5.8 Paired Actions

Central to what we are trying to learn to do in looking at video is to avoid treating actions in isolation. We do not want to say simply that the customer with her buggy found a seat in the cafe. We want to break her accomplishments into the sequence of actions that made it up and in doing so trace out what some of those actions got in response from other customers and vice versa.

Having briefly examined how the man at the table mad available his response to the arrival of the woman with the buggy, let’s move on to the woman who is also sitting quietly drinking coffee and reading her newspaper.

Q: What does she do in relation to the arrival of the woman with the buggy?

Customer 2 also produces the same shift of gaze from the customer to her buggy with the accompanying extended smile. A smile that then also expresses her acceptance and welcome of the baby. Her feelings about the baby’s proximity to her quiet morning coffee are then also made publicly available for Customer 3.

It often pays analytic dividends to track back to earlier in courses of action to see how events emerge.

Q: What pair of actions do we have here and what would be the preferred second pair part in response to the first pair part?

On seeing Customer 2’s looking up, Customer 3 makes a request to sit nearby her and 2 accepts her request. A request is paired to two expected responses: acceptance or refusal. In fact, there is a little more to the relationship between these pairs of actions. One response is preferred over another. If the dispreferred responses is coming it is usually marked by a noticeable delay or an elaborate account ( something like 'well, ehm, actually a friend is joining me later') As members of the same society as these cafe-goers, we know that the acceptance is preferred over a refusal.

With the preference for acceptance in mind we can turn to Customer 2 producing a high graded acceptance, not merely ‘okay’ but ‘absolutely’. A first thing it does is recognises what customer 3 has said as a request. With remarkable economy, it not only accepts but also makes it clear that there really is no problem whatsoever.

Q: Why might such a high grade acceptance be made by the sitting customer?

One thing you might have done is turned away from the local circumstances and our recording to bring in rules about politeness in public places. That in itself is an interesting line to pursue. We can though also consider the format of the request that generated ‘absolutely’. Again we will use our counter-factual trick to swap ‘is it all right if I sit here’, to ‘do you mind if I sit here’, ‘ ‘is this seat free?’ or indeed to saying nothing at all but simply sitting down. Each of these preceding actions do slightly different things and project slightly different responses, not least that none of them can be replied to with ‘absolutely’.