OFTI 2018: Weatherall & Keevallik – Displays of pain

Weatherall & Keevallik presented at the OFTI conference, this year at Stockholm University.

Displays of pain at the doctor’s office

This study targets sudden displays of pain in primary care doctor-patient interaction. We will demonstrate that the displays occur during various activities, including but not limited to physical examination, thus not in positions where they could constitute sequentially organized actions. In contrast to earlier conversation analytic studies that have demonstrated the social organization of pain, the current paper argues that the body may in fact intervene with progressivity of action, insofar as the speaker appears momentarily incapacitated. Hardly controllable behaviours, a sudden inbreath, a bodily recoil and a glottal stop happen in positions where they seem to be unanticipated, such as during medical history taking or in the middle of a word. We will demonstrate how these displays change the trajectory of talk: a patient may, for example, produce a repair or reformulation immediately after the pain display and the doctors regularly switch the topic of talk to the location and severity of pain. Both patients and doctors tend to abandon ongoing talk immediately upon the pain display.