How to do things with requests

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Requests for food and other things at the family dinner table generally run off smoothly, without “breaking the surface” of interaction. That is, in an environment of multiple concurrent involvements (Lerner and Raymond, 2014), requesting and fulfilling requests for food or other things usually only momentarily suspends or delays the progressivity of other concurrent activities.This conversation analytic study examines requests in which interactants do “more” than just requesting. Drawing on videotaped holiday dinners of nine families in the Northeastern United States, 91 requests (principally for food) were collected. I show how at each position in the unfolding of a request sequence, opportunities may be taken to implement some other action. That is, requests may be formulated in such a way as to do more than requesting (e.g. they may enact impatience, implement a complaint about the requested item, or treat an interlocutor as noncompliant). Responses to requests may be produced in such a way as to do more than fulfilling the request (e.g. they may enact attentiveness, critique being asked for the item, teach proper norms of conduct, or even perform a “tit for tat”). In third position also, appreciations or acknowledgements of fulfilled requests may do more than appreciating or acknowledging (e.g. they may be designed to acknowledge an impropriety in the fulfilling of the request). Findings indicate how the formulation, fulfillment and acknowledgement of requests may provide a structure through which norms of food consumption and distribution, family relationships and personhood may be enacted and negotiated.


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