Displays of concession in university faculty meetings: Culture and interaction in Japanese

Scott Saft

Abstract

In light of the tendency in studies of Japanese discourse and communication to account for patterns of social interaction in terms of cultural concepts such as wa (“harmony”), omoiyari (“empathy”), and enryo (“restraint”), this report sets out to demonstrate how much of an endogenously produced, local achievement social interaction can be in Japanese. To do so, the techniques and principles of conversation analysis are employed to describe how a particular social action, the expression of concession to statements of opposition, is produced by participants in a set of Japanese university faculty meetings. Although it is suggested that the very direct and explicit design of the concession displays could be explained in terms of concepts such as wa and/or enryo, it is nonetheless argued that the interactional significance of this action can be best understood by undertaking a detailed, sequential analysis of the interaction. The analysis itself is divided into two parts: First it is demonstrated that the concessions are products of the participants’ close attendance to and monitoring of the details of the unfolding interaction; second it is shown that instead of turning to pre-determined cultural concepts to account for the trajectory of the interaction, it is possible to understand the concession displays by situating them within the flow of the interaction itself.

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