Why analyse a conversation?

apartment photo
Apartment (stock photo)

Social media conversations can bring out either collaborative or confrontational sides in us. This post analyses such a  conversation from a Facebook group that I did an ethnography study on.  The conversation occurred after an advertisement  was placed of an apartment available for rent.  I chose this conversation since I am interested in how digital media can lead towards either collaboration or confrontation, and there are hints of both here. This links with my wider interest in digital media use in interfaith relations.  It is an assignment as part of an edX MOOC (Introduction to Social Research Methods) which in turn is part of a Masters in Digital Education at Edinburgh University.

After the conversation (see below), I use Gee’s Seven Building Tasks of Language to analyse it. Gee’s idea is that we use everyday language to build seven aspects of reality, such as our own (and others) identities and attributing significance to certain things.

The Facebook Conversation

Original Poster (OP): Studio flat for rent, Available asap 835£
<photos of flat displayed>

Poster 1 (P1): I paid £915 a month for a 2 bed apartment with 2 bathrooms & that was in the town centre. You may struggle getting someone to pay that. Maybe ask a agency how much it is worth a month x

OP: I pay for it from months, now I am looking for replacement for this flat, the price is not my idea and doesnt depend from me :)

P1: Oh okay, I hope you can get someone x

Poster 2 (P2):  Surely it's down to the landlord to find a replacement.

OP: I still cant understand people. If for someone price is too expensive or something, doesnt need to rent. What's the problem? Also im not landlord and price is not my idea x

Poster 3 (P3): <P2>, <OP> is probably tied into a contract that they want someone to take over. Will do well to find some mug to pay £835. Landlord's having a laugh!!

P3: <OP>, this is facebook. If you don't want any negative/sarcastic comments then better to stick to classified ads in the paper!! :-)

Using Gee’s Seven Building Tasks of Language

1. How does this text make certain things significant?

The significance of the speech is determining the reputation of OP. For P1, they ask OP to reconsider the price by suggesting someone independent like an agency could help them with that. OP replies by saying that they have no control over the price. OP does not understand why they are getting negative reactions. P3 openly questions OP’s reputation that they are looking for a mug and that if they do not want their reputation questioned that they should advertise elsewhere.

2. What practices does this text get others to recognise as going on?

OP uses language to indicate the practice of landlords fixing rents that people like OP cannot control. P3 goes on to highlight the practice of people who sign a rental contract without thinking through the consequences.

3. What identities does this text get others to recognise?

The language of OP identifies them as someone who is like a messenger for the landlord and they have no control over the transaction themselves. P1 and P2 both recognise this and their language gives them the identity of helpers. However the language of P3 gives an identity of an unsympathetic exposer of OP’s dilemma, perhaps as an upholder of justice.

4. What sort of relationships is this text seeking to enact with others?

The OP wants to be left alone to get on with their task of finding someone willing to rent. P1 and P2 both want to help them find someone to whom they can rent the flat, and make suggestions how to do this. P3 takes on the right to confront people like OP, and reserves this while they choose to advertise on Facebook.

5. What political perspective on social goods is this text communicating?

Interestingly, no-one questions the role of the landlord in renting the flat. It is assumed that the landlord has power over the person renting, that they will be willing to take advantage of those prepared to pay their rate and may laugh at them in doing so.

6. How does this text connect or disconnect things, making one thing relevant to another?

There is a connection made between first seeking advice from an agency in town and posting on Facebook. There is also a connection made between where advertising is done and what reactions that the advertiser should expect. The idea to advertise in the newspaper is not to get more success but to avoid experience of negative reactions.

7. How does this text privilege or disprivilege certain sign systems (ways of communicating)?

There is a contrast between direct and indirect relationships with potential clients: Facebook is direct and so the privilege (or in this case, disprivilege) is that people posting become aware of what others think of them whereas a newspaper is indirect and so they do not become aware, for better or for worse.


What did I learn from this about collaboration and confrontation on social media? Could the interactions have occurred with a different outcome?

One interesting additional aspect  is that OP had recently got married (according to their Facebook personal info) but did not disclose this at all while posting. Would disclosing this have made the dialogue more favourable for them in that people would understand why they were advertising? Would a different Facebook group (such as friends and friends of friends) resulted in a different outcome? Is part of unhelpful confrontation caused by conversants not knowing key information about each other while interacting and also having more transient relationships?

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