Doing not providing: a discourse-analytic investigation of social support as a responsive process
The present investigation was an attempt to generate a close empirical analysis of the interpersonal processes through which social support may be done. This has long been an elusive goal among researchers of social support, who have typically sought to understand this construct by reference to internal states and processes, rather than to events occurring within the realm of language and culture. It was my thesis that such a study was possible using the methods and assumptions of two approaches: discourse analysis (e.g., Potter & Wetherell, 1987; Edwards & Potter, 1992; Wood & Kroger, 1999, 2000); and facework (e.g., Brown & Levinson, 1987; Goldsmith, 1992). For the present study, 12 putatively supportive conversations were audio-recorded and transcribed. These encounters comprised both informal (friends/romantic partners) and formal (academic counseling; family therapy) dyadic, face-to-face, conversations. The corpus of data was then examined through the use of discourse analysis (principally conversation analysis) and facework analysis. The findings described here depict social support in terms of constructed events occurring within the exterior realm of language and culture. They demonstrate how support may transpire as an interpersonal accomplishment, rather than as an individual commodity, characteristic, or property of an interaction. Findings showing the ways in which this occurs within the corpus of talk point to the significance for social support of various identity concerns. The present findings also suggest that social support should perhaps be re-conceptualised as a higher-order analyst's term for some of the ways in which people may use aligning moves in the service of attempts by others to make or repair meaning. The results of this study suggest the value of adding discourse-focused approaches to our armamentarium of strategies for studying the process of support. Yet they advise caution in how concepts of face are applied to the study of social support.