support
journal contributionposted on 31.03.2021, 03:08 by Ann Weatherall
© 2020, © 2020 Taylor & Francis. In telephone helpline interactions, a practical problem for participants is how to advance a relevant course of action about what can be done within the institution’s remit that may not be what a caller asks for or needs. This study investigates how call-takers progress delivering support for callers ringing a service for victims of crime and trauma. It focuses on how actions are advanced by the call-taker using linguistic formats that can be broadly characterised as directive-commissive speech acts. The research asks how agency is constituted through the linguistic format parties’ use to display what can be done and who decides. Using conversation analysis to examine 80 cases where the delivery of support is progressed, the results show that subtle morpho-syntactic variation in the format of interrogatives (i.e., ‘Did you want to,’ ‘Do you want to’) display orientations to who can do or decide upon a future course of action. Evidence is presented that the ‘did you form’ tilts the agency toward the Self as something she can progress whereas the ‘do you’ format tilts the balance toward the Other to decide. More obviously, the actions can be formulated in terms of the Self committing to an action (e.g., ‘I’ll pop you through’) or as clearly deferring to the Other to decide (e.g., ‘would you like me to’). This study furthers the general intellectual project of discursive psychology by providing an empirical demonstration of the way classic questions about the nature of subjectivity and individual agency can be re-specified as shared practices for accomplishing action in social interaction.