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Describing trouble: Practical epistemology in citizen calls to the police1

  • Marilyn R. Whalen (a1) and Don H. Zimmerman (a2)


In this article, we examine the way citizens' descriptions of troublesome occurrences in reports to emergency dispatch personnel are vulnerable to suspicion and doubt. The vulnerability of description in these cases involves callers' categorization of, visual or aural access to, and involvement in the reported “trouble.” It is through displays of what we term practical epistemology – displays of how one has come to know about a particular event – that these vulnerabilites emerge and are tested and negotiated in the request for and dispatch of emergency assistance. (Conversation analysis, language in institutional settings, pragmatics)



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