Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999


William Housley (1999) 'Role as an Interactional Device and Resource in Multidisciplinary Team Meetings'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 3, <>

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Received: 12/5/1999      Accepted: 17/9/1999      Published: 30/9/1999


During the course of this paper the approaches of Conversation Analysis and Membership Categorisation Analysis are used to investigate and explore team members talk within multidisciplinary social/care team meetings. The paper explores the situated character of role within team meetings and considers the various methods through which team member roles are accomplished, negotiated, contested and used as a resource in the everyday business of making decisions, exchanging information and allocating work within multidisciplinary social/care team meetings. Consequently, traditional conceptualisations of role are respecified in terms of situated action.

Category; Conversation Analysis; Device; Ethnomethodology; Interaction; Local Organisation.; Membership Categorisation Analysis; Predicate; Role; Sequence


During the course of this paper I intend to explore the notion of role as an interactional device through the analysis of talk in interaction within multidisciplinary social / care work team meetings. In this paper, I will briefly explain the view of role as an interactional device, outline the methodological approach adopted in this paper, analyse transcribed materials of multidisciplinary talk and relate these situated analyses of role and interaction to theoretical models of team work.

The notion of 'role' as an interactional device was developed by Halkowski's (1990: 565) paper in which he proposes the following analytical consideration:

Rather than treating "role" as a self evident, social-scientific resource for analysis, and following the work by Garfinkel (1967) and Zimmerman and Pollner (1970), social scientists should take it as a topic of study. Doing so will help illuminate how interactants organize the social world by their use of these conceptions and actions.

This orientation towards examining 'role' as a member's phenomena can be operationalised through the utilisation of Conversation Analysis and Membership Categorisation Analysis (Sacks 1992,a,b, Hester and Francis 1994, Hester and Eglin 1997, Watson 1997). Halkowski's work is a good example of this approach. He examined recordings of the Iran Contra Hearings held in Washington DC and, through the analysis of transcripts, illustrated how role-identity categories are used as a resource by interlocutors for 'category shifting', as a means of dodging allegations and shifting blame. For Halkowski (1990), Hilbert (1981:216) accurately sums up the use of 'role' as a resource for members:

Our recommendation is to view 'role' as an organising concept used on occasion by actors in social settings, and to view its utility for actors in terms of what they can do with it; i.e. the work they require it to do, in sustaining the perceived stability of social behaviour, whatever their immediate purposes. Viewed this way, roles are not behavioural matrices to be described and explained but are conceptual resources actors use to clear up confusion, sanction troublemakers, instruct others in the ways of the world, and so forth.

As an interactional device and resource, we can begin to consider role as a means through which members practically accomplish local order. Halkowski's description of 'role' as an interactional device can therefore be understood as a logical extension of Garfinkel's concern with the way in which members use methods to impose order in the world. Thus 'role', as deployed by members, can be viewed as a method for accounting for underlying patterns, pointing to regularities and interactionally establishing, negotiating and achieving a locally produced sense of social order.[1] This approach is in contrast to the social anthropological (Linton 1936, Malinowski 1944 and Banton 1965), structural functionalist (Parsons 1951), social psychological (Biddle 1979), symbolic interactionist (Goffman 1961) and social constructionist (Berger and Luckmann 1968) conceptualisations of role. Despite the merits and differences of the various traditional approaches to role theory listed above they all conceive of role as a nexus; a point at which the social whole and individual actions converge. Within analyses of team organisation and multidisciplinarity the view of team roles, within different forms of team organisation, reproduces this central conviction of traditional role theory. However, in the case of multidisciplinarity and team organisation, role is viewed as a primary mechanism through which different knowledge bases (disciplines) inform the decision-making practices and communicative acts within the team framework (in addition to wider patterns of social action e.g. gender roles). This dualism, central to most role theory, will be overcome through the analysis of talk in interaction within a multidisciplinary team meeting where role distinctions are viewed as a means through which different forms of knowledge are filtered into the decision making process (Øvretveit 1994). However, in terms of the approach and analysis carried out in this paper, role identities and distinctions in practice (i.e. the multidisciplinary meetings examined) are occasioned, locally ordered, situated, interactionally achieved resources for getting the days work done.

During the course of this paper, I will examine the local organisation of role and identity within a multidisciplinary setting. I will apply Halkowski's ethnomethodological account of role to the analysis of members' practices in a multidisciplinary social / care work meeting. Furthermore, I will focus on members talk-in-interaction in order to explore and illustrate the situated dimensions of role-in-action. However, before doing so a discussion of the methodological approach to discourse adopted in this paper and a short description of the context in which I explored the phenomena and practices described above will be provided.

Methodological approach to the analysis of multidisciplinary team talk

During the course of this paper I should like to draw on two interrelated approaches to the analysis of talk-in-interaction. These are known as Conversation Analysis (CA) and Membership Categorisation Analysis (MCA). I should like to describe the general characteristics of these approaches and, in addition, discuss recent developments within ethnomethodological analyses of talk that involve a combination of the sequential concerns of Conversation Analysis with the categorial focus of Membership Categorization Analysis. It should come as little surprise that a reconnection of MCA to CA should emerge as both are firmly located within the innovative work of Harvey Sacks (1992 a,b).

Conversation Analysis

Conversation analysis is concerned with the social organisation of talk-in-interaction. More specifically Conversation Analysis can be described as a rigorous and empirical based practice that seeks to explicate, document and describe the sequential organisation of conversation. Drawing from the work of Sacks (1992 a,b) and Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson (1974) Conversation Analysis has been described as the crowning jewel of ethnomethodological enquiry. Conversation analysis utilises naturally occurring observational data that is recorded in the form of audio or video formats and transcribed using definite and precise conventions of transcription originally developed by Gail Jefferson. The advantage of this approach is that other analysts can examine the data. Consequently, the 'findings' of studies can be replicated or questioned in terms of the available and transparent 'first order' data generated by the original enquiry. For Conversation Analysis, the principles of turn taking, adjacency pairs, recipient design, extended sequences, interruptions, topic management and other sequential phenomena have enabled analysts to examine the precise details, methods and activities of members face to face interaction in a number of different contexts. Conversation Analysis has also sought to investigate the interactive significance of paralinguistic phenomena such as pauses, gaps and exhalations as well as intonation and pitch in members' conversation. The various contexts of talk-in-interaction have recently focussed on institutional and organisational sites that include medical encounters, courtroom and broadcast talk (Drew and Heritage 1992). These analyses have sought to show how members display a locally accomplished sense of institutionality and practice in and through talk-in-interaction.

Conversation Analysis can be understood to be primarily interested in sequences in talk. However, the early work of Harvey Sacks also displayed a concern with categories, talk and interaction. Levinson (1994) notes how members talk can be understood as an interactional management system within which categories in talk are sequentially managed through turn taking, extended sequences, recipient design and so forth. Levinson also notes how the analysis of talk-in-interaction can be also understood in terms of the paradigmatic (categorial) and syntagmatic (sequential) dimensions of conversation. However, I do not wish to pursue Levinson's observation at this stage per se. Rather I wish to explore the approach of Membership Categorisation Analysis (as it relates to analysing talk-in-interaction), consider recent developments within this methodological approach and outline the concern with both sequence and category that will inform my analysis of the interactional accomplishment of role within multidisciplinary team meetings.

Membership Categorisation Analysis

One of the most prominent of Sacks' lectures (1992 a; 239-259) is concerned with the concept of 'recognisability'[2]. In one sense, this notion refers to the way in which social interactants orient their actions to the local accomplishment of social organisation. This concept, argues Sacks, should inform the examination of interaction as a mutually constitutive, methodical display that is socially recognisable and recognised as part of the process of getting things done in a social way rather than in a cognitive, economic, theological, biological, telepathic or occult manner. For Sacks, one aspect of this 'analytic' mentality is a concern with the plethora of description that everyday language exhibits. Furthermore, descriptions occur within a wide range of discursive contexts. For example, newspapers, business meetings and school lessons all provide for the generation of descriptions albeit within different contextual arrangements. For Sacks, one of the important features of conversation and description is the display of categories and the methodical process of categorisation. In Sacks' famous example 'the baby cried the mommy picked it up' these considerations are illuminated by an analytical consideration of how we make sense of the story. In terms of Sacks' example we understand the story in terms of the 'mommy' picking up her 'baby' in response to the baby crying. For Sacks, we understand the story in this way because we associate the categories of 'baby' and 'mommy' with the membership categorization device 'the family'. Of course, both 'baby' and 'mommy' may be categories of further collections such as the 'stage of life device' (Baker 1984). Furthermore, in order to understand the particular commonsense reading that one usually makes when considering this sentence, Sacks invokes two rules of application; namely the economy rule and the consistency rule. The economy rule, according to Sacks (1992a) refers to the conversational process by which if a member uses a single category from any device then he/she can be recognised to be doing adequate reference to a person. The following consistency rule states that if a member of a given population has been categorised within a particular device then other members of that population can be categorised in terms of the same collection. Sacks (1992: 221) derives a corollary known as the hearer's maxim that states:

If two or more categories are used to categorise two or more members of some population and those categories can be heard as categories from the same collection then: hear them that way.

Sacks used the story, along with the pre-described rules of application, to generate a further set of analytical concepts, namely membership categorization devices, membership categories and category bound activities. Personal categories such as 'mother', 'father', 'son' or 'daughter' are described by Sacks as membership categories (MC's). Furthermore, they are viewed as membership categories of the membership categorization device (MCD) 'family'. In addition to this framework the category machinery was complemented by the notion of category bound activities (CBA's). According to Sacks, they can be understood as an attempt to describe how certain activities are commonsensically tied to specific categories and devices (e.g. in the case of Sacks' story the tying of the activity of crying to the category 'baby'). Sacks' initial ideas concerning categories or descriptions involved a conceptualisation of an array of 'collections' or a shared 'stock of commonsense knowledge' that membership categorization devices were seen to encapsulate. For Sacks (1972a), such categorisations and their devices formed part of the commonsensical framework of member's methods' and recognisable capacities of practical sense making. Sacks (1972b) also notes how categories may be duplicatively organised i.e. a member of a given population may be categorised in a number of different ways. For example, one may be a member of a family and of particular religious group at one and the same time within a given set of descriptions[3].

In recent years these ideas have been applied, developed and reconsidered. It is to these matters that this paper now turns in order to provide a clear theoretical and methodological explanation of the approach used to explore role as an interactional device within the transcribed materials gathered from a social / care work site.

The Reconsidered Model of Membership Categorization Analysis.

Within recent years the mode of ethnomethodological inquiry known as Membership Categorization Analysis has been bolstered by a series of studies which have sought to develop the approach discussed above. One of the most important developments in this story is the realisation that Sacks' 'descriptive conceptual machinery' needn't be confined to collections of people or populations. Watson (1978) and Eglin and Hester (1992) both illustrate the way in which Membership Categorisation Analysis can also be used to explore cultural knowledge and non-personal descriptions (e.g. local geography). These studies have led to the development of an ethnomethodological analytical framework that is sensitive to context, the relationship between sequentiality and category work and the local production of social order (Watson 1997). In order to explicate these topics a brief consideration of recent work on Membership Categorisation Analysis (MCA) will be provided.

Recent developments within the methodological approach under consideration involve a combination of the sequential concerns of Conversation Analysis with the categorial focus of Membership Categorization Analysis (Baker 1984, Eglin and Hester 1992, Hester and Francis 1994, Hester and Eglin 1997, Housley 1999, Watson 1978, 1997). It should come as little surprise that a reconnection of MCA to CA should emerge as both are firmly located within the innovative work of Harvey Sacks (1992 a,b). Silverman (1998:152) argues that Sacks treated 'MCD analysis and CA as two sides of the same coin'. Watson (1997:54) claims that the relationship between categorisation and sequentiality in conversation can be explained in the following terms:

What I am claiming, then, is that interlocutors' sensible production and monitoring of an utterance and of a series of utterances is both categorical and sequential. Interlocutors' conjoint orientation to categorial relevancies informs their orientation to the 'structure' of utterance and series which in turn inform the categorial relevancies. In Aaron Cicourel's apt phrase, there is a 'folding back effect' on the utterance production and monitoring, a darting back and forth reflexive consultation of categorial and sequential relevances in order that utterance or series be rendered describable or identifiable as transacting this or that activity, as forming a component of this or that overall course of action and social setting.

Watson's notion of 'reflexive monitoring' can therefore be understood to refer to the manner through which categories are sequentially managed, configured, arranged and displayed. Thus, the management of categories in talk is a reflexive process in the sense that the task at hand (e.g. explaining directions) consists of the interactive and mutually constitutive process of category display and sequential organisation/management. Again, this is not divorced from Sacks' work but can be understood to relate to his concept of recognisability (i.e. both sequence and category make recognisable members' conversational activity, a necessary condition for the artful and mutually collaborative nature of the accomplishment of social organisation through talk-in-interaction).

A further dimension of this approach to the analysis of both category and sequence in conversation is a concern with the local accomplishment of social organisation and context. Hester (1994) argues that categorisation and category work in talk has to be viewed as an endogenous accomplishment that is particular to the interactional site and here and now activities of members. Hester's concern is not only to highlight the relationship between category and sequence but also to emphasise the locally ordered character of both organisational dimensions of talk-in-interaction. He eschews the 'decontextualised' model of membership categorisation analysis in which stable cultural collections of categories exist a priori, ready to be plucked from the cultural ether, deployed and understood accordingly.

An example of a decontextualised approach to language and categorisation can be found in the work of cognitive anthropology and Chomsky's work on transformational generative grammar. According to Hester (1994:221) both seek to develop formal descriptions of a pre-determined framework of knowledge that is deemed necessary for the production of 'meaningful descriptions' and a 'precondition for competent interaction'. With respect to categorisation and the ethnomethodological concern with the local production of social order, Hester (1994:221) states:

Membership categorisation devices or collections are ... to be regarded as in situ achievements of members' practical actions and practical reasoning. Categories are 'collected' with others in the course of their being used. In turn, then, this means that the 'collection' to which a category belongs is constituted through its use in a particular context; it is part and parcel of its use in that way. Its recognisability is part of the phenomena itself. What 'collection' the category belong to, and what the collection is, are constituted in and how it is used this time.

Thus, context is not imposed it is achieved. Furthermore, the eschewing of stable, culturally defined collections of categories and the view of collections being locally produced phenomena allows for a more thorough analysis of both personal \ membership categories and non-personal categories deployed by members in conversation. This process is also enhanced by the transposition of the notion of category bound activities into a more contextually and locally sensitive concern with predicates (Eglin and Hester 1992). This transposition provides for the associated idea of conversationally tied predicates and occasioned collections. This notion provides a means for understanding and exploring the way in which members' category work may build up modes of categorisation through the topic and conversational materials at hand.

In summary therefore, the notion of 'natural collections' and the notion of stable external bodies of clearly identifiable commonsense collections is eschewed in favour of sensitivity to the in situ and locally occasioned character of members' category work. This also allows for a consideration of the way in which members tie predicates to devices and categories in terms of the practicality of such connections and the particular here and now activities oriented to in talk. Thus categories and categorisation within talk-in-interaction are re-conceptualised in terms of the locally achieved and occasioned display of 'categories in context'.

Having documented the approach that I intend to use during the course of my analysis of role, talk and interaction in team meetings I will now briefly consider the ethnographic context of the multidisciplinary team meeting talk examined during the course of this paper.

The Flood Support Team

The Flood support Team described itself as a multidisciplinary team. The extent to which they conformed to Øvretveit's (1994) taxonomy of multidisciplinary team structures is not a consideration in this paper. However, the team structure, as envisaged by the team, was viewed as drawing on a range of different disciplines and bodies of expertise as a means of carrying out their work in a multidisciplinary manner. It consisted of a number of different team members who occupied different professional positions and were considered to possess different competencies and expertise. They included the Team Leader, three Social Workers, a Counsellor, a Lay Volunteer Co-ordinator and a Social Work student. The Flood Support Team had been involved with the support of flood victims during the aftermath of serious flooding. During the course of research and fieldwork carried out on the everyday work of the team. A number of team meetings and allocation meetings were recorded and transcribed (see transcript notation). A Team meeting was consisted of all the members of the Team and was a forum for discussing Team matters. The Allocation meeting was restricted to members of the team who were statutorily empowered to make referral decisions and recommendations on specific cases and clients. This provided a corpus of data for investigating the praxiological and discursive accomplishment of the team, role-identity, multidisciplinarity, and the associated duties of 'flood support'.


The following extract is taken from a team meeting and involves a discussion that concerns the deployment of different team members within the community in the light of a decision to initiate a drop in centre for the following week.

transcript one

This extract contains an utterance that can be heard to contrast between the 'role-identity' of lay and professional workers. The LVC discusses a perceived 'problem', an activity associated with the practices and aims of doing a team meeting. The LVC informs members at the Team meeting that if he was 'out in the field' and encountered a 'serious problem' he would feel unable to adequately deal with the problem presented. Furthermore, the LVC is heard to make certain reports concerning the extent of his remit (L.1-2). The first interjection by SW1 is heard as a joke or humorous comment and is followed by laughter from other members of the team (L.4-5). It provides for the predicate of training to be reselected by the previous speaker in his following utterance (L.6). Furthermore, it is the topic of category warrantability (the category in question being one's role-identity within the Team) that is made recognisable by SW1's utterance. It makes recognisable that the predicate of 'not being trained' is being tied to the LVC (in that they are volunteers and are not professional workers). The warrantability of the LVC category incumbency and the achieved predicate of 'not being trained' are then co-selected with an inability to deal (L.6) with 'serious problems' in the field.

The problem talk elicits further solutions to the issue presented. This is made available through an informing procedure (Example Two), which also involves the use of population categories and pro-terms, that provide and display the distinctions in category warrantability between team members in the subsequent talk transcribed and presented in the following data extract. Here, the conversational exchange involves a concern about volunteers working within the community and encountering situations or requests from flood victims that require professional assistance, advice or support. The volunteer co-ordinators working alongside the LVC are not, it is reported, able to respond to such requests or situations. This is due to their category incumbency (i.e. not occupying a professional position) and inability to make responses that can be sanctioned in terms of statutory procedures or be represented as professional advice. It is this problem that the LVC has brought to the attention of the team.

transcript two

This talk, which follows the previous extract, provides for a complex process of identity work and the accomplishment and display of relevant team membership categories. Firstly, the counsellor embellishes the LVC reference to 'f you do that' (L.2) by selecting the pro-term 'we' (L.4) in providing a solution to the proffered problem at hand. The pro-term 'we' is heard to differentiate between the lay worker and the professional. This is made recognisable by the recipient design of the utterances between the LVC, the social worker and counsellor within which 'we' is heard to refer to the counsellor and social worker but not the lay volunteer[s]. This conversational device is recognisably oriented to at the end of this extract via the LVC's closing recommendation (L.5, 6), that every volunteer co-ordinator should have 'a social worker sort of thing.'

Thus, the term 'we' operates as a method for concretising the display of distinct predicates, with regard to training and dealing with serious problems, and the role-category incumbency and warrantability of the lay worker and the professionals within the team. This 'role-identity' categorisation work is initially made recognisable by the LVC, through reference to the perceived requirement of the professional team member to be alongside lay volunteers in the field (L.2-3). Thus, the contrast class of lay worker and professional is achieved through the tying of specific in situ predicates (e.g. 'being trained' and 'dealing with serious problems') to the specific job titles.

Whilst explicit references to the role-identity categories of 'professional' and 'lay worker' remain unstated, the predicate contrast evident in Example One and Two reflexively points to the availability of such a category as a member's methodical concern. This process of different identifications, and hence different competencies and expectations, provides for the mutually elaborative establishment of 'difference' between team members and the role categories of lay and professional workers. This practical accomplishment provides for an example of the weak form of recognisability, that is to say whilst the category distinction is not explicitly referred to it is made recognisable through reference to the distinction in the activities and properties associated with the different members of the team.

The problem of providing care or help for people 'with serious problems' is one context within which the distinction between the lay and professional members of the team is interactionally realised and locally achieved. During the course of the meeting this distinction is used as a further resource, by the LVC, in elaborating the boundaries and competencies of the category incumbency (and more precisely the category warrantability) within which they speak and act as members of the Team. The following extract includes, and leads on from, the previous extract and involves the LVC expressing, to the team, his analysis of the problem of role-category incumbency (in this case the position of lay volunteer) and his experience of interacting with flood victims without the categorial resource of professional status.

transcript three

This account, which follows the previous extracts (Example One and Two), includes a recognisable display of the methods and strategies discussed in the initial stages of this paper. Furthermore, in Sacksian terms it exhibits 'second story' characteristics. The reference to the recommendation that every volunteer co-ordinator should have a 'social worker sort of thing' is met with a response by SW1 (L.3) that can be heard as a recipiently designed category selection. This response recognises the topical coherence of the LVC's recommendation. However, the recommendation is repeated as a preface to the LVC's account (L.8-13), alongside the situated incumbent predicate of 'concern'. It is also used to 'touch off' a different topic. This topic involves the invocation of a further set of predicates that are tied to role-identity category warrantability and incumbency of the Lay Volunteer. In this instance, the account relates the possibility of being 'in the field' and 'saying the wrong thing' to a member of the community with the aforementioned category interacting with a potential client with 'serious problems' (L. 8-16). In a second story format the SW1 seeks to embellish the predicates of the role-identity category of 'lay volunteer' provided prior to this example (Example One). As has been stated, this involves 'not being trained' to deal with serious problems, not having qualifications (and therefore not ascribing to the available category of 'professional'). In this example, the predicates of saying the 'right' or 'wrong' thing, on the other hand, are invoked by the LVC as a further method for distinguishing between the professional social workers and the role identity of a volunteer co-ordinator. Furthermore, the final lines of the account (L. 15-16) also refer to saying the 'wrong thing' and such a course of action 'reflecting back on the team'. Thus, the predicate of saying the wrong thing, once tied to the membership category of 'volunteer co-ordinator', is also heard to implicate 'reflecting back on the team' as a whole. In terms of membership categorisation, the predicate of 'reflecting' back on the team is device based (the device being the 'team') of which the incumbent speaker (i.e. the LVC) is a membership category (Watson 1978).

Other categories within this device include the role-identity categories of 'professional', 'lay volunteer', 'counsellor', 'community development worker', 'social worker' and the 'team leader'. Whilst the above categories are not a constantly and monolithically interactionally installed feature of multidisciplinary talk, they are made available in terms of similar category warrantability and incumbency work displayed and discussed above, i.e. the endogenous and local interaction pertaining to competencies, attributes and expectations of different team members.

Role - Category Identity as a Members' Phenomenon

Other examples of role-identity category work involve the use of the omni-relevant device of the 'team' in suggesting courses of action and describing problems and troubles of team members. The following extract involves an account of the Counsellor's experience of her category incumbency being invoked by members of the flood hit community whilst not being, in her view, on duty.

transcript four

As an utterance, we may hear it in terms of what Sacks would call 'problem talk'. The problem being identified is the problem of category incumbency, i.e. being 'a team member' and the implied predicates of this membership category device 'people of the estate', that includes the membership categories of 'clients' and 'non-clients'. Therefore, in one sense, the account provides a rich ethnographic gloss by the team member in which the counsellor describes a story which makes recognisable a team members' perception of 'people unloading' requests and problems on them. We are told that this results in the reported decision of having to stop walking through the estate. At the end of the account (L.4), an explanation for the account is proffered, this involves a reference to the team members' role-identity category incumbency as a membership category of the device 'team'. This is presented as the reason for the actions reported within the account. Consequently, we may infer that the predicated consequences of being a member of the 'flood support' team is resulting in problems and troubles, for the team member who is reporting the account, during 'the weekend'. This, in turn, can be heard as a membership category of the device 'non-working time'. In other words, people on the estate do not, according to the counsellors' account, suspend the role-identity category of the counsellor as a member of the Flood Support Team and the associated predicates of team members supporting the flood hit community. It must be emphasised that the utterance is an account by a team member rather than a general discussion of professional 'dilemmas'. However, it serves to illustrate the manner through which role-identity category incumbency, associated predicates and the interactional nature of such presentations is, in the case of team members', a members' phenomenon. Indeed, from an ethnographic point of view it is reported, via the counsellor's account, as a phenomenon for people in the community, although this stands outside my concern with transcribed data and locally produced interaction.

Further examples of role-identity category work also surround different team members and contexts. In the case of the allocation meetings, 'professionals' (more specifically those professionals statutorily empowered to make referral and allocation decisions) are in attendance. The discussion surrounds the supervision of a placement order by one of the professionals present. Furthermore, the warrantable activities of the social workers (and the other professionals present) are made topical, and are discussed. The activity of supervising a placement order is made topical by the fact that SW1 has not carried out this activity in the past. Consequently, it provides for some conversation (and category work) within which the role category incumbency of the interlocutors is discussed, and therefore, interactionally established.

transcript five

In this extract, questions surrounding role-identity categories are explicitly addressed. The question by the SW1 (L.8) can be heard as an explicit request for a description of the role of supervising a placement order. The second part of the adjacency pair (L.9) by SW2 is a three-part list of descriptive predicates. The utterance at (L.12,13) regarding a possible visit to the parents by SW1 to explain the particular professional role is heard to be the location, identification and preface to a 'problem'. The problem is then made recognisable at (L.16) through reference to the clients' 'knowing' SW1 from a different context (namely in the role as a support worker to the child care supervisor dealing with this particular case). The problem centres around 'the difficulty' for the SW1 to 'switch hats'. Whilst this does not conform to the role-identity category work between team members as such, it constitutes interactional and conversational work in pursuing a particular type of role-identity category warrantability, namely supervising a placement order. Furthermore, the reference to the problem of adopting a different role-category identity with some clients, whom 'know' you within the context of a different role-category identity, is made recognisable (L.16-18). Therefore, we are provided with a series of utterances that make explicit the achieved nature of role-category identities as a member's concern within team meeting talk. Whilst the role-identity category in question is not being realised or interactionally carried out during the meeting, the practical accomplishment of allocating a role and discussing problems surrounding such an interactional strategy are discussed. Consequently, we may infer that role-category identities are the concern of members and the account suggests, that as a members phenomenon, they are described in terms which make recognisable their occasioned and interactionally achieved sense for members.

Role as an Interactional \ Organisational Device and Resource

In the following data extract members of the team are discussing changing the social geography of the office. Issues surrounding work, distractions, the division of labour, 'confidentiality'' and the organisational order of the team are discussed. In other words, the office is to be rearranged in order that these considerations are dealt with. Additional issues, which are discussed by the team, involve the registration of the office (and its consequences) and a move to provide a community room that can be accessed by the flood hit community. The discussion raises a number of topics and issues that are heard to be connected with the proposals for the team's office.

transcript six

In this extract, we can hear the topic to revolve around a change of purpose for part of the office and issues surrounding who occupies which part of the building. The CDW asserts that the establishment of a registered office may not involve changes, providing he is only there for two hours a day (L.1-6). A further suggestion proffered by the TL involves allocating some space for community use, the CDW suggests that the Team Leader's room could be used for such a venture. Clearly, the re-categorisation of the device 'office' as a 'registered office' and the associated predicate 'reorganising the location of Team members in the office' is mapped onto a secondary predicate, that is how much time the CDW spends at the office. This provides a further layer of category work, this can be heard in the way the re-organisation of the device 'office' to 'registered office' is also being tied to the predicated actions of the CDW. In this sense, the role-identity category of the CDW is being worked up and displayed in the course of the discussion. This is done through the identification of a category shift and the mapped predicates of time spent in the office and the device of 're-organisation' (which involves the predication of movement of Team members from their present location in the Office). The CDW responds to the TL's statement (L.7) that it would be 'nice' if a community room was provided.

We may infer that the category of 'space' is available in making sense of the device 're-organisation'. The suggestion, by the CDW that the TL's room would do as a community room, is met by an account by the SW3 that invokes specific predicates that are tied to the TL's role-identity category (L.13-15). Thus, the topic of the registered office and the community room is redirected towards a discussion concerning category incumbency. The SW3 argues that this is not feasible because the TL has to write some of the most important documents and 'needs some peace and quiet to do it'. We may hear this utterance as a set of predicates that can be praxiologically associated with the category incumbency of the TL. Furthermore, the SW3 states '...if you were using his room you'd have anybody walking past the other two rooms'. At this stage 'anybody' can be heard to apply to any member who does not fit into the same category \ collection of which the role-identity category of the TL is a part. This could be heard as referring to the membership category 'professional team member' that the predicate of access to confidential information is a part. Furthermore, the reference to the 'other two' rooms can be heard as tying the category of location in the office space to a role-identity category, namely the category 'professional team members' of the device 'team member'.

The SW2 refers to a suggestion, namely that the LVC shares a room with the other social workers (L.13-15). We understand that this is the case due to the use of 'we', which is reflected in the recipient design of the next utterance by the SW1, who states that the suggestion was made earlier. In other words, this utterance displays which members hear the 'we', through the repair of the indexicality of the term 'we'. In this case the other social worker are tacitly displaying and hearing co-membership with SW3. However, the TL reiterates the earlier analysis proffered by the SW3 through the reference to the predicate of 'confidentiality' (L.20). The LVC agrees and then orients himself to the predicate of confidentiality (L.21-25, L.29-33) and displays how his category incumbency, if he was to be in proximity to the social workers, would result in him having to 'leave the room' if a 'confidential phone call' was underway.

Thus, the LVC exhibits how his membership of the category 'non-professional' of the device 'team member' would create a problem if this course of action was followed. This is reinforced by his reference to '...three social workers or whatever' who 'know' about 'allocations and what's going on in each file'. The predicates of different categories are therefore not only a topic of conversation but a resource through which the reorganisation of the office (as a meta-topic) is being discussed and constituted. Thus, the CDW, the LVC, the TL and the Social Workers can be heard to use category and predicate work in this way. Thus, 'rights and expectations' and demarcations between team members are made observable through the topic of registering the office and providing a community room. However, the CDW can be heard to be invoking a sense of incumbency through the mapping of predicates and the tying of 'registering the office' to the predicate of the amount of time he himself spends in the office. He initially uses the pro-term 'we', as in 'we can still use this as a registered office if you're not into moving people around' (L.2). However, he does some category shifting in the last utterance when he states '...I think the only fair thing you can do is wait until you've got a full team in' (L.35). Clearly, the use of the pro-term 'we' stands in contrast to the pro-term 'you'. The CDW shifts from the 'we' in the first utterance in this extract (...we don't have to do it) to 'you' in the last utterance in this extract. Therefore, we can hear how in the last utterance he displays his position, his role-identity incumbency in this instance, as outside the team. We may also infer that this also displays the perspective that the registration of the office and it's potential use by the community (that he ties to his role-identity category incumbency) also stands outside the exclusive remit of the Team.

Therefore, in this extract we can hear how the use of references to membership categories and their associated predicates are not only being interactionally accomplished, but also being deployed as a means of making a decision. To this extent we may also see how references to such positions, conditions and identities are a conversationally strategic device that is being deployed in and through the endogenous accomplishment of order. Furthermore, we can see how different accomplishments and descriptions of role - identity categories, in this instance, provide for a range of different competencies and duties within the 'multidisciplinary team'. Confidential information can only be shared with certain team members and the position of the Team Leader is described as 'important work' which requires peace and quiet. The discussion concerning the movement of personnel and the 'working geography' of the Flood Support Team's office space provides a vehicle for these distinctions to be displayed and reflexively oriented to within this instance of team interaction.


During the course of this paper I have sought to illustrate, through reference to transcribed material, some interactional dimensions of role within multidisciplinary team talk. Whilst these analyses are confined to specific locally situated instances a number of observations can be made. Firstly, that within the course of team meetings role is both interactionally accomplished, recognised and used as a resource to carry out further work in meeting talk. Team members negotiate and contest role through the recognisable deployment of a range of finely ordered and masterful techniques and strategies. Role is not imposed from above, but is an emergent property of team members' work within meetings. Therefore, in this sense the respecification of role as a locally ordered and interactionally achieved device seems, in terms of the examples and analysis carried out above, reasonable. Furthermore, the way in which members reflexively monitor and use role as a resource to make decisions (e.g. arranging office space), close down accounts, downgrade or recognise other team members contributions provides for a view of team membership as an activity that utilises a range of skills, methods and strategies. These are necessary for accomplishing the context of the meetings and carrying out the business of such meetings.

The local specifics of members' work is in contrast to the descriptions and outlines of multidisciplinary teamwork described in social / care management based literature. Indeed, in terms of this single case analysis of multidisciplinary team talk, specified 'roles' within team meetings are contested, fluid and dynamic, although specific forms of categorisation (e.g. professional, a trained individual or team member) can be used to direct the flow of conversation in significant ways. The appreciation of such observed practices may be of use to those interested in exploring such sites or work within similar contexts. Indeed, an understanding of these dynamics may provide a foundation upon which a multidisciplinary form of communicative practice within social / care work contexts may be promoted and achieved.

In terms of the concept of 'role' within the social sciences this paper does not seek to criticise its' theoretical history. However, it has aimed to provide a detailed conversation and membership categorisation analytic study of the fine detail of interaction within a multidisciplinary meeting. Consequently, the model of role evident within literature concerned with multidisciplinarity and teamwork (Øvretveit 1994) could benefit from the consideration of role as an interactional device and resource that is reflexively oriented to, accomplished, contested, negotiated and deployed during the course of the everyday work of team members in meetings. Roles are not fixed entities, rather they are members' phenomenon and can be understood to be categorial resources that are interactionally accomplished and used in a variety of settings for a wide number of different jobs. Furthermore, the concept of role can be understood to correspond to various occasioned forms of membership categorisation and decision-making practices within team meetings. Therefore this paper represents, through the use of the reconsidered model of membership categorisation analysis, an empirical demonstration of the ethnomethodological respecification of role theory in terms of situated action.


1For a more sequential account of role-in-interaction an account by Whalen and Zimmerman (1990) is particularly good. Through the examination of citizens calls to the police they show how the category entitlements of actors inform and mutually elaborate upon the sense of members accounts of events.

2The notion of recognisability and availability refers to the accountable features of members talk which are designed in terms of a reciprocity of perspective and as a means of mutually engaging in the activity of the meeting. The 'strong' form of recognisability can be understood in terms of direct reference to the categories or devices that is being topically oriented towards in talk whilst the 'weak' form of recognisability refers to predicate work (i.e. associations, attributions and activities) that refer, praxiologically, to a specific topic. For example, if the topic was the moral evaluation of an individual one might state 'I don't like him/her she/he is a bad person' (strong form of recognisability) or refer to the same person as being 'lazy', recount stories of their behaviour on previous occassions (they drank too much at the party) or suggest that their outwardly appearence conceals some form of dark motives (e.g. there eyes are to close together etc). In both cases these strategies can be used to do various types of work within occasioned settings including the 'formal' parameters of team meeting talk.

3In addition to these ideas Sacks (1972a) proposes a number of further membership categorisation analytic concepts. These include paired relational categories (e.g.mother / son and boyfriend / girlfriend), device 'R' that provides members with a means of identifying and searching for a particular category (e.g. having no one to turn to being tied to the category of being suicidal), programmatic relevance within which 'if R is relevant, then the non-incumbency of any of its pair positions is an observable, i.e. it can be proposedly a fact' (1972a:38) and collection K that is tied to the designation and identification of particular collections (e.g. professional knowledge etc.).


I would like to thank the ESRC for funding the Doctoral research from which this paper derives. I would also like to thank Stephen Hester, Dave Francis, Richard Fitzgerald and Graham Day for their support and encouragement. I would also like to thank Bill Housley for his Wittgensteinian stance and artistic approach to everyday life.


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  1. The following notation was used to denote different members of the flood support team:
    SW1:  	Social Worker One  (Psychiatric Social Worker)
    SW2:  	Social Worker Two (Geriatric Social Worker)
    SW3:  	Social Worker Three
    C:       	Counsellor
    CDW:	Community Development Worker
    TL:     	Team Leader
    LVC:	Lay Volunteer Co-ordinator
    Sec: 	Secretary
    St:	Student
  2. The following conventions, developed by Gail Jefferson, were used for my transcripts. These conventions denote lapses in time, overlapping talk, pace and in some instances pitch, pronunciation and stress. I have only included those symbols used in my transcriptions.

    Numbers in Parentheses: e.g. (1.0) denotes the approximate duration pauses or gaps between utterances in seconds or tenths of seconds.

    Point in Parentheses: (.) indicates a 'micro - pause' of less than two tenths of a second

    Letters, words or activities in parentheses: cough sounds, laughter words or activities that are distinct or difficult to locate to a particular interlocuter (s)

    	e.g.      	SW2:	I think we've heard enough about what you think
    ((name of CDW))
    		CDW	Oh (.) okay then
    Square Brackets: [ ] mark the points where talk overlaps

                   e.g.      SW1:      I think that we should proceed with
     [the pla::n ]
     [I couldn't ] agree more
    Full Colons: ( : : ) denote an extension in the vowel or consonant sound in the utterance of a word

                  e.g.      SW2:	     Tha::t's the
    Equals signs: ( = ) identifies a 'latching' between utterances, whereby which utterances follow each other rapidly after a preceding utterance.

                 e.g.         C:         I thought you were supposed
    to be at the meeting =
                          LVC:          = I was at the meeting  
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