Reorienting Categories as a Members’ Phenomena

Fitzgerald, R., & Rintel, S. (2016). Reorienting categories as a members’ phenomena. Pp. 181-193. In C. Tileagă & E. Stokoe (Eds.). Discursive psychology: Classic and contemporary studies. London: Routledge.


Edwards’ paper, ‘Categories are for talking’ (1991), is a critical dissection of the static role of categories as conceived in traditional Cognitive Psychology and the then-recent work of Lakoff’s Women, Fire and Dangerous Things (1987) through the use of Harvey Sacks’ (1974; 1992) work on membership categorisation. Edwards uses Sacks to take aim at the prominent theoretical and methodological trends at the time, seeking to liberate members’ category work from ironically external conceptions of a shrouded realm located inside the head. However, while the focus for Edwards was on psychology, his detailed under- standing of Sacks’ work served to open a conceptual space for those working in discursive psychology to engage with members categorisation work as fundamental to the epistemological and methodological repertoires of Discursive Psychology (DP) in ways that ally with the emergence of Membership Categorisation Analysis (MCA: Eglin and Hester, 1992; Watson,1994; Hester and Francis, 1994).

In this discussion we focus on how the paper shows three areas of intersection in the emergence of DP and MCA. First, we outline how the initial use of Sacks’ category work in the paper was directed towards psychological topics at a time when his ideas were largely confined to the sociological fields of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis. Second, we trace Edwards’ work to embed Sacks’ categorial work as an analytic method for DP while running parallel to the emergence and development of MCA. Finally, we situate the contemporary influence of Edwards’ paper and use of Sacks’ work in the creation of a rich confluence and openness to ideas that have become a hallmark of the contemporary DP approach – an approach that not only incorporates a deep understanding of Sacks’ categorisation work but, in turn, contributes significantly to the further development of MCA.

Book details

Discursive Psychology is the first collection to systematically and critically appraise the influence and development of its foundational studies, exploring central concepts in social psychology such as attitudes, gender, cognition, memory, prejudice, and ideology. The book explores how discursive psychology has accommodated and responded to assumptions contained in classic studies, discussing what can still be gained from a dialogue with these inquiries, and which epistemological and methodological debates are still running, or are worth reviving.

International contributors look back at the original ideas in the classic papers, and consider the impact on and trajectory of subsequent work. Each chapter locates a foundational paper in its academic context, identifying the concerns that motivated the author and the particular perspective that informed their thinking. The contributors go on to identify the main empirical, theoretical or methodological contribution of the paper and its impact on consequent work in discursive psychology, including the contributors’ own work. Each chapter concludes with a critical consideration of how discursive psychology can continue to develop.

This book is a timely contribution to the advance of discursive psychology by fostering critical perspectives upon its intellectual and empirical agenda. It will appeal to those working in the area of discursive psychology, discourse analysis and social interaction, including researchers, social psychologists and students.