"Actually I Was the Star": Managing Attributions in Conversation

  • Sara-Jane Finlay University of Toronto
  • Guy Faulkner University of Toronto
Keywords: attributions, conversation analysis, sport, discursive psychology


In this paper, we outline the parameters of a discursive approach to attributions in sport psychology. Attribution theory has had a strong presence within sport and exercise psychology. Attributions are the perceived causes or reasons that people give for an occurrence related to themselves or others. An attributional model, developed in educational psychology, has been most influential and often requires the researcher(s) or participants to determine the dimensional categorisation of attributions (e.g., internal-external, stable-unstable, controllable-uncontrollable). Assessing attributions in sport and exercise psychology has been almost exclusively through self-report questionnaires and entrenched within a limited theoretical perspective. In contrast, a discursive approach focuses on discourse and what is accomplished through people's talk. Such an approach would advocate a move from a view of talk (discourse) as a route to internal or dimensional categories to an emphasis on talk as the event of interest. Using principles of conversation analysis (CA), a critical examination of the traditional conceptualisation of attributions will be offered in this paper. Drawing on a corpus of data where athletes discuss their sporting performance, we consider the management of attributions as talk-in-action, rather than a series of discrete cognitive elements and dimensions. To illustrate the way that attributions are managed in conversation, we consider three areas—asking questions about loss, the interactional modesty inherent in discussing wins and the "slipperiness" of attributions in conversation. Finally, the implications of a discursive approach to the study of attributions in sport and exercise psychology are discussed. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs030133


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Author Biographies

Sara-Jane Finlay, University of Toronto
Dr Sara-Jane FINLAY is a Senior Lecturer in Media with Cultural Studies and is Course Leader for the MA in Media at Southampton Institute. As of February 1st 2003, she will be Head of Media Studies at the College of St. Mark and St. John, Plymouth. As well as an interest in methodological issues, her research considers the construction of sexual personas and the negotiation of political identity in culture.
Guy Faulkner, University of Toronto
Dr. Guy FAULKNER is a Lecturer in Exercise and Sport Psychology at Exeter University, UK. Guy's research interests lie primarily within the field of physical activity and psychological well-being. He is also interested in qualitative research. In particular, the use of ethnographic techniques, and conversation analysis are of interest.
How to Cite
Finlay, S.-J., & Faulkner, G. (2003). "Actually I Was the Star": Managing Attributions in Conversation. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-4.1.745