5.4 Sequences & categories together

We now have two basic resources that participants draw upon to make sense of one another’s actions that we can also draw upon to describe their actions: categorisations and the sequencing of actions. As you might already have been thinking, both these aspects of our audio-visually available courses of action inform our analysis of what is happening. They are reflexively tied one another and mutually constitutive. When we are trying to describe what is happening in any particular video recording, what is often easier, is to begin with one or the other.

Video 1

In Video 1 we have already noted that we have customers and staff, and that the customers have arrived at the counter, and that we expect to see them pay for their food and drink (which they do). What we also see, though, is them approaching the counter as a 'together' rather than as two 'singles'. The customer in red and on the right has her purse out and the customer in black is buttoning up her jacket. When the staff then respond to their arrival, something subtle does happens, as the waitress then queries them as to whether they 'want to pay separately or…'

In response we see the customers look at one another, the customer in red pausing for a moment until the customer black responds. It's subtle because the customer in red, having pulled her wallet out, might be seen as offering to pay for both and, equally, the customers themselves haven't discussed whether to pay together before the question is asked. It may be that customer in black can give the exact money to the customer in red or cannot - that remains to be made available to the customers (and staff).

What we are witnessing here then is the transformation from having coffee together to how that together is paid for. The sequential progress from one action to the next makes other categorisations relevant such as generosity because red could treat black to a coffee.

But wait: part of the problem for the customers as to what should happen next has been triggered by the waitress and her two quick- fire questions (the bill and paying separately). The customers may not be only orienting toward the relevance of treating one another but also what the cafe staff might prefer. Paying together is seen as the preferred option for cafes and restaurants because they only do one transaction and deal with giving change once rather than twice (or however many are in a group in a cafe). The subtle thing that has happened is that by asking 'separately or…' the waitress is setting up separate payment as acceptable in this cafe. By offering it as an explicit option she makes it clear that is acceptable (where not mentioning it would hint that it is otherwise).

We can then start to understand the exchange of looks between the customers as coming a to joint decision about paying separately but also making is visual and audible for the waitress that they have done so. That she has seen and heard this is confirmed both by the waitress saying 'yep' and turning to total their orders on the till. In sum, then, the categorisation of the customers as singles or together is being worked out sequentially.