Changing the subject: Gender, status, and the dynamics of topic change


Journal Article

Social scientists have devoted a great deal of attention to how much people talk, but have paid little attention to what they talk about. Research in the tradition of conversation analysis suggests that transitions between topics of conversation are accomplished in a systematic, structured way, and that social status can affect whose topics are developed and whose are lost. The authors use insights from conversation analysis to develop a systematic coding system for identifying topic shifts in task-oriented discussions. Hypotheses from the literature on group processes predict who will suggest topic changes in a task-oriented group and whose topics will be lost. Event history methods model the dynamics of topic change in two data sets: a study of six-person laboratory task groups and a replication study of dyads. Topic changes in these task-oriented discussions are more sensitive to status structures that develop within the conversation than to a relatively weak status characteristic like gender. Some of the sequential mechanisms that conversation analysts have studied in the context of less structured, more wide ranging talk may be generalizable to this more constrained conversational environment.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Okamoto, DG; Smith-Lovin, L

Published Date

  • January 1, 2001

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 66 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 852 - 873

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0003-1224

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.2307/3088876

Citation Source

  • Scopus