Communicating a feeling: the social organization of 'private thoughts'

Rebecca Barnes, Duncan Moss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


This article examines the design and situated employment of reported 'private thoughts' in both everyday and institutional interaction. By reported 'private thoughts' we mean the 'active voicing' (Wooffitt, 1992) of utterances characterized as 'private thought' done in the first place for the speaker-feeler, rather than the listener. Examples are drawn from a large UK collection of over 240 instances from domestic telephone calls, interview talk, therapy sessions, and patient-provider interactions. Instead of treating reported 'private thoughts' as neutral and transparent descriptions of the inner mind, we focus on their 'brought off' nature. Drawing on the cumulative resources of conversation analysis and discursive psychology, we focus on lexical and non-lexical features of their design and its similarity to direct reported speech. We go on to illustrate the flexibilities of positioning reporting 'private thoughts' affords, that is, how they can be done for the self as a 'one-off', as generalized or hypothetical and how they can be done for others. Our analyses draw attention to how 'private thoughts' might be considered as a speaker's resource for handling everyday rational accountability in reporting and explaining actions and events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-148
Number of pages26
JournalDiscourse Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007

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