Omnirelevance in technologized interaction: Couples coping with video calling distortions

Rintel, S. (2015). Omnirelevance in technologized interaction: Couples coping with video calling distortions. Pp. 123-150 in R. Fitzgerald & W. Housley (Eds.). Membership categorization analysis: Studies of social knowledge in action. London: Sage. | Format: Draft PDF


The concept of omnirelevance in Membership Categorisation Analysis refers to participants invoking categories that reflexively treat the understanding of particular interactional moments as controlled by the context of the current activity. This concept is of fundamental value to the analysis of computer-mediated communication (CMC), as it relates directly to the field’s fundamental interest in exploring how technology effects interaction. When interacting via technology, the affordances of that technology are materially inescapable and thus potentially contextually controlling. However, the control of technology over interaction is not absolute. The affordances of technology are materially inescapable but their relevance as a semiotic resource is a matter for participants. Ian Hutchby (2001a, 2001b, 2003) calls this ‘technologised interaction’.

In this chapter I explore examples of how couples cope with audio and video distortions in video calling. The data show that in the face of distortion the couples treat the relationship and technology as omnirelevant (i.e., controlling) devices deployable in a fluid interdependence that differs with respect to how audio distortions and video distortions potentially affect conversational continuity. When coping with audio distortions, relational and technological omnirelevance are used as an organisational feature to disambiguate the potential source of trouble in repairs. Coping with video distortions is shown to involve an orientation to expressive possibilities of relational and technological omnirelevance.

Omnirelevance, I argue, is a central feature of technologised interaction. While video calling couples are engaged first and foremost to the social activity of doing being couples, their efforts to maintain conversational continuity in the face of distortions orient to doing being a couple in a video call.

Reviews of the collection

MCA provides an orientation, set of questions, and identification of discrete discourse devices to aid understanding of the moral work  being accomplished by speakers’ and writers’ as they  select  category terms and tie them to descriptions.  Fitzgerald and Housley’s Advances in Membership Categorization Analysis brings together cutting edge theoretical explication with fascinating examples ( YouTube posts, intimates video chatting, a review board assessing parole, a research team meeting, online breaking news updates)  and is a must-read for anyone interested in identities and interaction.

Karen Tracy
Professor and Chair. Department of Communication

A state of the art collection which is essential reading for anyone interested in social identity and social order.

David Silverman
Goldsmiths’ and King’s College, London, and University of Technology, Sydney

Membership categories are central to the organization of culture.  They set up inferential relations between classes of people, they implicate actions and thoughts, and they mark moral statuses.  Membership categorization analysis develops the tradition of work started by Harvey Sacks and shows that the issues he explored are still urgent and significant.  In this volume an A-list of contributors provide state of the art analyses that illustrate the ongoing vitality of membership categorization analysis.  It is essential reading for anyone interested in this topic.

Jonathan Potter
Professor of Discourse Analysis, Loughborough University

Richard Fitzgerald and William Housley are to be congratulated for further developing the field. In taking up such questions as the ethnomethodology of categorization (a masterful discussion by Rod Watson), the omni-relevance of categories, the precise nature of the connections between categories and predicates, the temporal reference of category usage, the relationship of categorization to “doing being ordinary” and the place of categorization in the “social life of methods,” the contributors truly bear out the promise expressed in the title of advancing membership categorization analysis.

Peter Eglin
Wilfrid Laurier University