Hors-série 2016: Commentaires de Charles Goodwin

Présentation: Charles Goodwin, dont les travaux font l’objet d’une section du Hors-série 2016, prépare une série de commentaires, en réponse aux textes des quatre contributeurs du dossier (Louis Quéré, Chloé Mondémé, Maria Giulia Dondero et Luca Greco). Nous publions ci-dessous l’introduction de ces commentaires –  sous la forme de remarques générales sur le dossier adressées aux auteurs. Vous trouverez également sur cette page des extraits vidéo présentés par Charles Goodwin, en renfort des analyses développées dans le texte traduit dans le dossier. Le premier commentaire, en réaction au texte de Louis Quéré, « L’écologie sémiotique de Charles Goodwin », peut être consulté ici. Nous publierons successivement les différentes réponses, en espérant qu’elles appelleront d’autres commentaires, etc.: la discussion reste ouverte!


When I first had the opportunity to read what you all have written in this issue I almost had tears in my eyes. No one has ever understood or articulated my work, and what I have been trying to do throughout my career so well, or with such insight and clarity. I am in awe by the depth of understanding displayed in every contribution.

What you say is not only important to me, but also genuinely moving, in another way as well. I have assumed for many years that except for a small circle of colleagues, what I was trying to do and say was both not understood, and treated as peripheral to the predominant research in intersecting fields, a minor strand of “video analysis”. For example my earliest work on the interactive constitution of utterances, sentences and actors themselves though the collaborative work of talking speakers and embodied hearers, that is the dynamic organization of lived action itself, was reduced to a study of “gaze.” Therefore in the year I retire from the university (though not academic life and the incredible joys of substantive dialog with colleagues, of which this issue is a wonderful example) it is a most meaningful and moving gift to learn that I was not talking into the void, and that what I was saying and doing was not only heard, but understood in depth, and answered in ways that move our thinking together in new important directions.

I have, ever since I read your papers, been trying to construct an a meaningful answer to what you say. This is especially difficult because, instead of finding points of contention that might lead to productive new argument, I not only agree with just about everything you say, but am both incredibly thankful, and in awe of the depth and clarity of your understanding.

I will therefore pursue a dialog by making some quite inadequate comments on some of the things you say, without trying to provide a comprehensive reply to all that you say. Your own words need no elaboration, and the issues you raise could not be stated better.

A personal note. I lack solid training in any traditional academic discipline such as linguistics or sociology (though I did have the enormous privilege of being mentored by Gail Jefferson whose training was in dance, and who was unable to secure an appointment in an academic department). Essentially, I just record whatever people in their mundane activities are doing and try to figure out the practices they used to accomplish whatever that is. I have always been groping to try and understand what was happening in the rich materials I was working with. This required looking at diverse phenomena — language not as a linguistic system but as a form of social practice, different facets of the human body in action, the accomplishment of, and sometimes quest for, intelligibility (for example in aphasia as something manifested in discourse), the ways in which scientific classifications were accomplished through rich embodied practice, the environment as a constitutive feature of action, etc. I always find myself in a state of uncertainty, realizing there is more to be understood. However, this process is not only deeply meaningful (the aphasia for example), but engaging and frequently fun and exciting. Echoing Ingold I am always on the way to somewhere else, while richly experiencing my incomplete efforts to understand what I am now encountering.

I also owe an incredible debt to colleagues and students. Nothing expands my thinking more than working over materials with others (my own materials and their’s) in seminars, after talks etc. I will retire in June and loosing my weekly labs is my strongest regret. Academic life has this wonderful property: we are engaged in continuing dialog with both our contemporaries and those who came before us (my own teachers, and before that what I can read from those who departed), and with those who will come after us, especially colleagues and students we work with now, and which I hope mutually the shape the work that each of us will do in the future.

This issue is a wonderful, most meaningful example of such an encounter. Thank you for making it possible.

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