Somewhere to turn to: Signposting in service provision

Marc Alexander, Emily Hofstetter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article investigates how members of the public are guided or ‘signposted’ out of organisations that they have contacted to third-party agencies. Using conversation analysis, we examine the interactional practices professionals use to signpost callers to external organisations when their concerns do not fit within the remit of the present service. Drawing on a corpus of over 500 calls and meetings at five different institutions in the UK (including mediation services, local council organisations, a housing charity and a politician’s constituency office), we show how the practice of signposting is intertwined with the activities of rejecting the caller’s case for receiving service, while simultaneously offering a service – namely, a redirection to an ostensibly more appropriate service provider. We show how community problems can be treated as warranting assistance along a range of offer-ability (e.g. ‘I will do X for you’, ‘That’s the kind of thing we could do’, ‘Do you want their number?’), and how troubles-tellings without a specific request can be retroactively formulated into an actionable item for an institution. Our findings demonstrate practices for negotiating institutionality itself, through delimiting service remit, and through participants’ orientations to the relevance of service provision as an institutional goal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-138
Number of pages20
JournalDiscourse and Communication
Issue number2
Early online date20 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


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