University of Leicester
2003O'HalloranSEdD.pdf (12.66 MB)

An Investigation into the Display of Complementarity and Symmetry in the Discoursal Practices of Meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous

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posted on 2012-04-13, 09:02 authored by Sean O'Halloran
This is a study of the discoursal interactional practices members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) use to display their alignment to the AA programme and to fellow participants in AA meetings. An ethnographic study was initially done of an Alcoholics Anonymous group in a location in a cosmopolitan city in Asia. This part of the study was undertaken to allow the researcher to immerse himself in AA discourse and culture in order to gain access to the everyday understandings embedded in AA life and discourse. It was also necessary to ascertain if AA in that part of the world was significantly different from AA elsewhere which has relevance to the significance of the findings. Following ethnographic immersion, research using an ethnomethodological approach was undertaken. Data were collected through audio recordings and transcription of eleven AA meetings held in two locations in Asia. Through the analysis of the differing discoursal practices which characterise different stages of AA meetings, it is demonstrated that they contain three episodes constituted by contrasting interactive features. Two of these are seen as framing the interactive episode involving 'sharing'. The two framing episodes contain a sequentially structured series of fixed, multimode turns. They frame the interactive heart of the meeting which involves the sharing turns. All three episodes are marked by an intertextual alignment to AA literature and belief system. Data from the sharing episode is analysed and demonstrates the employment of sustained turns allows participants discoursal space to co-construct their personal narrative around and through an AA meta-narrative which exemplifies the necessity and relevance of the Twelve Steps in their lives, and thus their dependency on AA. The data also reveal the institutional nature of the turn taking system and demonstrates that it is the mechanism whereby the institutional goals of AA are realised. The construction of a shared identity as alcoholics is reflexively related to the shared range of discoursal practices employed. The lack of differentials in the range of discoursal practices employed constitutes nondifferentiated roles among participants which are displayed though sustained discoursal symmetry. This construction of symmetry and dependency is seen as a discoursal manifestation of what Gregory Bateson sees as the necessary realignment in the combative dualist worldview of the alcoholic whereby 'surrender' brings about acceptance of self, one's alcoholism and the world.


Alternative title

An Investigation into the Display of Complementarity and Symmetry in the Discursive Practices of Meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous

Date of award


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • EdD



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