Misunderstandings, communicative expectations and resources in illness narratives: Insights from beyond interview transcripts

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Interactional misunderstandings in interviews are often glossed over in analysing narratives, so overlooking important clues about how interactants frame the interview discussion. Such misunderstandings will influence ongoing talk, shaping knowledge researchers produce about participants. We discuss whether interpretations of illness narratives may be enhanced if we analyse misunderstandings in conjunction with other contextually-available data not visible within interview transcripts. Using research interviews with people with asthma, we adopted linguistic ethnographic methods to analyse the manifestation and specific consequences of interactional tensions and misunderstandings between interviewer and interviewee. Misunderstandings can indicate inequalities in communicative expectations and discursive resources available to interactants, which may lead to participants’ talk being inappropriately identified as indicating a particular narrative. Incorporating ethnographic contextual features may make visible pertinent discourses not overtly evident within interviews. This may help theorise interview talk, like health and illness narratives, as manifesting within cycles of discourse that will intersect differently in each interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-163
Number of pages11
JournalCommunication and Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • context
  • discourse
  • illness narratives
  • linguistic ethnography
  • misunderstandings
  • research interviews

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