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“Hahaha”: Laughter as a resource to manage WhatsApp conversations

2017-1-25, Petitjean, Cécile, Morel, Etienne

This study deals with the interactional achievement of laughter in WhatsApp conversations. We aim to describe how texters mobilize “transcribed” laughter (i.e. hahaha), and to what extent laughter is a resource for managing the interactional contingencies linked to the asynchronous nature of the written conversations in which participants are engaged. Using both a conversation analytic approach and quantification, we analyzed 43 WhatsApp conversations collected in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. By focusing on the position of laughter in a message, its sequential position, and the management of turn allocation before and after a message that contains laugh particles, we show that participants recurrently produce volunteered and unilateral laughs combined with assessments as responsive actions. However, depending on the position of laughter in the message and its sequential organization, participants orient to different courses of action. The first pattern includes standalone unilateral laughter (i.e. the message is composed only of laugh particles) that is followed by another message by the same speaker, in which he/she produces an assessment, leading to sequence closing and topic termination. In the second pattern, the speaker laughs in turn-initial position before producing an assessment in the same message; in this case, the next message is performed by the partner, providing him/her with the opportunity to prolong the ongoing topic. Laughter is thus a powerful resource in that it allows participants to orient to interactional moments that are particularly delicate to manage, especially in asynchronous conversations: message-taking and sequence closing/topic termination. Laughter thus opens a window onto how participants display expertise in the management of WhatsApp conversations. Given the impact that asynchronous exchanges may have in social life, the ability to exhibit an identity of “doing being” an expert of new communication technologies appears to be a key competence that deserves further investigation.