Philosophical speech act theory and challenges in interactive dialogue: Experiences of narrow communication


  • Halvor Nordby The University College of Lillehammer PO Box 952 2604 Lillehammer Norway E-mail: and The University of Oslo Department of health and society PO Box 1089 Blindern, 0317 Oslo Norway E-mail:



Interactive communication, conceptual analysis, face-to-face dialogue, prehospital medical work


Background. Modern information conveying technology can facilitate interactive communication that transcends the possibilities of information exchange in ordinary face-to-face dialogue. However, interactive communication has its limits, related to lack of personal and physical closeness between communicators. When a communication channel is narrow – when written signs or verbal utterances are the only interpretive clues – misinterpretation and poor dialogue happens more easily than in face-to-face encounters. Design. The article analyses the concept of interactive narrowness on the basis of philosophical speech act theory and a study on interaction between paramedics and health personnel working in acute medical communication centers. Method. The article uses a combination of theoretical interpretation and experimental philosophy – philosophical analysis ‘from below’ – to develop a conceptual analysis of interactive narrowness that is grounded in actual experiences of this form of communication. Analysis. The paramedics held that it was difficult to secure interactive communication in hectic and unpredictable situations involving emotional disagreement and conflicts about choices of actions. Even when it was possible to discuss difficult situations on the phone, this could not replace face-to-face dialogue. Discussion. The paramedics’ experiences support the conclusion that there is an irreducible interpretive element in face-to-face dialogue that is not present in interactive communication. Speech act theory can shed further light on this irreducibility and, more specifically, on the importance of personal closeness in communication. Implications. Face-to-face communication is crucial in contexts that have similarities to the sensitive situations described by the paramedics. The article indicates how this and related implications apply in various settings and uses interactive dialogue between teachers and students in distance learning courses as an example area to clarify the main implications.




How to Cite

Nordby, H. (2014). Philosophical speech act theory and challenges in interactive dialogue: Experiences of narrow communication. Seminar.Net, 10(2).