Chapter 10. Requesting and receiving advice on the telephone: An analysis of telephone helplines in Australia

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This chapter provides an overview of research which has been carried out on the social organization of advice-seeking and advice-giving on telephone helplines. The methodological orientation for these studies comes from Conversation Analysis (CA) and involves the detailed examination of transcripts of actual calls made to a number of helplines based in Australia. The defining feature of helpline interaction is that advice, help or support is provided in real time over the telephone, rather than via the dispatch of some third party such as the police, ambulance or other emergency service. Drawing on the studies of advice-giving in face to face contexts in both everyday and institutional settings, a number of research agendas have emerged, documenting how the provision of real-time advice is accomplished and the constraints faced by call takers as a consequence of the institutional mandates which characterise different helplines. Advice-giving is seen as entailing both normativity (actions/courses of conduct which should be taken are prescribed) and asymmetry (to the extent that the advice-giver is projected as more knowledgeable than the advice-recipient). The chapter reviews these, and other interactional helpline phenomena, and reflects on their significance for advancing our understanding of advice-giving in contemporary society.


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