Crafting Coincidence – The Rhetoric of Improbable Events

Stockbridge, G. (University of Portsmouth (UK)

Coincidences are all about contact – people meeting in unexpected ways, events falling together and lost contacts reviving their connections. Coincidences induce powerful emotions and are frequent instigators of change in people’s lives. While often dismissed as ‘paranormal’, mere statistical misinterpretation or selective memory, people work hard to justify the existence of their coincidence experiences in terms of mainstream scientific standards. This study uses real-life, textual accounts of coincidences sourced from the Cambridge Coincidence Collection to lay bare their rhetorical mechanics. Employing discursive psychology and conversation analysis, this study identifies three rhetorical devices: ‘mirror formulations’ (Stockbridge & Wooffitt, 2018), which narratively bind together the two story-segments that constitute a coincidence; the ‘discovery/departure’ device, which manages stake and intentionality of the narrators and the ‘but…still’ device, which is a type of show concession through which narrators display an orientation to probabilistic reasoning. Finally, the study proposes implications for research on emotion, decision-making and interactions in therapy contexts. [The pharmaceutical company’s Bial Foundation fully funded this study].



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Attitudes and Motivation