JoP Special Issue on Turn design and epistemic management in small communities

Our special issue of the Journal of Pragmatics has finally reached the presses! This is the first major publication coming from the Knowledge Management Subproject. The special issue features two articles by the CIARA team – one reporting on findings from our corpus of conversations in Garrwa, Murrinhpatha and Jaru conversations, and one featuring data from our Anglo-Australia corpus.

So much of the study of conversation is about the maintenance of intersubjectivity – the work that people do to accomplish mutual understandings. So one of the things we need to be doing when we talk to each other is to consider who (already) knows what; who should be expected to know what; and how what we know ourselves relates to what others know. Expressed like this, it is a complex and ongoing negotiation.

We know from previous work on knowledge management in conversation (‘Epistemics’), (usually using data from urban-dwelling populations) that even when people actually know the same things, they don’t necessarily attribute knowledge equally. So you and I might both know the result of a football match, but if you went to the game and I did not, you are likely to be given more authority to talk about the result by virtue of your relationship to that knowledge.

The communities who are participating in the CIARA project are all ones where their members share a great deal of knowledge – about people, about places, about events – so our starting point for investigating knowledge management in these ‘small’ communities has been to consider how people use language in the service of managing different relationships to knowledge. Through this research we have found that even when people know the same things, the delicacy of interactions around ‘rights to knowledge’ is evident and ubiquitous in what people say.

This Special Issue began its life as a panel at the 2019 International Pragmatics Association conference in Hong Kong, and we were delighted to learn about a range of epistemic issues in communities in Ecuador, Mexico and Tanzania as well as Australia, and these are included in the Special Issue.

Ilana’s editorial gives a more detailed introduction to the kinds of issues we are exploring in this Special Issue and in the Knowledge Management subproject more broadly.