Harvey Sacks

Lectures on Conversation

Vol. I & II



Compiled by Gail Jefferson

{Edited by Gene Lerner}

Work Remarks

If you want to learn how to analyze conversation, then it appears that if you watch me do it enough and try the exercises that we give out, then over time you develop some facility at that. What the virtues are of that facility, I really couldn’t say. Harvey Sacks, Lectures, Vol. II, p. 335.

Volume I

F ’64-

S ’65


Lecture 1

p. 3


p. 4



p. 8


p. 11


How I got started working on the details of conversation.


The ways I've been developing of analyzing stuff is like a multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.


Puzzled by “I don’t know” as a response to “May I help you”


Don’t worry about, “they can’t think that fast.” Don’t worry about whether they’re ‘thinking’.

Lecture 2

p. 13


p. 16


How I got started -> multiple occurrences


How I got started -> multiple occurrences

Lecture 3

p. 23

Parts of the analysis not yet done: “I haven’t yet been able to track down when this thing works…”

Lecture 5

pp. 33-34



p. 36


How I got started -> data offered a puzzle, then this clicked with something I was reading


How I got started -> multiple occurrences

Lecture 6

p. 40


p. 44


How I got started -> multiple occurrences


How I got started -> multiple occurrences

Lecture 7

p. 49


Trying to make a rule’s relevance “clear” via particular collection of data

Lecture 8

p. 57


p. 65


“Hadn’t seen something that’s going on…”


“The first time I ever thought about this matter” (single dramatic occurrence).


Lecture 10

pp. 73-74



p. 76


How I got started -> “coming across something I thought was extraordinarily strange” …but persons do it. (A single occurrence)


How I got started -> multiple ‘curious’ occurrences: “I thought ‘Gee, that’s curious’.” (“I want to …show a way to analyze classes of statements”)


Lecture 13

p. 107


p. 112


“What was important in that statement just never occurred to me”


“Something I had to be brought to see as noticeable…” (via multiple occurrences)



F ’65

Lecture 5

p. 161


“…my level of believability- which I guess is much more extravagant than other people’s”


Lecture 8

pp. 178-179


“I found [most of the GTS conversations] so terribly boring that it’s only recently that I’ve gotten up enough strength to sit and listen to them again… I used to sit and listen for the points when they would overtly talk about their troubles, and I just don’t think that was at all right.” (cf. a story about Malinowsky in the field)



S ’66

Lecture 8

pp. 339-340


“…one can collect [as I have] statements of some of the most eminent of living or dead geniuses…” to show stereotyping is not restricted to the uneducated.


Lecture 28

p. 456


“I began to look at [X] because I thought them kind of odd statements.” But that need not control where we go with them.


W ’67

March 2

pp. 533-534


“It struck me as I thought about it, well why in all this time did it never occur to me? Why did I always proceed by…” etc. etc.


March 9

p. 536


“I’ll make a principled statement, which is quixotic enough, but I believe in it: I don’t think it’s any worse for sociology to anthropomorphize, than, say, for physics to do it…as a way of focusing things” etc.


S ’67

Lecture 8

pp. 549-550


“I had a fascination with a problem…I was looking for a place where I could do an exercise [on it]…In some tape I had, I came across a statement…”



F ’67


p. 620




p. 623


“Somebody once pointed out that when I say something is kind of curious, what I mean is it’s perfectly ordinary but that I intend to make something out of it.”


“I only start with a piece of literature…because it’s probably a much more comfortable way for people to get into the sorts of things I want to be doing.  People would, I think, feel terribly uncomfortable if I simply started off with ‘the data’…”


Lecture 4

p. 651


“When I first came across that phenomenon, of completing as-yet-incomplete utterances with syntactically coherent parts, I was rather surprised about it, and I figured, well, it must be quite rare, even though that they do it at all is an extremely important fact. But it turns out to be an extremely frequent and routinely doable thing.”


Lecture 5

p. 664


“It isn’t as though, having glanced at this [bit of data] I saw this point…Now that’s routinely the case in all sorts of scientific work…when a scientific apparatus got rich enough, it could locate what kind of a thing that…was all along.”

Lecture 011

p. 715


“Now I batted my head against the wall on [the wrong] problem…”


S ’68

April 17

p. 752


“I was leery of beginning to do work on…‘topic’ by virtue of it seeming to be that sort of thing in which direct content considerations would obviously be involved.”… “I got into it in the following way. One day, looking at a telephone conversation…”


Volume II

F ’68

Lecture 1

p. 3




p. 3



p. 8


“Basically what I have to sell is the sorts of work I can do…and the interestingness of my findings” vs. “its theoretical underpinnings”, etc.


“Why I initially worked on this fragment” -> an interesting phenomenon.


If I had just made a list of features one might not notice that one of those features “was an observation that counted in any way.”


Lecture 2

pp. 17-18


pp. 26-27




pp. 28-29


Re. To understand the work, you have to (learn how to) do the work


“…one gets started where maybe you can get somewhere. And [some things like facial expression] are enormously difficult to study.”


“…how in the world do you get yourself to look at a page of conversation day after day, week after week – and you need to do that…”


Lecture 5

p. 59




p. 61


“When I first found [X] I was absolutely awed…and then [I thought] “Does it ever happen?” And we searched around and…it turned out that…it’s really extremely common.”


“I avoid [X phenomenon] now because it may seem to put too large a burden of investigation on [what] looks like a ‘that’s just the way they happened to do it’ occurrence.


W ’69

Lecture 8

p. 138


“…it was noticing the two cases that set the whole thing up.  I…noticed several differences between them, and then constructed an argument…”



W ’70

Lecture 2

p. 175


“I had been collecting points about greeting sequences for lo these many years…But essentially until I came upon [X] and a couple of other conversations, I hadn’t turned the analysis of greeting sequences into a tactical problem for parties.”


Lecture 4

p. 193


“I used to have a rule that said ‘greetings are ahistorically relevant ’…I was thinking about that in comparison to, e.g., things like introductions… And while some such thing as that may be so, there are specific historicalizing techniques…”


Lecture 5

p. 208


“I haven’t encountered a call where [X] gets put in later into the call.  I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t, but that has to do with the fact that I don’t know what it’s doing.”



S ’70

Lecture 1

p. 215


“Usually I start the course by…”

Lecture 3

p. 234


“Let me make a passing remark having to do with just the course of making findings…I’d been working on this [data] for a year and a half before I happened to notice [X].”



W ’71

March 11

p. 325


Re. treating ‘poetics’ as possibly important. “Otherwise it’s kind of boring.”



S ’71

April 2

pp. 335-339


Various (H.S.'s grumpy Introduction: “here together for no good reason”; “If you want to learn how to analyze conversation, then it appears that if you watch me do it enough and try the exercises that we give out, then over time you develop some facility at that. What the virtues are of that facility, I really couldn’t say.”)


F ’71

Lecture 16

p. 512


Getting started: “I’d had [X] experience and never really seen anybody report it, and then in looking at this fragment in the course of analyzing the conversation it…occurred to me that there was good reason to think that it might be an instance of the same thing…”