Legitimate competence: The differential treatment of interactional competences within classroom interaction

 Students and teacher in a classroom

Project summary

The subproject SCHOOL is concerned with a primary site of young people’s socialization and communicative development: classroom interaction. It aims at exploring how an institutionally-bound selection of "legitimate" interactional competences is accomplished throughout interactional practices within everyday school life. 

To learn more about this subproject, click on another question above.

Through the micro-details of everyday classroom practice, students’ interaction competence is submitted to a constant process of implicit (and sometimes explicit) evaluation. The importance of such evaluation is crucial in a world where interactional competence provides a core instrument for social selection and access to higher education and the workplace.

We currently know little about the implicit side of the evaluation as it materializes in the micro-details of classroom interactions. The subproject SCHOOL is designed to fill this gap by investigating first-language classrooms within the Swiss educational system.

The subproject aims to answer the following questions:

  • What are the interactional mechanisms of legitimization through which various dimensions of interactional competence are made relevant and assessed within the classroom?
  • How do these practically enacted mechanisms of legitimization, their ensuing values as well as people’s understandings of them relate to the official curricula
  • To what degree do they differ between compulsory and post-compulsory schooling?
  • Are there (dis-)continuities between the institutional logics of assessing interactional competences in school, speech therapy and the workplace?
To learn more about this subproject, click on another question above.


The subproject explores two corpora:

  1. A corpus of 35 lessons of French L1 classroom interactions video-recorded in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, at two levels of schooling: secondary I – compulsory schooling and secondary II – high school.
  2. A corpus of focus-group discussions involving teachers and students, designed as a supplementary site for the analysis of students’ and teachers’ social representations. 


  • Analysis of classroom interactions: Using conversation analysis (CA), we identify what dimensions of interactional competence are called for and put to work within classroom practices. We also identify which dimensions of interactional competence are interactionally construed as particularly worthy or legitimate within the institutional practices.
  • Analysis of focus group discussions:  We analyze the representations-in-action as they emerge within classroom practice; we investigate how such representations are interactionally remolded, consolidated, transformed or abandoned. 
  • Comparisons: Comparison between levels of schooling informs us about (dis)continuities as to the demands and relevancies of interactional practice. Comparison between this subproject and the findings of the other IC-You subprojects informs us about (dis)continuities between the institutional processes of assessing interactional competences in school, speech therapy and the workplace.

To learn more about this subproject, click on another question above.

This subproject is designed to shed light on key aspects of the hidden institutional logics of evaluation, qualification and, in the end, selection that pervade everyday school life in Switzerland. Thereby, the project opens a window onto the functioning of a core social institution, school, in an age of rapid social, cultural and linguistic change.

  • Fundamental research:  This subproject provides a methodological and conceptual contribution to a better understanding of what interactional competence is and of how it can be empirically documented. It also contributes to current efforts towards a clarification of the complex relation between practices and representations, including perception of self, of others and of social norms and institutions in and through interactional practices. 
  • Applied research:  The project sheds light on some of the conditions that shape the transition from obligatory to post-obligatory schooling. It also provides a basis for rethinking how schools might become more successful in meeting the social and communicative needs that citizens face in transitioning from school to the workplace. 
 To learn more about this subproject, click on another question above.
  • Fasel Lauzon, V., Pekarek Doehler, S. & Pochon-Berger, E. (2009). Identification et observabilité de la compétence d'interaction: le désaccord comme microcosme interactionnel. Bulletin Suisse de Linguistique Appliquée 86, 121-142. [pdf]
  • Fasel Lauzon, V., Pekarek Doehler, S., Pochon-Berger, E., Steinbach Kohler, F. (2009). L'oral? L'oral! Mais comment? - Les pratiques communicatives en langue seconde au secondaire inférieur et supérieur. Babylonia 2/2009, 41-45.
  • Fasel Lauzon, V. & Pochon, E. (2010). Une perspective multimodale sur les pratiques d’hétéro-sélection du locuteur en classe. Pratiques 147-148, 105-130.
  • Hall, J.K., Hellermann, J. & Pekarek Doehler, S. (eds.) (2011). L2 interactional competence and development. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. 
  • Pekarek Doehler, S. (2006). Compétence et langage en action. Bulletin Suisse de Linguistique Appliquée 84, 9-45. [pdf]
  • Pekarek Doehler, S. (2009). Démythifier les compétences: vers une pratique écologique d'évaluation. In O. Galatanu, M. Pierrard & D. Van Raemdonck (eds.), Construction du sens et acquisition de la signification linguistique dans l'interaction. Bern: Peter Lang, 19-38.
  • Pekarek Doehler, S. & Pochon-Berger, E. (2011). Developing ‘methods’ for interaction: a cross-sectional study of disagreement sequences in French L2. In J.K. Hall, J. Hellermann & S. Pekarek Doehler (eds): L2 interactional competence and development. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 206-243.
  • Petitjean, C. (2011). Effets et enjeux de l'interdisciplinarité en sociolinguistique. D'une approche discursive à une conception praxéologique des représentations linguistiques. TRANEL 53, 142-166. [pdf]

To learn more about this subproject, click on another question above. 

Team members

Team partners

List of publications

PubList_School_2013.pdf (206.62 KB)