Interactivist Summer Institute

July 22 - 26, 2003


Interactivism and the Normative Intersubjectivity of Talk-in-Interaction

Donald F. Favareau
Department of Applied Linguistics
University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA. 90095-1531
Phone: (310) 391-3125
Fax: (310) 313-4183

It is an axiom of the Interactivist Manifesto that: “representation emerges in the presuppositions of anticipatory interactive processes in (natural or artificial) agents” (Bickhard, It behooves us, then, to inquire as to just how such “presuppositions” as make representation possible come about, as well as just what such “interactive processes” underlying those presuppositions might be.

And in this endeavor, we can benefit much from work done over the course of the last thirty years examining how ordinary human agents mutually and micro-temporally provide for each other the grounds for immediate next action in the absolutely transparent back-and-forth of ordinary conversation.

For research in the disciplines of Conversation Analysis and Talk-in-Interaction (Goodwin & Heritage 1990, Goodwin & Goodwin 1987, Heritage 1984, Ochs, Schegloff, & Thompson 1996, Sacks 1992, Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson 1974, Schegloff 1991) understand this seemingly effortless “back-and-forth” to be, in fact, the primordial site of human social normativity and intersubjectivity – and its “effortless coordination” an intricately accomplished, moment-by-moment choreography between participants, each of whom is not only tracking the trajectory of the other’s stream of speech for indications as to precisely when to begin and precisely when to stop talking, but simultaneously aligning their own breathing, body torque, facial expressions and motor rhythms as well, in order to bring off the kind of seamless transitioning and mutually achieved turn-taking between participants that is the hallmark of everyday talk.

Rigorously empirical and devoted to an explication of how language-using agents themselves display to each other their understandings of what they are doing as they are collaboratively making meaning (as opposed to how theoreticians of such meaning-making may interpret those same displays analytically), the nascent disciplines of Conversation Analysis and Talk-in-Interaction constitute a radical departure from the formal and the materialist reductionism so often prevalent in the domain of language study, and have compiled compelling evidence demonstrating that it is the active co-participation of situated speakers in creating contexts of relevancy, constraint and possibility for each other’s immediately subsequent actions which provides the emergent structure upon which social understanding and (later) “language” ultimately rests, rather than by the isolated mental computations of referential tokens within the bounds of some predetermined, category-structuring “syntax.”

In this understanding that “meaning” is predicated on all points by situated interaction, such research is supported by convergent evidence revealing that within weeks after birth and thus many years prior to the adoption of any system of grammar, syntax or even meaning-bearing “content” lexemes, infants master the critically important auto- and inter- regulatory skill of coordinating their own breathing and other biological rhythms to the rhythms of the other people around them – and these people, in turn, regulate their own physiological rhythm patterns to that of the infant (Feldman 1996, Fogel and Branco 1997, Trevarthen 2001).

Such mutually achieved synchrony and co-regulated interpersonal coordination of body rhythms provides the necessary substrate for participation in the fine tuned choreography of moment-to-moment linguistic (and non-linguistic) communicative interaction later to occur. Far more importantly, this orientation to subtle action patterns arising transiently between agents – and to the consequences of one’s own actions with the patterns – becomes itself an emergent structure for interpreting experience, long before the capacity for “understanding or producing a single word, and before conceiving of the fact that objects and events in the world are named” (Schore 2001: 166). For the development of this foundationally interactive skill results in and, recursively, underlies “an anticipatory sense of response of the other to the self, concomitant with an accommodation of the self to the other” (Bergmann 1999:96).

Embedding the actions of self and other into sequences of recursively self-maintenant, mutually accomplished meaning-making, participants to conversation come to necessarily rely on the actions of each other in the course of realizing the activities wherein their social selves and worlds are both negotiated and inhabited. With such indissoluble reliance comes the need to accommodate and to anticipate and the attempt to manipulate and to predict, given the lived success or failure of prior action outcomes. Thus here we find the “presuppositions” of “anticipatory interactive processes” that give rise to emergent normative phenomena – “a ‘common understanding’ of what the social situation is [that] constitutes the emergence of a higher level of ontology” (Bickhard,

The focus of this talk will be an introduction to some of the basic principles, methodologies and research data from the disciplines of Conversation Analysis and Talk-in-Interaction, in an attempt to situate such research and its findings within the broader study of process organization and naturalistic constructivism characterizing Interactivism. I will argue that each research project can well illuminate and extend the explanatory efficacy of the other, and that such concrescence presents a critical challenge to the neo-positivistic frameworks dominant both in language studies and in philosophy of mind.


Bergmann, A. (1999). Ours, Yours, Mine: Mutuality and the Emergence of the Separate Self. Northvale, New Jersey: Analytic Press.

Bickhard, M. H. Interactivism: A Manifesto. Retrieved from the World Wide Web, Feb. 18, 2003 at

Bickhard, M. H. The Social Ontology of Persons. Retrieved from the World Wide Web, Feb. 20, 2003 at

Feldman, R. et al. (1996). Relations between cyclicity and regulation in mother-infant interaction at 3 and 9 months and cognition at 2 years. Journal of Applied Developmental Psyschology 17, 347-365.

Fogel, A. & Branco, A.U. (1997). Metacommunication as a source of indeterminism in relationship development. In A. Fogel et al. (eds.), Dynamics and Indeterminism in Developmental and Social Processes. (pp. 65-92). Mahweh, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Goodwin, C. (1995). Co-constructing Meaning in Conversations with an Aphasic Man. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 28(3), 233-260.

Goodwin, C. & Heritage, J. (1990). Conversation analysis. Annual Review of Anthropology 19: 283-207.

Goodwin, C. & Goodwin, M. H. (1987). Concurrent operations on talk. IprA Papers in Pragmatics 1, 1:152.

Heritage, J. (1984). Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Ochs, E., Schegloff, E.A. & Thompson, S. (1996). Interaction and Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sacks, H. (1992). Lectures on Conversation. Jefferson, G. (Ed.) 2 vol. Oxford: Blackwell.

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E.A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking in interaction. In Schenkein, J. (Ed.) Studies in the Organization of Conversational Interaction. New York: Academic Press. pp. 7-55.

Schegloff, E. A. (1991). Reflections on talk and social structure. In Boden, D & Zimmerman, D. (Ed.) Talk and Social Structure. Cambridge: Polity Press. Pp. 44-70.

Schore, A. N. (2001). Effects of a secure attachment relationship on right brain development, affect regulation, and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal 22 1-2, 95-131.

Trevarthen, C. (2001). Intrinsic motives for companionship in understanding: Their origin, development and significance for infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal 22 1-2, 95-131.


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