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Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

IMPACT FACTOR 2018: 0.400
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.750

CiteScore 2018: 0.61

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.305
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.670

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Volume 21, Issue 1-2


Stability and ambiguity: Managing uncertain moments when updating news about mom's cancer

Wayne A Beach
Published Online: 2008-06-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text.1.21.1-2.221


Drawn from a series of 54 phone calls over a 13-month period, excerpts are analyzed from five phone calls involving family members talking through a mother's diagnosis and treatment for cancer. In three of these instances, occurring across three phone calls in a two-day period, the son delivers and updates news to his (recently) divorced wife about the stability of ‘mom's’ condition. As emerging news is shown to be an upshot of prior informings, including reconstructions from other family members' and health professionals' reportings, several distinct features and problems enacted through these cumulative ‘news delivery sequences’ are identified. Behaving ‘as if’ mom would soon be dying, announcing and elaborating upon the news is shaped by (a) inherent and practical ambiguities associated with uncertain illness trajectories (e.g., arranging travel plans), and (b) displayed frustration and fatigue at being a primary family member preoccupied with mom's changing health status. Responding to and assessing news updates is also problematic. Displaying concerns for mom and the son, yet also distancing from reported troubles, require different interactional solutions. The achieved character of social relationships (e.g., closeness and distance) is thus evident as speakers demonstrate being variably affected by the news. Understanding the social organization of family cancer journeys requires both episodic and longitudinal examinations of fundamental quandaries of communication in everyday life: managing relationships during periods of illness, practical decision making and plans, and the ongoing volativity of illness diagnoses by lay persons.

Keywords: cancer; conversation analysis; family interactions; lay diagnosis; news delivery sequences; social relationships

About the article

Wayne A Beach

Wayne A. Beach is Professor in the School of Communication at San Diego State University and Associate Member of the Cancer Center within the School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego. His research focuses on conversational and institutional interactions, and their convergence, including how families talk through cancer diagnosis and treatment, medical interviewing, and recent work on genetic counseling.

Published Online: 2008-06-02

Published in Print: 2001-06-12

Citation Information: Text – Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Discourse, Volume 21, Issue 1-2, Pages 221–250, ISSN (Online) 1613-4117, ISSN (Print) 0165-4888, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text.1.21.1-2.221.

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