Volume 10, No. 2, Art. 4 – May 2009

Legitimate Peripheral Participation as a Framework for Conversation Analytic Work in Second Language Learning

Gitte Rasmussen Hougaard

Abstract: Since its inception, Conversation Analysis (CA) has become not only a framework and a set of methods for studying the generic machinery of talk-in-interaction but also a celebrated, qualitative method for studying a wealth of phenomena and exploring and testing concepts and hypotheses from numerous disciplines, including linguistics, psychology, anthropology and Second Language Acquisition (SLA). CA is often resorted to as the key to resolving knots and dead-ends in these neighboring disciplines. Despite the very interesting results that such work admittedly produces, it is too often not accompanied by focused considerations of how the specific concerns from one field match with the aims that CA procedures have been developed for and hence with the procedures themselves. This paper takes recent applications of CA to the study of SLA as a case in point. It discusses a) whether CA can shed light on "learning" as commonly defined in SLA and b) whether the resort to a particular model of learning (LAVE & WENGER, 1991), Legitimate Peripheral Participation (LPP) helps overcoming some of the problems with which CA work in SLA is confronted. It is hoped that the specific discussions of problems involved in the project, CA-for-SLA, will contribute to the ongoing, general discussion of qualitative research methods and their prospects and problems.

Key words: conversation analysis; lay understanding of "learning"; Legitimate Peripheral Participation; members' knowledge; second language learning; social actions

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. CA, Language and Learning

3. Second Language Learning as an Integral Part of Social Practices Described in Terms of Development

4. Legitimate Peripheral Learning as a Framework for CA-for-SLA

4.1 Community of practice—a pre-defined membership category

4.2 Focus on the individual

4.3 Replacement

5. Conclusion







1. Introduction

The need for a social turn in the field of Second Language Acquisition has been discussed since the mid-1990s.1) A general division of opinion seems to have arisen between those who conceptualize language and language learning as cognitive phenomena and those who see them as social ones2). In an article published in Modern Language Journal in 1997, FIRTH and WAGNER argue in favor not only of a social approach to SLA but a conversation analytic approach which, among other things, is characterized by an interest in a) emic constructions (as opposed to the traditional etic approach in SLA), b) a search for contextual and interactional particulars of language use (as opposed to the traditional cognitive and context-free research interests within SLA) and c) by qualitative and naturalistic research (as opposed to traditional SLA research which is quantitative and experimental). The article resulted in responses from both researchers within cognition as well as researchers from social approaches to the field such as HALL (1997), RAMPTON (1997), KASPER (1997), LONG (1997), GASS (1998), LONG (1998) and GASS (2000). Many differences of opinion are expressed in these responses, one of which is central to this article, namely the question of whether conversation analytic (CA) work in SLA is actually suitable for describing processes of, and/or progression in second language learning. In an attempt to answer this criticism and to find a way for CA work to describe language learning processes, CA researchers in SLA have proposed methodological procedures for the study of SLA by bringing together two frameworks, namely CA and a theory of situated learning, Legitimate Peripheral Participation (LPP) (HANKS, 1991; BLOCK, 2003; YOUNG & MILLER, 2004; MONDADA & DOEHLER, 2004; BROUWER & WAGNER, 2004 and FIRTH & WAGNER, 2007). Most of these works present studies of classroom interaction whereas others invite research to focus on "learning" "outside the classroom," that is as an integral part of ordinary everyday social (inter)actions (BROUWER & WAGNER, 2004 and FIRTH & WAGNER, 2007). The latter is of interest for the discussion in the present article. The article is skeptical with regard to CA as a method for capturing "learning" as an integral part of social actions and for describing processes of, and/or progression in, second language learning in non-institutional everyday life. Finally, it addresses inherent problems in resorting to LPP to solve these problems. [1]

The current article consists of 5 sections. In Section 2, I briefly introduce my own take on "language," "learning" and CA; in Section 3, I discuss the possibility of analyzing "learning" as an integral part of social actions and in terms of development. In Section 4, I discuss the application of LPP assumptions and notions to CA work in SLA in the participants' everyday non-institutional life to resolve the problems discussed in Section 3. In Section 4, I also discuss if and how CA is a suitable method for describing language learning as process and/or progress in everyday life. Finally in Section 5, I sum up the discussion by objecting to CA as a method for describing language learning as process and/or progress in everyday life. I shall argue that CA is a suitable method for studying the details of participants' talk and from these details infer that learning has somehow taken place. I shall also argue, however, that this is not "learning" as an interactional phenomenon and thus not something for inquiry within CA. The application of the learning theory LPP does not resolve that problem. Instead, it seems to add problems to the field. [2]

2. CA, Language and Learning

Working with CA as a methodology for studying native-non-native interaction, the starting point of my studies is of course social organization. Moreover, my research interests have so far been the (re)construction and/or (re)establishment of interactional social norms in the participants' everyday life. Within CA, language is seen as playing an integral part in the enactment of social action and thus studies associated with language are seen as serving social analysis.3) In relation to the study of SLA, I support approaches that a) do not study a language as detached from its use in social activities and b) understand a language that is being "learned" as playing an integral part in the enactment of social activities. Hence, I support studies in which language plays an integral part in the enactment of the social actions (in interaction) of "learning" the language itself. As BROUWER and HOUGAARD (forthcoming) document one take on this focus is to investigate "learning" in terms of language users lay understanding of what it is and how it is done or achieved. With this line of investigation, "learning" is conceptualized as a sequential process that is directly observable, evolving on a local moment-by-moment basis. This approach to "learning" concerns the "learning" process as participants understand it, that is it examines how learners and their co-participants construct "learning" activities locally, and how they continuously demonstrate to each other that they are engaged in a "learning" activity. BROUWER and HOUGAARD (forthcoming) show how participants in interaction are engaged in language "learning" activities by constructing repair sequences in and through which their interactional business moves beyond "intersubjectivity" to secure linguistic correctness. [3]

This CA based interest in what we may call a folk theory of language learning may differ from other scientific findings in the language learning literature. In fact, in describing ordinary peoples' language learning practices we have no evidence that "learning" is taking place. We have no evidence that participants` intersubjective understanding of how we learn is comparable to how we "learn." Furthermore, we do not even have any clear criteria for describing participants' intersubjective understanding of the learner having "learnt," that is to their orientation to the outcome of the sequentially developed "learning" process4). In the learning research field, "having learnt" is commonly defined as the ability to reproduce and/or re-understand an action and/or utterance X without assistance in future situations. As opposed to this notion of "learning," a CA driven analysis conceptualizes learning as interactional phenomena or practices. Of course this approach and conceptualization can scarcely shed any light on the other concept. That is, a CA driven analysis cannot account for the development of interactional skills. Paradoxically, this position has invoked studies that incorporate CA to do longitudinal studies (BROUWER & WAGNER, 2005; HELLERMAN, 2007) of participants' language development. It has also led CA informed research in the field to suggest that the CA conceptualization of language learning should be replaced by another, namely language learning as a social process (BROUWER & WAGNER, 2004; see also BLOCK, 2003; DONATO, 2000; FIRTH & WAGNER, 1998, 2007; MARKEE, 2008; PAVLENKO & LANTOLF, 2000; WAGNER & FIRTH, 1997). Language learning as a social process is not to be conceptualized in traditional CA terms as mentioned above, but in terms of the learning theory LPP (as sketched in LAVE & WENGER, 1991). LPP has in other words been introduced as the overall learning theory for CA research in the field (BROUWER & WAGNER, 2004; FIRTH & WAGNER, 2007). Possibilities of applying CA as a method for studying second language "learning" as an integral part of social actions and in terms of developmental skills will be discussed in the subsequent sections. Furthermore, the possibility of bringing in the theory of LPP to overcome some of the problems of conducting such studies, as has been suggested in a specific line of CA-for-SLA (FIRTH & WAGNER, 2007) research, will be discussed critically. [4]

3. Second Language Learning as an Integral Part of Social Practices Described in Terms of Development

The line of CA-for-SLA research that is in focus here suggests, as already mentioned, that "learning" should be investigated in naturalistic, non-institutional everyday (inter)actions and that "learning" should be understood as an integral aspect of social practice. Thus, in this area of SLA, participants' intersubjective understanding seems not to be in focus. So with regard to a CA interest in interactional phenomenon of "learning" for instance, BROUWER and WAGNER (2004) do not suggest analyses of natives and the non-natives supposed treatment of the non-natives as "learners" that are about to learn (i.e. to make progress in) the language of the natives. Focus is in other words on interactions among so-called language learners in which learning is not a situated activity in the sense that learning is oriented to in the analyzed interactions (as otherwise in BROUWER, 2004 and BROUWER & HOUGAARD, forthcoming). Instead, learning is analyzed in terms of increased interactional complexity that is achieved by the learner through progression of interactional resources that the learner has heard/used/experienced in previous interactions that he can then build on later. Thus, in this line of research a study of language learning "has to account for the development of interactional skills, and interactional resources in a wider sense" (BROUWER & WAGNER, 2004, p.32). To overcome some of the problems with a traditional CA approach to SLA, namely the interest in learning practices, researchers have, as mentioned above (Section 2), suggested longitudinal studies of language learning in naturalistic contexts (BROUWER & WAGNER, 2004 and HELLERMAN, 2007). The point of such studies is that the character of learners' and participants' interaction change as they establish social relations as their "experiences in interactions may frame future encounters and create resources on which the participants can build" (BROUWER & WAGNER, 2004, p.41). Furthermore, learning is in my view somehow reached by the learning person in and through his/her repeated use of/reproduction of verbal actions in comparable local contexts with native speakers. In other words, as opposed to a CA interest in "learning" (be it in terms process or progress) as an interactional phenomenon, namely for instance "doing learning" (BROUWER & HOUGAARD, forthcoming), this line of research seems to suggest that "doing is learning," i.e. that learning is an integral part of social actions. To put it in FIRTH and WAGNER's (2007) words:

"For although learning may or may not be a drawn-out process, it is certainly a process that takes place in the micromoments of social interaction in communities of practice. It is therefore critically important that we attempt to uncover and understand what goes on, interactionally, in such micromoments" (p.807). [5]

This research has presented analysis of examples that leaves no doubt that we as analysts and probably as participants as well (including the native speaker with whom the non-native speaker is interacting) can infer from the actions of the non-native speaker that s/he must have "learned" it. The problem from my CA perspective is that a) the participants do not orient to that aspect, i.e. they do not orient to the non-native speaker having "learned" or having made progress in what he had not "learned" in the previous interactions, and b) that analysts cannot capture, analyze and describe the process of "learning" as it unfolds if the participants do not orient to that process in one way or the other. We can, as mentioned above, infer that "learning" is taking place or has taken place, but we cannot capture the here-and-now of that process. However, the failure to capture the here-and-now of the learning process is problematic to CA as, of course, the here-and-now is at the core of any clear-cut CA analysis. There is to my mind no doubt that the CA focus and analytic discipline in describing the details of talk is helpful in describing how learners increase the interactional complexity or in discovering interactional resources that enable learners to participate in interactions. But, a central prerequisite for categorizing an analysis or finding a CA analysis/finding is left out in this line of thought, namely the participants' intersubjective understanding of, i.e. their co-orientation towards an increasing interactional complexity. Instead learning is conceptualized as an epi-phenomenon of social interaction: the participants orient towards specific activities, like the opening of a telephone call, and as they do so, they learn. This may very well be so, but, in my view, an analysis of this is simply not a CA analysis of learning (processes) of (and/or progression in) language. CA is faithful to the participants' own understanding of their interactional activities. Thus, CA can only describe what is in some ways "obvious" to the participants and thus to the analysts. Therefore, the suitability of applying CA as a method for studying "learning" and shedding light on what SLA seems to be interested in general is not obvious. [6]

4. Legitimate Peripheral Learning as a Framework for CA-for-SLA

As mentioned in the introduction above, researchers in the line of SLA studies that are in focus here have suggested that LPP be introduced to the field as the overall theory of learning (as have other SLA researchers, see Modern Language Journal, 88[4], special issue). The view of learning in this line of SLA research is the same as the one in LPP; "learning" is understood as "an integral and inseparable aspect of general social practices in the lived-in world" (LAVE & WENGER, 1991, p.35). [7]

LPP also conceptualizes "learning" as a social process, or to put it in HANKS' (cited in LAVE & WENGER, 1991) words: "This central concept denotes the particular mode of engagement of a learner who participates in the actual practice of an expert, but only to a limited degree and with limited responsibility for the ultimate product as a whole" (1991, p.14). [8]

However, resorting to this theory in order to overcome the problems in applying CA analysis of interactional phenomena with the ultimate aim of capturing "learning" defined as a developmental concept or as the ability to reproduce and/or re-understand an action and/or utterance X without assistance in future situations, does not seem to help much. On the contrary, it adds a layer of complexity to the ones just mentioned above. In the subsequent sections, I will treat some of these problems further. These are the theory's pre-defined membership category (4.1), its focus on the individual (4.2), and its notion of replacement (4.3). [9]

4.1 Community of practice—a pre-defined membership category

According to LPP, "learning" is situated in "Communities of Practice."5) The concept of community of practice is, as LAVE and WENGER note, "left largely as an intuitive notion" (1991, p.42) since being members of a such a community is defined as implying "participation in an activity system about which participants share understandings concerning what they are doing and what that means in their lives and for their communities" (p.98). [10]

In LAVE and WENGER's monograph, however, the theory of LPP more specifically grows out of a description of apprenticeship in five communities of practice, namely a community of 1) midwives, 2) tailors, 3) quartermasters, 4) butchers and 5) alcoholics in recovery. Central to LLP in these communities is that there is very little observable teaching; "the more basic phenomenon is learning" (LAVE & WENGER, 1991 p.92). The learning activity in itself seems to be characterized by a specific pattern:

"There are strong goals for learning because learners, as peripheral participants, can develop a view of what the whole enterprise is about, and what there is to be learned. Learning itself is an improvised practice; a learning curriculum unfolds in opportunities for engagement in practice. It is not specified as a set of dictates for proper practice" (1991, p.93; italics added). [11]

The theory does not hold that apprentices are supposed to acquire practices through observation and imitation instead it suggests that, apart from observation, participation is crucial as a way of learning "of both absorbing and being absorbed in—the culture of practice" (LAVE & WENGER, 1991, p.95). Moreover, the product of this participation is a contribution to an overall product that "the community" is about to produce, like for instance daughters of Maya midwifes who participate in midwifery practice as they get needed supplies, or Vai and Gola tailor apprentices who start their learning process with pressing clothes. [12]

Apprentices thus gradually assemble a general idea of what constitutes the practice of the community. This might include "who is involved; what they do; what everyday life is like; how masters talk, walk, work, and generally conduct their lives; how people who are not part of the community of practice interact with it; what other learners are doing; and what learners need to learn to become full practitioners. It includes an increasing understanding of how, when, and over what old-timers collaborate, collude, and collide, and what they enjoy, dislike, respect, and admire. In particular, it offers exemplars (which are grounds and motivation for learning activity), including masters, finished products, and more advanced apprentices in the process of becoming full practitioners" (LAVE & WENGER, 1991, p.95). Access to the shared knowledge, i.e. the social life, of the communities of practice is thus crucial to legitimate peripheral participation. [13]

Notions such as "Communities of Practice" are necessarily intuitive if one seeks to define them a priori as do LAVE and WENGER. The ethnomethodological program (EM) that CA emerged as an offshoot of and CA itself seek to avoid such a priori categorizations. Instead, EM/CA researchers study how, when, and why social categories are introduced, (re)established and thus oriented to in interaction. In other words, focus is on how participants in interaction categorize the world around them, including, for example, present and distant persons (see SACKS, 1967, 1972a, 1972b, 1979; ANTAKI & WIDDICOMBE, 1998; BAKER, 1997; EGLIN & HESTER, 1992, 1999; HOUSLEY & FITZGERALD, 2002; WOOFFITT & CLARK, 1998) and pursue, for example, the relevance-making of categories based on gender (see EGLIN, 2002), culture (see BAKER, 2000 and HESTER & EGLIN, 1997) and national identity (see DAY, 1994; HESTER & HOUSLEY, 2002 and HOUGAARD, 2008). [14]

To EM/CA social reality is a reality of communicative relationships. Intersubjective understandings are what constitute this reality and such understandings are in COULTER's (1979, p.20) words "facilitated by commonsense knowledge and reasoning with their normative features." The notion of social is thus far from being analytically intuitive. Social is what participants in interactions are or rather do as they strive to achieve and accomplish an intersubjective understanding of their worlds. A common understanding of the world is thus an interactional accomplishment and so are the methods and practices in and through which participants make themselves understandable to one another. As for membership within a specific social group the focus of an EM/CA analysis is on the actions and methods in and through which the participants (midwifes, tailors, quartermasters, butchers, and non-drinking alcoholics) in interaction intersubjectively define themselves as members of that category and others as non-members (or not-yet-members). [15]

Without a doubt, language is one of the resources being used by participants in interaction to achieve membership. Isolating that resource can only be of interest to an EM/CA study if the focus remains on how participants in interaction categorize one another as being members of the group of people who make use of that resource (among others) to make themselves intersubjectively understandable in contrast to the others (see for instance GUMPERZ, 1982), including members of the community currently being ratified (and by the way language remains an integral part of doing that kind of social interactional work). This does not, however, seem to be what the research field in the social and developmental process of SLA or rather Second Language Learning (SLL) in non-institutional environments suggests in applying the theory of LPP to SLL. In its application to second language learning a community of practice can, in my view, only be understood as a community of speakers of a specific language, that is a speech community,—the scope of a speech community remains though undefined.6) [16]

It should be noted that LPP is not a theory of language learning. Language plays a role in LPP not as newcomers' resources for learning from talk about the communities of practice but as a resource in learning to talk within it. To put it in LAVE and WENGER's words "learning to become a legitimate participant in a community involves learning how to talk (and be silent) in the manner of full participants" (1991, p.105). Learning how to talk (and be silent) is—as the language in that process—an integral part in the process of learning a community's social practices. In applying LPP to second language learning, this research in this line of argumentation detaches, however, actual language learning from its "natural context of learning a social practice," i.e. a social activity, as it aims at focusing on language learning as a specific element in an overall learning process. [17]

4.2 Focus on the individual

An LPP analysis insists on starting with social practice of that community, on taking participation to be the crucial process, and on including the social world of the learning person, but at the same time it suggests a "very explicit focus on the person" (LAVE & WENGER, 1991,p.52). This is contrary to a traditional CA analytical focus: here focus is not only on interactionally engaged participants' orientation to their common social worlds (including a social reality in which the participants speak different native languages) but CA also places analytical focus on the context oriented to and renewed in interaction in such a way that the person, as such, becomes almost uninteresting to the analysis:

"So when a little group or conversational cluster breaks up—like the one composing the present interview occasion—each of the embodied named individuals who composed it will be taken to continue to exist, even if not accessible to perception, but the group that has (as we say) "dissolved" is taken not to continue to exist. The episodic setting, the little interaction system, as Goffman might have called it, is taken not to have perduring reality. But, as Goffman (1967:3) conveyed in his telling contrast between "men and their moments" on the one hand and "the moments and their men" on the other, there is an alternative way of conceiving matters. We can understand "the situation" as the reality, and the individuals who happen to compose the situation on any particular occasion as what is transient." (SCHEGLOFF, 2003, p.38)7) [18]

So, analytic focus should be on participants' actions as they emerge in interaction from the previous local context and renew the context for subsequent actions. It is in and through these emerging actions that participants orient towards, (re)produce, or (re)establish their social reality. Further, the social reality is co-(re)produced and co-oriented to in and through participants' actions, so that the relevance-making of that reality, and thus the intersubjective understanding thereof, is an interactional achievement. The social reality and the social context of "masters" or "native speakers" is in other words not something that you, the "learner," walk in and out of on your own accord. The individual (in interaction) is constantly a part of, a co-producer of, a co-orienter to, and a co-achiever of the social context of the here-and-now of their interaction. [19]

4.3 Replacement

A Community of Practice is a social world that is constituted dialectically in social practices that are in the process of reproduction, transformation, and change. In being engaged in reproducing itself, the community gives newcomers access to the knowledge of that community. There is thus a fundamental contradiction in the meaning to newcomers and old-timers of increasing participation of the former; not only is successful (re)production achieved in and through the actions of the learning newcomers, the successful (re)production of a community of practice (i.e. of its own future) also implies the replacement of old-timers (LAVE & WENGER, 1991, p.57) by newcomers and their new ways of practicing whatever a given community practices. [20]

The usefulness of applying this insight to the suggested processes of becoming a member of a language community is dubious: Adults learning for instance Danish as an additional language are very unlikely to become full members of a community of native speakers of Danish and be treated as such. In other words, it is questionable if they will reach a level of "native competence" in the language to be "learned." It is thus very unlikely that they will be considered full members of such a language community and be treated accordingly8). One way in which they would not be considered as full members of the community is that they (typically) would not have the role of "oldtimers" in relation to the socialization of subsequential "newcomers" to the community, specifically children, to the extent that native speakers would have that role. [21]

The adults learning an additional language are thus hardly seen as challenging the status of the natives/old-timers and are consequently—at least not in this sense—seen as a threat to the community of Danish native speakers. If this is relevant to participants in native-non-native interaction, an EM/CA analysis would of course focus on the participants' orientation to that tension of replacement, that is, their intersubjective understanding hereof and the methods and techniques used by the participants in interaction to accomplish such an understanding. [22]

4.3.1 Excursion: Is language learning a social matter of everyday interaction?

Conceptualizing learning as doing-is-learning opens up new avenues for investigating learning phenomena. So, instead of finding communities of practices, like for instance language-learning/teaching-communities (as do for instance YOUNG & MILLER, 2004 and MONDADA & DOEHLER, 2004), that is, communities of schools and students of various kinds,9) researchers in language learning in (non-institutional) everyday life suggest as mentioned above to drag learning and teaching out of the class rooms and as a matter of fact out of the communities of language learners (i.e. students) (see especially FIRTH & WAGNER, 2007) into the everyday social life of ordinary people. It should be noted that "ordinary people" is understood as "ordinary adults learning an additional language." However, language learning is rarely occasioned in interactions among members of, for instance, the social world of international business—that is of course if one takes a (my) CA approach to the analysis of learning (i.e. learning (in terms of processes or of progress) as an interactional phenomenon). [23]

Research in native-nonnative everyday conversations has shown that participants have endless opportunities for correcting the language of non-native speakers but that they normally do not do so (BROUWER, RASMUSSEN & WAGNER, 2004; RASMUSSEN & WAGNER, 2002). Instead of correcting the linguistic deviations of non-native speakers—which only happens rarely—native speakers normalize such deviations (RASMUSSEN, 1998, 2000) or when absolutely necessary for securing intersubjectivity, native speakers embed their corrections of non-native constructions in their subsequent actions (BROUWER, RASMUSSEN & WAGNER, 2004). In general, participants in everyday interaction rarely orient towards the learning aspects of their actions; they are seldom concerned with corrections and they hardly ever deal directly and overtly with language learning processes or language progress. Thus, language learning in everyday interactions seems overwhelmingly to be not a social matter—in the sense that language learning is dealt with interactionally. Instead language learning seems to be the nonnative speakers' private business. [24]

Language learning and/or teaching thus is obviously a delicate social matter to the adult participants who are fully competent social members of "communities of practice" such as the international community of business people or as mothers and teachers. The social delicacy and thus the private business of learning an additional language seems also to be supported by NORTON (2000), who from a different analytic angle documents that learning opportunities in naturalistic contexts are not given. In fact she argues that achieving legitimacy as a group member in the sense of becoming somebody who is "worth to speak and listen to" is a battle. In her study NORTON argues that some of the difficulties of becoming a member of communities of practice is due to the situation that immigrants find themselves in, i.e. needing the language in order to communicate while needing to communicate in order to learn the language, whilst all the time their interlocutors were judging their ability to communicate. [25]

In summary, in studying (non-institutional, everyday) interaction between non-native and native adults, no evidence has been found that the interlocutors orient to language "learning" as a social matter. Neither by the way that language "learning" is organized in terms of a community of practice nor that the "learning" of social interactional/linguistic practices is understood in terms of legitimate peripheral participation. [26]

BROUWER and WAGNER (2004) point out several limitations and problems with applying the theory of LPP to SLL. Some of these concern the LPP notion of "community of practice" and methodological issues too. However, such issues not only put constraints on the degree to which the theory may be applied, as this research area seems to suggest, they may ultimately constitute the reasons why it should not or cannot be applied at all. The limitations may invoke an analysis at the level at which X seems to be like Y. X is however not Y and if X is what we're after, its analysis should then be approached in a different way to capture, describe and analyze it (and its features) in its own terms. When trying to find a path from hypotheses of the "learning" of social practices in communities of practice, as described by LAVE and WENGER (1991), to CA work on encounters with adults "learning" an additional language in naturalistic environments in everyday life, jumping from one to the other, we may undermine the hypotheses, descriptions and analysis of both LPP and CA. [27]

5. Conclusion

Research interests within LPP and CA (for-SLA) are not necessarily compatible, neither are the assumptions of the respective paradigms. Similarly, it is not unproblematic to combine research interests of CA and a line within CA-for-SLA research that focus on "learning" as an integral part of social actions in everyday life—for different reasons. First, while language to CA plays an integral part in the enactment of social activities—learning among others—, LPP applied to CA (for-SLA) isolates language even if language is understood as "interactional resources." Second, where CA research interests in "learning" consider "learning" as a situated activity in local contexts oriented to by all participants, LPP applied to CA (for-SLA) places focus on "learning" as an integral part of the doing of verbal actions in interaction. Thus "learning" needs in this line of research not to be oriented to by the participants. Third, where CA aims at understanding the co-produced and intersubjectively understood context, i.e. the situation as the enduring reality, LPP applied to CA (for-SLA) focuses on the person involved in such contexts, i.e. the learner of an additional language. Furthermore, analyses of interactions in everyday life (in non-institutional naturalistic contexts), that is outside educational environments have shown so far that the participants’ on-going business of interaction is communication and not learning (BROUWER, RASMUSSEN & WAGNER, 2004). [28]

It may be claimed that there may be opportunities for language "learning," but if so this seems to be a delicate matter to the participants. Language learning and/or teaching in everyday life is thus not an ordinary social activity in which ordinary adults are engaged. Participants thus seem to omit language teaching and/or learning as "a social activity" and they seem to orient to language "learning" (be it in terms of process or in terms of progress) as the learner's private business. "Learning" is in this line of CA research understood as "participants' (lay) understanding of 'learning'." This interest however, runs counter to the interests of (CA-for-) SLA as described in this article. The interest of the latter though runs from my perspective counter to what can be described through CA: CA is very successful in describing participants' oriented-to activities and the use of second languages, but CA does not seem to be suitable for capturing processes of language "learning" or the development of interactional skills as an (not oriented to) integral part of social practices. In no way does an application of yet another theory like LPP to CA-for-SLA elaborate the latter in such a way that actual learning processes can be captured. CA is a method for describing participants' "visible" oriented-to actions and activities, which means actions in and through which participants carry out activities that are "learning activities" to them. However, in order to describe learning activities, that is activities in and through which participants "improve (make progress in) their skills which make them able to manage future interactions," we may have to look at things that co-participants do not orient towards. So far, such studies are not in the interest of CA. Hence, researchers investigating “learning” may not gain the insights they are seeking if they apply CA to the language learning field. [29]


I thank two anonymous reviewers of FQS, Teresa CADIERNO, Dennis DAY, Anders R. HOUGAARD and Jakob STEENSIG for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. I take responsibility for any flaws in the paper.


1) See Applied Linguistics, special issue "Theory Construction in Language Acquisition (1993), Modern Language Journal, special issue (1997), and BLOCK (2003). <back>

2) Of course cognitive and social processes (including language) can also be understood as inseparable (BILLIG, 2006; EDWARDS & POTTER, 2005; HOUGAARD & HOUGAARD, in print; LYNCH, 2006); WOOFFITT, 2005) though this issue is not relevant here. Here CA will be discussed and, in general, CA researchers consider these aspects of interaction either as separable (DREW, 2005; HERITAGE, 2005; SCHEGLOFF, 1991) or cognition is taken to be of no relevance to the description of language behavior at all (COULTER, 2005; LYNCH, 2006; LYNCH & BOGEN, 2005). <back>

3) "Language" is—if dealt with at all—understood in terms of pragmatic speech acts (questions, answers, greetings, repairs, assessments). The construction hereof is understood to be governed by rules of grammars that are contextually defined (SCHEGLOFF, 1996). <back>

4) In our descriptions of, for instance, repair sequences dealing with language correctness, we have no clear criteria for differentiating between cases of reproduction, acknowledgment, and learning. Is repeating a corrected item orienting to "having learned"? Does the fact that a non-native speaker acknowledges an "other-"correction of his language used in a prior turn by native speaker indicate that s/he has now "learned" the right way of putting it? <back>

5) In current SLA research situated learning also encompasses classroom teaching/learning (see MONDADA & DOEHLER, 2004). In these works some of the problems discussed in this article, as for instance the category of community of practice may not be an issue at all. Only problems of using LPP as a framework for the study of language learning in (non-SLL-institutional) everyday life is addressed in this article. <back>

6) The discussion that such a category occasions within other current research areas, such as anthropology and sociolinguistic notions of language and culture, will not be treated in the present article. <back>

7) The focus on the context and the persons orienting towards them is, in my view, not to be understood as behaviorism in its approach (compare to COULTER, 2005). Rather, CA analysts' interests concern the sequences of talk and actions enacted by knowledgeable participants in interaction out of which other subsequent actions are likely to emerge. Of course the understanding of any action is to be worked out by the very same participants who, as a consequence of their knowledge, are able to describe, talk about and account for their actions. <back>

8) This is not the same as saying that non-natives are unlikely to be treated as full members of the Danish society or other social communities in the Danish society though there undoubtedly is a relation between the two aspects. <back>

9) Communities of schools and students can in some ways be compared to the communities of practice in LAVE and WENGER. The former as well as the latter not only produce certain activities but also give others access to its knowledge and have an interest in giving that access as this is the only way the community can survive. <back>


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Gitte Rasmussen HOUGAARD is employed as an Associate Professor at the Institute of Language and Communication. She is director of the Research Center for Social Practices and Cognition (SoPraCon). Her research interests are ethnomethodological and conversation analytic studies of everyday life, interaction and cognition and institutional Interaction. Recent publications are:

Brouwer, Catherine E., Rasmussen, Gitte & Wagner, Johs (2004). Embedded corrections in second language talk. In Rod Gardner & Johs Wagner (Eds.), Second language conversations (pp.75-92). London: continuum.

Hougaard, Anders R. & Hougaard, Gitte R. (2007). Implications of cognitive metaphor and gesture studies to ethnomethodology and conversation analysis and vice versa. In Alan Cienki & Cornelia Müller (Eds.), Metaphor and gesture (pp.263-272). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Hougaard, Gitte R. (2008). Membershipping in international telephone conversations. Journal of Pragmatics, 40(2), 307-332.

Hougaard, Gitte R. (2008). "Mental spaces" and "blending" in "discourse" and "interaction". A response. In Anders R. Hougaard & Todd Oakley (Eds.), Mental space in discourse and interaction. Pragmatics and beyond (pp.247-250). Amsterdam: Benjamins.


Gitte Rasmussen Hougaard

University of Southern Denmark
Language and Communication
Campusvej 55
DK 5230 Odense M

Tel. +45 65503116, Fax +45 65932483
Tel. (Home) +45 66140199

E-mail: gitter@language.sdu.dk


Rasmussen Hougaard, Gitte (2009). Legitimate Peripheral Participation as a Framework for Conversation Analytic Work in Second Language Learning [29 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(2), Art. 4, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs090247.

Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research (FQS)

ISSN 1438-5627

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