Action-implicative discourse analysis (AIDA) is an approach to analyzing talk or text in a social context. It is a relatively new method of discourse analysis, developed by Karen Tracy in 1995. AIDA views communication as composed of different practices in which communicators are problem-solvers. People reflect on what they did do (or would do) in interaction and respond to interactional problems and challenges they experience (or anticipate experiencing) with the aim of working toward what they think would create the best situation. AIDA is conducted in close relationship to grounded practical theory (Craig & Tracy 1995), a view of inquiry that contrasts with scientific perspectives that seek to describe, predict, and control “what is” in the world. AIDA, as well as practical theory more generally, is concerned with providing opportunities to discuss what “ought to be.” AIDA’s primary focus has been on analyzing communication practices in institutional settings. AIDA works by reconstructing the complex of participants’ problems and their situated ideals regarding the practice in question through close examination of conversational moves and strategies. Practice can refer to specific communication actions that are cut across situations, such as “intellectual discussion” (Tracy 1997a) or “negotiation” (Agne & Tracy 2001). It can also refer to activities identified by specific participants in specific situations, such as school board meetings (Tracy & Muller 2001), or citizens’ telephone calls to the police (Tracy 1997b).
Reconstruction involves three related analytic tasks. A first is to describe the problem communicators face within a particular practice. A second is to describe conversational practices that reveal both problems and techniques that participants use to manage them. Finally, reconstruction is about what participants see as the ideal way of responding when confronted with problems. AIDA is a normative approach. Drawing on Aristotle’s idea of phronesis – good judgment, wisdom, thoughtful deliberation, and reasonableness – AIDA seeks to cultivate normative practices by developing new ideas and raising thought-provoking questions. As its name indicates, AIDA is a method in which analysis is intimately connected to the actions that pertain to the practice in question; analysis should have implications for good, moral, or reasonable action. AIDA does not just describe the communicative world. It has implications for what people should be doing to create a more civil society.
Analysis using AIDA is an inductive process, focusing on recorded interaction, usually from an institutional setting. An argument is arrived at by transcribing the interaction in detail, attending to conversational particulars such as pauses, intonation, stress, volume, overlap, and, as some research has included, visual behaviors (e.g., Mirivel in press). Analytical points about participants’ implicit interactional achievements emerge from an iterative process of forming hunches about what is going on in the interaction, referencing relevant scholarly literature, and finding specific evidence in the transcript. Analytical points are refined as they become more specific claims. Claims are then organized to form a central claim in the report with sub-claims that are supported with evidence in the transcript.
Given AIDA’s focus on problematic communication, episodes amenable for analysis are those in which communicators are seen to be pursuing multiple goals or when those goals are in competition. AIDA is rhetorically influenced in that communicators are seen as purposefully and strategically managing those goals, making arguments for desired identities, relationships, and situated ideals. Doing analysis also requires learning about the social context and/or culture in which the transcribed episodes take place. For analysts to make proposals about problems and ideal situations, they must understand the social environment.
An example of a study using AIDA is Agne and Tracy’s (2001) analysis of the Waco standoff negotiations between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US and a religious group, the Branch Davidians, in 1993. FBI reports frequently referred to Branch Davidian leader David Koresh’s talk as “bible babble.” Agne and Tracy argue that using this dismissive label to describe the difficulty the FBI had in dealing with Koresh contributed to the FBI’s failure in convincing him and the Davidians to surrender. One strategy demonstrating the problem with this label was that Koresh effectively positioned himself as an expert on the Bible and religious matters and the FBI negotiator as a novice. This and the FBI’s lack of challenging the reasonableness of Koresh’s religious claims helped legitimate God as a key player in the standoff and Koresh as God’s rightful spokesperson.
- Agne, R. R., & Tracy, K. (2001). “Bible babble”: Naming the interactional trouble at Waco. Discourse Studies, 3, 269 – 294.
- Craig, R. T. (2006). Communication as a practice. In G. J. Shepherd, J. St. John, & T. Striphas (eds.), Communication as . . . : Perspectives on theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 38 – 47.
- Craig, R. T., & Tracy, K. (1995). Grounded practical theory: The case of intellectual discussions. Communication Theory, 5, 248 –272.
- Mirivel, J. C. (in press). The physical examination in cosmetic surgery: Communication strategies to promote the desirability of surgery. Health Communication.
- Tracy, K. (1995). Action-implicative discourse analysis. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 14, 195 –215.
- Tracy, K. (1997a). Colloquium: Dilemmas of academic discourse. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
- Tracy, K. (1997b). Interaction trouble in emergency service requests: A problem of frames. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 30, 315 –343.
- Tracy, K. (2005). Reconstructing communicative practices: Action-implicative discourse analysis. In K. Fitch & R. Sanders (eds.), Handbook of language and social interaction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 301–319.
- Tracy, K., & Craig, R. T. (in press). Studying interaction in order to cultivate practices: Actionimplicative discourse analysis. In P. Thibault & C. Prevignano (eds.), Interaction analysis: Discussing the state of the art. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
- Tracy, K., & Muller, H. (2001). Diagnosing a school board’s interactional trouble: Theorizing problem formulating. Communication Theory, 11, 84 –104.