Brion van Over, Manchester Community College

I am currently an Assistant Professor in the department of communication at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT. I finished my PhD in May 2012 at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. While attending UMass I worked most closely with Dr. Donal Carbaugh, my advisor and chair of my dissertation committee, as well as Dr. Benjamin Bailey, though there were many great faculty there I was privileged to learn from. Prior to that I completed an MA at SUNY Albany where I worked closely with Dr. Robert Sanders and Dr. Anita Pomerantz. These would be the roots of my intellectual family-tree.

  • What LSI pieces of writing have inspirational to you as a researcher?

There are a number that I think, taken together, inform the questions I ask and the way I approach my work. Certainly, Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everday Life, Kenneth Burke’s Permanence and Change, Sacks, Schegloff & Jefferson’s Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking, Keith Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places, Gerry Philipsen’s Speaking Culturally, and Donal Carbaugh’s Talking American. They each make a distinctive and invaluable contribution from my view.

  • What research questions you are currently exploring?

One of the things I’m working on pursues some questions I proposed during my dissertation work surrounding the inexpressible. As communication scholars we spend a lot of time thinking about what people say, what people don’t say, silence, and norms/rules that may prohibit or proscribe particular speech with varying intensity. What we haven’t generally dealt with is the mess in between — the struggle to say the things people claim unsayable. This is distinct from things that aren’t said because they must not be (normative prohibition), and those things not said because no word is claimed to exist in a particular language, and goes to the feeling that interlocutors have that certain things just CAN’T be said. The verbal channel simply can’t be made to do that work. I find that fascinating and want to understand what’s going on here from an LSI perspective as most of the work done on this has happened in philosophy of language, or religious studies and I think our theories and methods can be very generative and responsive to the study of this phenomenon. In pursuit of this, I make use of the Ethnography of Communication, Cultural Discourse Analysis and Conversation Analysis. I did some work on this in my dissertation and would like to continue it with more cross-cultural comparative studies, as I believe this phenomenon has some deep cultural roots.

I’m also working through a bunch of data Donal Carbaugh, Elizabeth Molina-Markham, Sunny Lie and I collected, with funding from GM, of people interacting with in-car infotainment systems. We also believe this to be done in deeply cultural ways and want to understand how particular cultural communities constitute the car as an interactional partner, and what sorts of cultural premises might inform the way interactants produce and interpret their interactions with the system.

  • What do you see as ways forward for you personally and/or professionally (e.g., what are your current goals/aspirations)? What do you see as the future of LSI research?

In terms of my research, I’ve never been committed to a particular topic or phenomenon so it’s sometimes hard to know what interesting bit of human social life will draw my eye next. This is only possible because the theories and methods I have been introduced to while working in LSI give me the confidence that I have the necessary resources to investigate any social phenomenon from firm footing. I think for LSI to remain relevant and useful we’re going to have to break down some of the divisions that have historically weakened us. This might include a less contentious approach to working with new media and digital communities, as well as a happier integration between close analyses of conversational data and cultural contexts in which those conversations occur. This is not to say that there aren’t folks who haven’t already struck out in these directions. In general, I think LSI has a lot of opportunity to grow and new directions to pursue.