Confrontation Talk: Arguments, Asymmetries, and Power on Talk Radio

Here are some highlights from this 1996 book:

* In sum, use of the “You say (X)” device can show how closely hosts are monitoring callers’ talk for potential arguables. The oppositions that are constructed frequently focus on very minor details of the caller’s talk: use of extreme case formulations, generic references, or inappropriate descriptors. Moreover, the contrastive device not only works in the construction of controversy by locating empirical inconsistencies in a caller’s account. Quoting a caller’s assertion back and subsequently allowing it, through the contrast, to be judged as faulty enables hosts to project doubt about the verisimilitude of the caller’s account without taking on the question of its actual truth or falsity.

* We thus find evidence of how callers both recognize and resist the contrastive and the skeptical nature of the “You say (X)” device. First, the use of continuers at the boundaries of “You say (X)”-type components demonstrates callers’ recognition that such units can and indeed should project some further talk from the host. Secondly, callers’ occasional attempts to modify hosts’ attributions suggests that they also may recognize the potentially damaging skepticism achieved through this device, and can be seeking to resist such doubt-casting by hosts. A final significance of this discussion is that it once again shows hosts pursuing controversy, and pursuing it singlemindedly with the use of a particular formal device.

* One way, then, in which talk radio hosts can use interruption as a control device is to cut into an unacceptable response-in-progress in order to press for a response that would be acceptable. Clearly, it is not open only to hosts to engage in this practice. There is no rule or process which disables callers from producing post-response-initiation interruptions in order to press for acceptable responses. Yet the fact is that in all the calls I have recorded and transcribed, I find no examples of callers doing this.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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