Harvey Sacks

Lectures on Conversation

Vol. I & II



Compiled by Gail Jefferson

{Edited by Gene Lerner}

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Volume I

F ’64-S ’65

Lecture 1

pp. 10-11

Social objects; assembling activities; reproducible descriptions; abstract & general while not statistical

Lecture 4

pp. 26-31

Survey of the literature

Lecture 8

p. 65

Macro / micro

Lecture 12

p. 97

Non-trivial absences

Lecture 13

p. 105

Needing an “excuse” to study a phenomenon

Lecture 14

p. 113 ff

p. 114

pp. 125

“What [sociology’s] business is”

‘He doesn’t say [x]’ as “a rhetorical device”

Phenomenon vs. random distribution

F ’65

Lecture 5

p. 159

pp. 162

Working on “small parts”

Re. is language inconsistent

Lecture 9

pp. 185-186

Foreigner’s task / computers that could gossip

Lecture 11

p. 195

Constraints on human nature

Lecture 12

pp. 201-203

Relationship between professional and Members’ categories

Appendix A


p. 229

What “the apparatus” should do

S ’66

Lecture 1

p. 236 ff

pp. 237-238

“The apparatus”

“Things that God might have overlooked”

Lecture 1 (R)

p. 244 ff

pp. 245-246

pp. 250-251

“The apparatus” : “a culture”

“The find power of a culture”

“‘Overbuilt’ machinery”

Lecture 4a

pp. 283-284

p. 287

pp. 289-290

‘Rule detection’ via multiple vs. single cases

Sequential vs. dictionary specification

Showing that an analysis is wrong (via “totally unanalyzed piece” of data)

Lecture 4b

pp. 292-293

pp. 293-295

pp. 295, 299

pp. 297-299

Re. choosing data

Re. absences

Analyzing vs.. employing Members’ phenomena

Single case vs. sampling

Lecture 5

p. 306

Need for “alternative independent materials”

Lecture 6

p. 312

pp. 315-316

Correctness vs. relevance; analyzing vs. counting

‘Real machinery’ vs. ‘hypothetical constructs’

Lecture 12

pp. 358-359

p. 360

p. 362

A problem for comparative sociology (distribution of currencies)

Proposing that “some possible fact is accepted as correct by Members”

Weakness of counting [x] as “a measure” of [y]

Lecture 13

p. 364

pp. 366-367

Re. seeing other people’s thoughts

Adequacy of criteria vs. practical efficacy

Lecture 17

pp. 389-390

Re. “A fuller study would show [x]”

Lecture 19


p. 407

Re. Being “conscious” of what one is doing

Lecture 21

pp. 417-418

pp. 422

pp. 422-423

p. 425

In-principle inadequacy of ‘correspondence criteria’

Re. ‘possibilities’

Re. language as inconsistent

Re. assembling “complex activities”

Lecture 23

pp. 428-430

p. 434

Linguistics: program for what’s not to be studied

Re. ‘agreement’

Lecture 24


pp. 435-438

Re. measurement systems

Lecture 28

p. 456

p. 459

“If [thinking some statements are odd] get[s] us into noticing these statements, [it] need not control where we go with them.”

Social science uses Members’ devices

Lecture 30

pp. 467-472

pp. 471-472

Problems for observational sociology / anthropology

Asserting a problem vs. digging it out of the data

Lecture 31


p. 476

What makes something an X, rather than is A an X? Is B an X?, etc.

Lecture 33


pp. 483-486

pp. 486-488

On sampling

On subjectivity

W ’67

February 16

pp. 515-571, 520-522

On formulations

March 2


p. 523

p. 533

Import of a finding

“The kind of data we need” – persons doing something “knowingly” (cf. pp. 566-567)

March 9

p. 540

p. 541

What sort of order of fact is something?

Cracking into the data via conventional ideas about what matters

S ’67

Lecture 8

p. 549

Non-exhaustibility of what looks like uninteresting material

Lecture 9


pp. 566-567

Data showing attentiveness by Members to their circumstances

(cf. pp. 533)

Lecture 12


pp. 582-583

Working seriously with notion of ‘category bound activities’ (don’t just use it, show how it’s so).

Lecture 13


p. 589

Making trouble to test a notion (cf. pp. 690, 707)

F ’67



p. 619

pp. 621-623

Re. Erving Goffman


Lecture 1


p. 629

p. 631

p. 632

“Wandering around applying a rule”

A proposed finding should permit us to see things

On ‘theorizing’

Lecture 2


pp. 635-636

Re. asserting that a rule has been violated

Lecture 5


p. 664

Problem in the world vs. problem for sociology

Lecture 7


pp. 679-680

Locating contrast classes as naturally oriented-to phenomena

Lecture 8


p. 690

Making trouble to test a notion (cf. pp. 589, 707)

Lecture 9


pp. 695-697

Dispute with Avram Stroll about paradoxes

Lecture 10


p. 707

Making trouble to test a notion (cf. pp. 589, 707)

Lecture 12


p. 724

p. 729

Names: predictably wrongly transcribed

For transcribing of any utterance, the surrounding talk is extremely important

Lecture 14

p. 742

p. 743

The criteriality of such little items (as the non-equivalence of ‘Tuesday’ and ‘Nov 11, 1967’); “There is that order of redundancy in social organization.”

(Re above) “[these] are matters which you’d never get at a way of focusing on if you were looking for something exceptional as a handle…[T]he sheer appropriateness of such an answer as ‘Tuesday’ beguiles you into figuring that there could be nothing interesting...”

S ’68

April 17

p. 753

Characterizations of persons...are in principle selections from alternatives…[T]he issue is to see what considerations were involved in a given selection…[T]hat leads me routinely to focus on characterizations of see if I can make points.

Volume II

F ’68

Lecture 1


p. 5

Unreliability of recollected data

Lecture 2

p. 20

pp. 20-21

p. 23

p. 26

p. 27

Making trouble (here, shifting around story descriptors)

Primacy of the way an argument is made, not the point being argued. “The only thing that’s interesting is the logic.”


Various aspects of the sequential organization of conversation

“...a science of social life should, like all other sciences, be able to handle...the actual details of actual events.”

Social science as “a primitive science in a very literal sense.”

Lecture 3

pp. 35-36

p. 37

p. 38

Re. “non-trivial statements about absences” “One criterion for the noticeable status [of an absence] is that people say about it, ‘X is absent.’.”

A rejected explicational procedure: proposing that when X is not talked of it’s known in the way it is when it is talked of.

A “perfectly natural” course of development of an analysis: “parts” → “formal features”

Lecture 4

pp. 54-55

A natural criterion for basicness of a rule

Lecture 5

p. 58

Proving an argument: natural vs. experimental procedures

p. 65

Is [x] a “signal”?

Lecture 6

p. 74

“The last thing in the world you want to find yourself saying is ‘He says [x] because it’s true.’.” (also, pp. 82)

W ’69

Lecture 1

pp. 91-93

Reconceiving X’s ‘property’ as ‘a makings of conversation’

Lecture 3

pp. 110-111

Abstract knowledge persons might have of their circumstances

Lecture 7

p. 125

Distribution of ‘Q on Q on Q’ sequences?; some sequencing positions ‘better than others’?

W ’70

Lecture 1

pp. 157-158

pp. 168-169

p. 169

pp. 171-172

It doesn’t pay to attempt a comprehensive analysis of a single conversation. It nevertheless pays to work elaborately at a single conversation.

Re. the need for additional materials

Re. machine image

“A really deadly problem with contrast class arguments”

Lecture 5

p. 208

What is some remark about something somewhere doing this interaction?

S ’70

Lecture 2

pp. 222-223

Re. “bland facts”; correctness vs. relevance

Lecture 3


p. 240

Product or byproduct?

Lecture 5

pp. 250-253

Re. “interactional technology”; how people listen to each other; doing provings; systematically characterizable ‘long sequences’ (cf. pp. 354-55)

Lecture 6

pp. 267-271

Starting with observations vs. ‘why did he do that?’

Lecture 7


pp. 269-271

Re. an “altogether informal…characterization of what took place” in a piece of data

W ’71

February 19

pp. 291-292

Noticing a possible phenomenon vs. laughing it off (poetics)

March 4

p. 309

pp. 316-317

Re.  posing a problem “because it looked like some answers could be found to it, by virtue of the things that were emerging…”

Possible correctness of a conversational formulation (here, “He was being very rational”)

March 11

p. 325

Q:   Couldn’t that be carried too far?

HS:   The whole problem is that it’s nowhere in the first instance.

          (Re. Poetics)

S ’71

April 2

p. 339

“The gross aim of the work I’m doing…”

April 12

pp. 354-355

pp. 358-359

Re. ‘large sequences’ (cf. pp. 250-253)

“When do you have things in such a status as to be able to think about them?”

April 19


pp. 361-362

pp. 365-366

To what extent is some domain of social organization independently organized?

Re.  a ‘question’ which is a ‘request’, and a ‘command’ which is a ‘close offering’: “Neither have anything like the way in which they could be grammatically characterized, as sufficient information about how they’re dealt with.”

May 3


pp. 384, 385, 389-390

A procedure: from some observations apparently unrelated to each other or to some problem, come to pose the problem

F ’71

Lecture 1

p. 419

p. 421

pp. 422-423

Re. the limitations of hypothetical data

Less obvious data as sometimes “better”

Re. the “inconsistency” of proverbial expressions

Lecture 2

p. 430

Re. abstract models which also handle details

Lecture 4

p. 431

Given some “neat and delicate” occurrence, does one posit unusual personal virtuosity or “a virtuosity that maybe anyone has, or the language gives them.”

S ’72

Lecture 2

p. 536

p. 538

How to pose the question ‘why do people listen in conversation?’

The locating of alternatives is an “empirical issue” and not a matter of “obvious semantics…to be gotten by logical considerations.”

Lecture 3

pp. 542-543

p. 542

p. 543

p. 551

Re. characterizing something as ‘an adjacency pair’ vs. learning things about particular cases of an adjacency pair

Making trouble to test a notion (here, saying “Hello” before phone-answerer gets a chance) (cf. pp. 551)

Re. the “unhappy” character of an “ad hoc” rule

Making trouble: call your friends at dinner time (cf. pp. 542)

Lecture 4

pp. 554-555

Re. developing an argument on the “relating power of adjacency”

Lecture 5


p. 561

pp. 561-562

p. 562

Re. the independence of prefaces from what they precede

Re. layers of conversational organization

“I inhibit a consideration of actual objects in terms of single types of organization, i.e., saying of something that it’s a ‘question’, and then saying that it’s adjacency-pair orderly in a variety of ways, and that’s that, as though one is finished with it.”

Lecture 6

pp. 570, 574

p. 572

Distributionalizing phenomena: find a systematic “place” they occur

Re. making a “cutting observation”: “There’s no point [announcing an observation] unless it cuts through the material.”