Harvey Sacks (1935-1975)


  • Language and Context

Research Interests

Notable Ideas

  • the founder of Conversation Analysis


Harvey Sacks was an American sociologist influenced by the ethnomethodology tradition. He received his doctoral degree in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley (1966), an LL.B. at Yale Law School (1959), and a B.A. at Columbia College (1955). He lectured at the University of California, Los Angeles and Irvine from 1964-1975.

Contribution to Linguistics

Sacks pioneered extremely detailed studies of the way real people actually used language in the real world. Despite his early death in a car crash and the fact that he did not publish widely, he founded the discipline of conversation analysis.

Central Knowledge

He treated such topics as: the organization of person-reference; topic organization and stories in conversation; speaker selection preferences; pre-sequences; the organization of turn-taking; conversational openings and closings; and puns, jokes, stories and repairs in conversation among many other topics.

Main Publications

  • Sacks, H., Sociological Description, in Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 8:1-16. 1963.

  • Harvey Sacks and Harold Garfinkel, On formal structures of practical action, in: J.C. McKinney and E.A. Tiryakian (eds.), Theoretical Sociology, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1970, pp.338-366. Reprinted in H. Garfinkel, ed., (1986) Ethnomethodological Studies of Work, 160-193. 1970.

  • Sacks, H., An Initial Investigation of the Usability of Conversational Data for Doing Sociology, in D. Sudnow (ed.) Studies in Social Interaction, Free Press, New York, pp. 31-74. 1972.

  • Sacks, H. Notes on Police Assessment of Moral Character. In D.N. Sudnow (ed.) Studies in Social Interaction, Free Press, New York, NY, pp. 280-293. 1972.

  • Sacks, H. On the Analyzability of Stories by Children, in R. Turner (ed.) Ethnomethodology, Penguin, Harmondsworth, pp. 216-232. 1974.

  • Sacks, H., An Analysis of the Course of a Joke's telling in Conversation, in R. Bauman and J.F. Sherzer (eds.) Explorations in the Ethnography of Speaking. Cambridge, UK; Cambridge University Press, 1974. pp. 337-353.

  • Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A. & Jefferson, G. A Simplest Systematics for the Organisation of Turn-Taking for Conversation, in Language, 50:696-735. 1974.

  • Harvey Sacks: Lectures on Conversation, Volumes I and II, Edited by G. Jefferson with Introduction by E.A. Schegloff, Blackwell, Oxford. 1992.

Categories: People