Direct and indirect ways of managing epistemic asymmetries when eliciting memories

Val Williams*, Joe Webb, Sandra Dowling, Marina Gall

*Corresponding author for this work

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

7 Citations (Scopus)
217 Downloads (Pure)


This article aims to explore how epistemic status is negotiated during talk about the life memories of one speaker. Direct questions which foreground ‘remembering’ can lead to troubled sequences of talk. However, interlocutors sometimes frame their first parts as ‘co-rememberings’, and the sequential positioning of these can be crucial to the outcome of the talk. We draw on almost 10 hours of video data from dementia settings, where memory is a talked-about matter. Our focus is on 30 sequences which are initiated with a question or other first part taking a K- stance, selecting one person as next speaker, and topically relating to the recipient’s past life. We show how Type Two knowables can be used alongside markers of tentativeness, to jointly construct the recipient’s epistemic primacy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-215
Number of pages17
JournalDiscourse Studies
Issue number2
Early online date15 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

Biographical note Val Williams is a Disability Studies professor, who combines disability research with the systematic analysis of talk. She has previously published accounts of the fine-grained detail in conversations between people with intellectual disabilities and their support workers. Joe Webb is also a CA analyst, who has strong interests in the interactional consequences of questions, and in the application of Conversation Analysis to dementia talk. Marina Gall and Sandra Dowling are members of the team, who worked with disabled people to create practices which are better fitted to include them.

Acknowledgements We would like to acknowledge the support given in analysis by our co-investigators Professors Charles Antaki and Celia Kitzinger, and to thank all the people with dementia and their supporters who took part in this research.


  • Epistemics
  • epistemic primacy
  • co-remembering
  • dementia
  • questions
  • reminiscence
  • Type Two knowables
  • asymmetries in talk
  • support practices


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