Jack Bilmes

Jack Bilmes, PhD

Professor Emeritus

Research Interests
Major Publications
Courses Taught
Contact Information


After receiving a B.A. from Brandeis University in English and American Literature in 1961, I joined the Peace Corps and was put in the first group to Thailand. While in training at the University of Michigan, I met a Thai graduate student, whom I married about two years later. It was during my time in Thailand that I conceived the idea of becoming an anthropologist. Since I had never taken a course in anthropology, I entered Yale University to study for an M.A. in Southeast Asia Studies, taking mostly anthropology courses.

I interrupted my degree work to take a job with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Laos, as a community development advisor. The idea was to get the sort of rural experience that I hadn't gotten as a teacher of English in Thailand. After three years, I returned to New Haven, completed my M.A., and moved on to Stanford to do a Ph.D. in Anthropology, which I received in 1974. My fieldwork was on social-interactional aspects of decision-making in two Northern Thai villages. In 1973, I was hired to teach in the UH Department of Anthropology, where I have been ever since, with various times out for research and overseas teaching.

Research Interests

My main research interests have been in social interaction and discourse. I have returned repeatedly to one of my original Northern Thai research sites. I have also done eight months of research in the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. Although this latter research was centrally about discourse, it resulted as well in two articles about economics and social policy, an interest which I continue to pursue. I have written several articles dealing with Northern Thai culture and verbal interaction. Another research interest is political campaign debate in America. My methodological approach has been largely microanalytic, using the techniques of sociolinguistics, conversation analysis, and linguistic pragmatics as primary resources. My general theoretical orientation can be described as discursive, focussing on the creation and manipulation of meaning in actual situations of social interaction, and the cultural resources that make this possible. I am currently trying to develop an approach that I call ‘occasioned semantics,’ comprising co-categorization and contrast, inclusion/subsumption, and scaling, which I take to be the fundamental elements of category structure in discourse.

Major Publications

For a complete bibliography of Bilmes' publications, click here

The structure of meaning in talk: Explorations in category analysis. Volume I: Co-categorization, contrast, and hierarchy. Internet document, 2015. 175 pages.  (This can be downloaded directly from http://www2.hawaii.edu/~bilmes)

"Preference and the conversation analytic endeavor." Journal of Pragmatics, 64, 2014. Pp. 52-71.

“Truth and proof in a lawyer’s story.” Journal of Pragmatics, 44, 2012. Pp. 1626-38.

"Occasioned semantics: A systematic approach to meaning in talk." Human Studies, 34, 2011. Pp. 129-253.

"Kinship categories in a Northern Thai narrative." In H. Nguyen and G. Kasper (eds), Talk-in-Interaction: Multilingual Perspectives. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii, National Foreign Language Resource Center. 2009. Pp. 29-56.

"Taxonomies are for talking: Reanalyzing a Sacks classic."  Journal of Pragmatics, 41, 2009. Pp. 1600-1610.

"Generally Speaking: Formulating an Argument in the U.S. Federal Trade Commission." TEXT&TALK, 28, 2008. Pp. 193-217.

"The Call-On-Hold as Conversational Resource." Text, 25, 2005. PP. 149-170,"

"Tactics And Styles in the 1992 Vice-Presidential Debate: Question Placement." Research In Language And Social Interaction, 34, 2001. PP. 151-181.

"Questions, Answers, and the Organization of Talk in the 1992 American Vice-Presidential Debate: Fundamental Considerations." Research on Language and Social Interaction: 32, 1999. Pp. 213 -242.

"Being Interrupted." Language in Society, 32, 1997. Pp. 213-242.

"Problems and Resources in Analyzing Thai Language Data." Journal of Pragmatics, 27, 1996. Pp. 171-188.

"Constituting Silence: Life in the World of Total Meaning." Semiotica, 98, 1994. Pp. 73-87. Reprinted as "Le silence reconstitué: La vie dans un monde de plénitude de sens." Reseaux, No. 80, 1996. pp. 129-142.

"Ethnomethodology, Culture, and Implicature: Toward an Empirical Pragmatics." Pragmatics, 3, 1993. Pp. 387-409.

"Dividing the Rice: A Microanalysis of the Mediator's Role in a Northern Thai Negotiation." Language in Society, 21, 1992. Pp. 569-602.

"Following Instructions." In M. Lynch and S. Woolgar (eds.), Representation in Scientific Practice. M.I.T. Press, 1990. Pp. 323-335. (originally appeared in Quarterly Newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, 6, 1984. (with Ronald Amerine). Pp. 81-87. Reprinted in Human Studies, 11, 1988. Pp. 327-339.)

"The Concept of Preference in Conversation Analysis." Language in Society, 17, 1988. Pp. 161-181.

Discourse and Behavior. Plenum Press, 1986.

"Freedom and Regulation: An Anthropological Critique of Free Market Ideology." Research in Law & Economics, 7, 1985. Pp. 123-147. (also, pp. 157-159, rejoinder to commentary.)

Courses Taught

Cultural Anthropology (introductory)
Linguistic Anthropology (graduate and undergraduate)
Communication and Culture
Discursive Practice
Microanalysis of Discourse (graduate seminar dealing mainly with conversation analytic techniques)
Various occasional courses, graduate and undergraduate, dealing with communication and culture, Southeast Asia (especially Thailand), social theory, and social interaction.