Andrea Rodriguez
Table of contents

Troubles and their management constitute an underlying component in how human relationships and society are formed and maintained. People spend a considerable amount of time in interaction dealing with internally perceived issues through a wide range of social actions that ultimately lead to problem-solving and bonding (Drew 1998). Examples of social actions subsumed under the umbrella term “troubles-talk” include criticism, complaints, accusations, blamings, and denunciations. Among them, complaints are considered most complex as they may take various courses of action depending on how interlocutors position themselves in relation to the complainable matter, the co-interactant, and the context. Research has demonstrated that different participation frameworks (direct or indirect), contexts (institutional, casual, online talk), and relationships ([a-]symmetrical, close/distant) constrain the way in which interactants introduce, develop, and close complaints. However, while various dimensions and pragmatic features of complaining have been explored separately, a systematic synthesis that delves into these multiple layers to capture its complexity is much needed. Therefore, taking a discursive-pragmatic perspective, this chapter aims to provide a concise overview of research on the interactional dimension of naturally occurring complaints.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price.


Acuña Ferreira, Virginia
2004 “Complaint stories in male contexts: The power of emotions.” Spanish in Context 1 (2): 181–213. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2021 “The construction of future and hypothetical dialogues in third-party complaints as enactments of a subsequent direct complaint.” Journal of Pragmatics 181: 68–79. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Atkinson, Maxwell J., and Paul Drew
1979Order in Court: The Organisation of Verbal Interaction in Judicial Settings. Macmillan: Social Science Research Council. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Barraja-Rohan, Anne-Marie
2003 “Past troubles-talk in nonnative–native interviews.” Journal of Pragmatics 35 (4): 615–629. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Boxer, Diana
1993 “Social distance and speech behavior: The case of indirect complaints.” Journal of Pragmatics 19 (2): 103–125. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Brown, Penelope, and Stephen C. Levinson
1987Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Cenni, Irene, and Patrick Goethals
2017 “Negative hotel reviews on TripAdvisor: A cross-linguistic analysis.” Discourse, Context & Media 16: 22–30. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth
2012 “Exploring affiliation in the reception of conversational complaint stories.” In Emotion in Interaction, ed. by Anssi Peräkylä and Marja-Leena Sorjonen, 113–146. New York: Oxford University Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Dayter, Daria, and Sofia Rüdiger
2014 “ ‘Speak your mind, but watch your mouth’: Complaints in CouchSurfing references.” In Face Work and Social Media, ed. by Kristina Bedijs, Gudrun Held, and Christiane Maaß, 193–212. Münster: LIT Verlag.Google Scholar
Decock, Sofie, and Anneleen Spiessens
2017a “Customer complaints and disagreements in a multilingual business environment: A discursive-pragmatic analysis.” Intercultural Pragmatics 14 (1): 77–115. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2017b “Face-threatening e-mail complaint negotiation in a multilingual business environment: A discursive analysis of refusal and disagreement strategies.” In Current Issues in Intercultural Pragmatics, ed. by Istvan Kecskes and Stavros Assimakopoulos, 129–156. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Decock, Sofie, and Ilse Depraetere
2018 “(In)directness and complaints: A reassessment.” Journal of Pragmatics 132: 33–46. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Depraetere, Ilse, Sofie Decock, and Nicolas Ruytenbeek
2021 “Linguistic (in)directness in twitter complaints: A contrastive analysis of railway complaint interactions.” Journal of Pragmatics 171: 215–233. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Dersley, Ian, and Anthony Wootton
2000 “Complaint sequences within antagonistic argument.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 33 (4): 375–406. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Drew, Paul
1998 “Complaints about transgressions and misconduct.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 31 (3–4): 295–325. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Drew, Paul, and Holt, Elizabeth
1988 “Complainable matters: The use of idiomatic expressions in making complaints.” Social Problems 35 (4): 398–417. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Drew, Paul, and Traci Walker
2009 “Going too far: Complaining, escalating and disaffiliation.” Journal of Pragmatics 41 (12): 2400–2414. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Dynel, Marta
2017a “But seriously: On conversational humour and (un)truthfulness.” Lingua, 197: 83–102. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2017b “Participation as audience design.” In Pragmatics of Social Media, ed. by Christian R. Hoffman and Wolfram Bublitz, 61–82. Berlin: De Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Edwards, Derek
2005 “Moaning, whinging and laughing: The subjective side of complaints.” Discourse Studies 7 (1): 5–29. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Emerson, Robert M., and Sheldon L. Messinger
1977 “The micro-politics of trouble.” Social Problems 25 (2): 121–134. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Feo, Rebecca, and Amanda LeCouteur
2017 “Dealing with third-party complaints on a men’s relationship-counselling helpline.” Discourse Studies 19 (2): 131–147. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Flint, Natalie, Michael Haugh, and Andrew John Merrison
2019 “Modulating troubles affiliating in initial interactions.” Pragmatics 29 (3): 384–409. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Goffman, Erving
1981 “Footing.” In Forms of talk, 124–159. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
Haakana, Markku
2006 “Reported thought in complaint stories.” In Reporting Talk: Reported Speech in Interaction, ed. by Elizabeth Holt and Rebecca Clift, 150–178. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Haugh, Michael
2016 “Jocular language play, social action and (dis)affiliation in conversational interaction.” In Multiple Perspectives on Language Play, ed. by Nancy Bell, 143–168. Berlin: De Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Haugh, Michael, and Valeria Sinkeviciute
2018 “Accusations and interpersonal conflict in televised multi-party interactions amongst speakers of (Argentinian and Peninsular) Spanish.” Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict 6 (2): 248–270. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Heinemann, Trine
2009 “Participation and exclusion in third party complaints.” Journal of Pragmatics 41 (12): 2435–2451. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Heinemann, Trine, and Véronique Traverso
2009 “Complaining in interaction.” Journal of Pragmatics 41 (12): 2381–2384. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Heritage, John
1984 “A change-of-state token and aspects of its sequential placement.” In Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. by J. Maxwell Atkinson and John Heritage, 299–345. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Hernández-López, María de la O.
2022 “When travellers’ expectations are not met: Rapport management in Airbnb online consumer reviews with negative valence.” Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict 10 (2): 241–268. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Holt, Elizabeth
2012 “Using laugh responses to defuse complaints.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 45 (4): 430–448. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
House, Juliane, and Gabriele Kasper
1981 “Politeness markers in English and German.” In Conversational Routine: Explorations in Standardized Communication Situations and Prepatterned Speech, ed. by Florian Coulmas, 157–185. New York: Mouton. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Jansson, Gunilla, Cecilia Wadensjö, and Charlotta Plejert
2017 “Managing complaints in multilingual care encounters.” Multilingua 36 (3): 313–345. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Jayyusi, Lena
1984Categorization and Moral Order. Boston: Routledge.Google Scholar
Jefferson, Gail
1980 “On ‘trouble-premonitory’ response to inquiry.” Sociological Inquiry 50 (3–4): 153–185. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1988 “On the sequential organization of troubles-talk in ordinary conversation.” Social Problems 35 (4): 418–441. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2004 “Glossary of transcript symbols with an introduction.” In Conversation analysis: Studies from the first generation, ed. by Gene H. Lerner, 13–31. Amsterdam: Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Konakahara, Mayu
2017 “Interactional management of face-threatening acts in casual ELF conversation: An analysis of third-party complaint sequences.” Journal of English as a Lingua Franca 6 (2): 313–343. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Kurtyka, Andrzej
2019 “I complain, therefore I am: On indirect complaints in Polish.” Journal of Pragmatics 153: 34–45. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Laforest, Marty
2002 “Scenes of family life: Complaining in everyday conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 34 (10): 1595–1620. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2009 “Complaining in front of a witness: Aspects of blaming others for their behaviour in multi-party family interactions.” Journal of Pragmatics 41 (12): 2452–2464. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Liu, Ping, and Huiying Liu
2021 “Salience adjusting: Metapragmatic expressions in complaint responses.” Journal of Pragmatics 176: 150–163. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Mandelbaum, Jenny
1991 “Conversational non-cooperation: An exploration of disattended complaints.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 25 (1–4): 97–138. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Márquez Reiter, Rosina
2005 “Complaint calls to a caregiver service company: The case of desahogo .” Intercultural Pragmatics 2 (4): 481–514.Google Scholar
2013 “The dynamics of complaining in a Latin American for-profit commercial setting.” Journal of Pragmatics 57: 231–247. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Márquez Reiter, Rosina, Sara Orthaber, and Dániel Z. Kádár
2015 “Disattending customer dissatisfaction on Facebook: A case study of a Slovenian public transport company.” In International Management and Intercultural Communication, ed. by Elizabeth Christopher, 108–126. London: Palgrave. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Márquez Reiter, Rosina, and Sara Orthaber
2018 “Exploring the moral compass.” Internet Pragmatics 1 (2): 241–270. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Maynard, Douglas W., and Pamela L. Hudak
2008 “Small talk, high stakes: Interactional disattentiveness in the context of prosocial doctor–patient interaction.” Language in Society 37 (5): 661–688. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Monzoni, Chiara M.
2008 “Introducing direct complaints through questions: The interactional achievement of pre-sequences?Discourse Studies 10 (1): 73–87. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2009 “Direct complaints in (Italian) calls to the ambulance: The use of negatively framed questions.” Journal of Pragmatics 41 (12): 2465–2478. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Ogden, Richard
2010 “Prosodic constructions in making complaints.” In Prosody in Interaction, ed. by Dagmar Barth-Weingarten, Elisabeth Reber, and Margret Selting, 81–104. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Orthaber, Sara, Rosina Márquez Reiter
2011 ““Talk to the hand”: Complaints to a public transport company.” Journal of Pragmatics 43 (15): 3860–3876. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Page, Ruth
2014 “Saying ‘sorry’: Corporate apologies posted on Twitter.” Journal of Pragmatics 62: 30–45. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Pino, Marco
2016 “Delivering criticism through anecdotes in interaction.” Discourse Studies 18 (6): 695–715. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Pomerantz, Anita
1978 “Attributions of responsibility: Blamings.” Sociology 12: 115–121. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1984 “Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: Some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes.” In Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. by J. Maxwell Atkinson and John Heritage, 57–101. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
1986 “Extreme case formulations: A way of legitimizing claims.” Human Studies 9 (2–3): 219–229. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1988 “Offering a candidate answer: An information seeking strategy.” Communication Monographs 55 (4): 360–373. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Rääbis, Andriela, Tiit Hennoste, Andra Rumm, and Kirsi Laanesoo
2019 “They are so stupid, so stupid: Emotional affect in Estonian school-related complaints.” Journal of Pragmatics 153: 20–33. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Rodriguez, Andrea
2021 “ ‘Ay no I do feel exhausted’: Interactional co-construction and interpersonal management of complaints in Spanish phone conversations between friends and relatives. [Unpublished Master’s Thesis].” The University of Queensland.
2022 “ ‘Ay no I do feel exhausted’: Affiliative practices and interpersonal relationships in indirect complaints in Spanish.” Journal of Pragmatics 194: 39–53. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Ruusuvuori, Johanna, and Pirjo Lindfors
2009 “Complaining about previous treatment in health care settings.” Journal of Pragmatics 41 (12): 2415–2434. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Ruusuvuori, Johanna, Birte Asmuß, Pentti Henttonen, and Niklas Ravaja
2019 “Complaining about others at work.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 52 (1): 41–62. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Ruytenbeek, Nicolas, Marie Verschraegen, Sofie Decock
2021 “Exploring the impact of platforms’ affordances on the expression of negativity in online hotel reviews.” Journal of Pragmatics 186: 289–307.Google Scholar
Ruytenbeek, Nicolas, Sofie Decock, and Ilse Depraetere
In press. “Experiments into the influence of linguistic (in)directness on perceived face-threat in Twitter complaints.” Journal of Politeness Research. DOI logo
Sacks, Harvey
1992Lectures on conversation. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Schegloff, Emanuel A.
2005 “On complainability.” Social Problems 52 (4): 449–476. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Selting, Margret
2010 “Affectivity in conversational storytelling: An analysis of displays of anger or indignation in complaint stories.” Pragmatics 20 (2): 229–277.Google Scholar
2012 “Complaint stories and subsequent complaint stories with affect displays.” Journal of Pragmatics 44 (4): 387–415. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Sinkeviciute, Valeria
2020 “ ‘Hey BCC this is Australia and we speak and read English’: Monolingualism and othering in relation to linguistic diversity.” Intercultural Pragmatics 17 (5): 577–603. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Stokoe, Elizabeth
2009 “Doing actions with identity categories: Complaints and denials in neighbor disputes.” Text & Talk 29 (1): 75–97. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Stokoe, Elizabeth, and Derek Edwards
2007 “Black this, black that: Racial insults and reported speech in neighbour complaints and police interrogations.” Discourse & Society 18 (3): 337–372. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Ten Have, Paul
1991 “Talk and institution: A reconsideration of the ‘asymmetry’ of doctor-patient interaction.” In Talk and Social Structure: Studies in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis, ed. by Deirdre Boden and Don H. Zimmerman, 138–163. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Tereszkiewicz, Anna
2020 “Complaint management on Twitter: Evolution of interactional patterns on Polish corporate profiles.” Pragmatics 30 (3): 405–430. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2021 “Rejecting consumer complaints in customer encounters on Twitter: The case of English and Polish brand communication.” Journal of Politeness Research: Language, Behaviour, Culture 17 (2): 189–231. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Tong, Ying, and Chaoqun Xie
2022 “Complaining, teasing, and meme-framing: Socializing through Moments storytelling.” Internet Pragmatics 5: 66–91. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Traverso, Véronique
2009 “The dilemmas of third-party complaints in conversation between friends.” Journal of Pragmatics 41 (12): 2385–2399. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Trosborg, Anna
1995Interlanguage Pragmatics: Requests, Complaints and Apologies. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Van Herck, Rebecca, Sofie Decock, and Bernard De Clerck
2020 “ ‘Can you send us a PM please?’: Service recovery interactions on social media from the perspective of organizational legitimacy.” Discourse, Context & Media, 38: 1–15. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Vásquez, Camilla
2009 “Examining the role of face work in a workplace complaint narrative.” Narrative Inquiry 19 (2): 259–279. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2011 “Complaints online: The case of TripAdvisor.” Journal of Pragmatics 43 (6): 1707–1717. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Vladimirou, Dimitra, Juliane House, and Dániel Z. Kádár
2021 “Aggressive complaining on social media: The case of #MuckyMerton.” Journal of Pragmatics 177: 51–64. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Vöge, Monika
2010 “Local identity processes in business meetings displayed through laughter in complaint sequences.” Journal of Pragmatics 42 (6): 1556–1576. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Wagner, Santori, and Kristina B. Lewis
2021 “Third-party complaints in teacher post-observation meetings.” Journal of Pragmatics 178: 378–390. DOI logoGoogle Scholar