Guest blog: Wendy Archer on collecting data in very sensitive environments

When interactional researchers step out into the medical world to collect data, they might be recording people in discomfort, pain or distress. As well as the researchers’ own conscience and ethics,  institutional and legal rules should ensure that dignity and propriety are respected. Wendy Archer gives a personal and topical account of her own work in the very sensitive environment of end-of-life care.

Wendy Archer, Nottingham University

Wendy Archer, Nottingham University

Led by Ruth Parry, and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the VERDIS-AHP study will shortly recruit its first participants having recently received ethics approval; but as healthcare communication researchers will be aware, setting up a study in such a sensitive setting, negotiating access and approaching busy practitioners – though eventually rewarding – is very challenging.

Permission to record very sensitive health encounters

As someone new to health services research, I found that the range of permissions needed to carry out research with NHS patients seemed initially overwhelming. Alongside clearance permissions (e.g. Occupational Health, Disclosure & Barring Service), certifications (e.g. Good Clinical Practice, Valid Informed Consent) and confidentiality agreements, a Letter of Access was needed establishing my researcher credentials and giving me access to the research site. These requirements forewarned of the challenges that would need to be addressed during the project and gave an initial sense of the social organization of the setting and the concerns of research participants [1].

Getting in but not getting in the way

Once we secured initial permissions, the next step was negotiating the physiotherapists’ and occupational therapists’ involvement. That proved to be lengthy and protracted, with much work going into specifying exactly how we would approach, recruit, and work with therapists and with the hospice as a whole. After all, the therapists had jobs to do, and patients to attend to; were we simply going to get in the way?

To facilitate this and raise awareness of our research plans, I drew on existing relationships established during a previous study [2] carried out by Ruth Parry and Marco Pino. Getting to know the medical and administrative staff who had been involved in this earlier study was a crucial first step in gaining the trust and cooperation of key institutional staff.  We needed to identify which working relationships would be helpful. These relationships turned out to be instrumental not only in gaining access, but even more positively in shaping and refining our recruitment and data collection procedures. And – a huge plus –  in navigating the steps involved to secure ethics approval under the new ‘streamlined’ HRA approvals system for NHS research.

Being there and being accepted

I spent some time becoming familiar with the hospice environment, being around, hanging out, being visible, and being there for a reason. I set up meetings with the multi-disciplinary team, got myself introduced to key staff, and arranged to shadow physiotherapists and occupational therapists during their  ward rounds and therapy sessions. I hoped to become part of the furniture – functional, familiar and Not In The Way.

The observations of the physiotherapists’ and occupational therapists’ work on ward rounds and with patients was beneficial on several levels. Seeing, right up close, the actual details of their daily routines showed me the many facets of the therapists’ roles, and gave me insight into the nature of both the scheduled and the more acutely planned therapy sessions at the hospice. I was able to see that their work frequently involved multiple participants: consultants, doctors, nurses, discharge liaison and social workers delivering joint sessions with therapists, as well as relatives, friends or carers accompanying patients for therapy. This reality was complex – and made me rethink some of my assumptions and my research methodology.

My frequent presence in the hospice also provided opportunities to seek the views and opinions of therapy staff on the many practical issues which would be key to developing our study protocol and applying for ethics approval. This was especially important in detailing how – with minimal disruption to ward and clinic activities – consent processes with therapists and patients might be carried out and recording equipment [3] could be set up.

Observing consultations and therapy sessions was also valuable in ways that I had not anticipated: by providing insight into the nature of the hospice data that would be collected, the challenges of performing detailed CA analysis on ‘difficult’ conversations and the need to develop mechanisms of support for dealing with this became clear.

My own role

Besides the practicalities of negotiating aspects of the setting, it was also important to negotiate my own role within the hospice.

To dispel understandable resistance and fears about ‘exposure’ [2], I decided that flexibility and daily attendance at the hospice over several days in succession would be helpful. I tried to get across that our research aims were neither critical nor evaluative of the activities we hoped to observe. My spending long periods of time at the hospice helped me build trusting relationships with therapists. It normalised my presence in the hospice and minimised my identity as an external, alien researcher.

But maximising support for the research also meant raising awareness of the general purpose of our study [4] and outlining our plans to make, analyse, store and archive recordings for future teaching and research purposes whilst emphasising the non-critical nature of our CA approach. This involved meeting with physiotherapists and occupational therapists both collectively and individually to discuss their willingness to participate, to answer questions about the research and to reassure them that, in line with previous research [2], our study design was ethically sound and our methods acceptable to the stakeholders from whom we had sought advice (e.g. study advisors, representatives from patient and public involvement / engagement groups).

Looking ahead …

On the “cost” side, gaining permission, negotiating access and securing support presented constantly emerging challenges and required significant time investment. On the “benefit” side, though, decisions taken on the basis of situational awareness and knowledge of the setting and its participants positively influenced both the research design and our recruitment and data collection plans. So when it came to the crunch of official approval, our protocol received favourable review by the ethics committee and the support of therapists and staff at our chosen research site. We could go ahead. Without all the preliminary spadework, that would not have happened.


  1. Atkinson, P. and M. Hammersley, Ethnography: principles in practice. 3rd ed. 2007, London: Routledge.
  2. Parry, R., et al., Acceptability and design of video-based research on healthcare communication: Evidence and recommendations. Patient Education and Counseling, 2016. 99(8): p. 1271-1284.
  3. Parry, R., Notes on equipment for recording and analysing. 2013.
  4. ten Have, P., Doing conversation analysis: a practical guide. 2nd ed. 2007, London: Sage.

Guest Blog: Kristine Muñoz on the Women’s March on Washington DC

As academics and civilians, ROLSI readers and writers are sometimes party to momentous events on the political and cultural stage. I’m proud and delighted to host a guest blog by ethnographer, friend, and distinguished ex-Editor of ROLSI, Kristine Muñoz, on her participation in the January 21, 2017, Women’s March on Washington.


Kristine Muñoz, University of Iowa

On January 20, shortly after the Presidential inauguration, I got on a chartered bus in Iowa City along with 112 others, almost all women, for a 20-hour drive to Washington DC (it was only supposed to be 16 hours but the bus driver got lost somewhere in Virginia). To take part in the Women’s March on Washington was to experience an oasis of peaceful, happy faces, of thousands of individuals who for once, had no bone to pick with one another. So different from the despair after Election Day in November, more different still from the days that have followed the inauguration, it is one that may bear some ethnographic description.

The most noticeable forms of language use were on the signs. Few were manufactured, hand-out-by-the-dozen kind you see at some political events, with logos, eye-catching and chant-worthy slogans. Most were homemade, and predictably varied in their expressions of the common themes of the day.  Held or carried by: a small girl on a woman’s shoulders:  Future President; man in his early 20’s:  You think I’m pissed, you should see my mom and sister; women in their 50’s – 60’s (the predominant demographic): You’re pro-choice for 20 weeks, I’m pro-choice for 4,000 weeks (“76 years, average lifespan,” it explained on the reverse); Proud pro-choice MOM; We are the 99% of Catholic women who use birth control (in chatting with the women holding this sign, one of them told me the other was a nun – “and my biological sister too!” she grinned); White women elected Donald Trump (the bearer was African American); Marching proud with my Muslim daughter in law; women in their 70’s and older:  Why am I still marching for equality?


The sister on the left is a nun

We chanted as we marched, perhaps nothing very original.  Chants have to sound familiar enough to a large group of people, most of whom do not know each other, all of whom are moving en masse through an unfamiliar space, to pick up and repeat in call-response format:

  • Show me what democracy looks like!  THIS is what democracy looks like!
  • Show me what diversity looks like! THIS is what diversity looks like!
  • (Women) My body, my choice!  (Men) Her body, her choice!

As the river of people flowed past the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, a different chant started:  SHAME ON YOU! SHAME ON YOU! Or simply, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME … just the cadence to match the marchers’ pace. This was near the end of the two-mile route, and the chanting had become softer and more intermittent, but at this point it grew back to a roar. Instead of starting and stopping, it passed back along the line of marchers as they came close enough to see the building with the distinctive gold five-foot lettering over the front door. It was constant for at least the 45 minutes I waited across the street for someone separated from my group to come back and find us.

Pussy hats 


Image from the Washington Post Twitter feed

The most pervasive statement came in the form of pink knitted hats worn by easily half the women involved in the march, maybe two thirds. The signature headwear was named pussy hats both to rhyme with “pussycat” – they form ears on top of the wearers’ heads – and to appropriate a sometimes derogatory word for female genitalia. The latter issue was discussed with fascinating delicacy in the original call to action, befitting the sensibilities of the target demographic, i.e. me. Up close, many of the hats were exquisite variations on the basic model, with intricate designs, funny faces, subtle rainbow colors that looked pink from a distance. Standing back to watch the marchers go by or looking at pictures from sister marches around the world, all connected by this symbolic and practical celebration of women’s handiwork, was electric.

The question all day and on the bus ride home (only 17 hours) was: How many people do you think were there? Estimates from Los Angeles, Chicago, London, even Iowa City, were devoured as they came over the Internet. Crowd experts became high priests, especially after the number of people attending the inauguration was the first recorded “alternative fact” (a term sure to live long and prosper).  We heard everything from 250,000 to 1.2 million in DC, with the most reliable I read being 500,000. All I need to know, now and forever, is that this ethnographer was one of them.


Loughborough’s CA Days – the 10th Anniversary

2016 was the 10th successive year we’ve held a Conversation Analysis Days at Loughborough University’s Department of Social Sciences. Here’s a brief account of how we got here, and why we think that it’s such a popular and enjoyable occasion. Charles Antaki and Liz Stokoe, organisers.

Screen Shot 2016-12-31 at 23.50.36.png

Charles Antaki

Screen Shot 2016-12-31 at 23.50.15.png

Liz Stokoe

It started out as a bright idea to invite friends and colleagues doing CA to come to a day’s meeting at Loughborough – no real reason, other than a sudden enthusiasm of the ‘let’s put a show on right here in the barn‘ type, and a list of people we wanted to see.

Tea and coffee was ordered, our familiar (and fortunately large) DARG room was booked, and the waiting started. Before long we had a long list of attenders and an exciting programme of papers. We were still apprehensive, but come the day, all went well. The papers were good, the audience nicely mixed among old friends, eager students and the odd curious colleague. Everyone had fun, and people said: do it again.

So we did.

The next year we went a bit more formal in that we gave the thing a name, and the year after we invited a well-established pair of colleagues to lend a bit of gravitas as Invited Speakers. We advertised it in a couple of places (the ever-useful LangUse and Ethno lists) and charged a few pounds to cover costs. People came in greater numbers, and enjoyed it just as much, of not more – and once again said: do it again. Without meaning to, or quite realising it, we discovered we had an annual event.

Thereafter, the pattern didn’t change: book the Invited Speakers, choose a suitably all-inclusive pseudo-theme for the year (we haven’t yet used “Talk”, but we’re running out of other options); put out a call in the Spring, and sit back until the final arrangements in the autumn.

Screen Shot 2017-01-01 at 00.40.16.png

CA Days titles and Invited Speakers over the years

Every year we’re gratified by the rush of registrations from old-timers who know that places go quickly, and delighted to see applications from new colleagues and from eager young postgraduates and early career researchers. That’s especially pleasing, and encouraging evidence that CA is thriving in the next generation.

Why is the CA day so popular?

Probably these main reasons, all basically tribal:

  • a tribe likes to gather …
  • …. especially at some sort of punctuation point of the year (end of term in our case)….
  • … at a symbolic-ish venue (Loughborough as a place where CA happens is well known enough for people to be curious about it)…
  • … to have a good time (the event has a good name, built up through its friendliness and informality, and the odd prize)…
  • … do a bit of business on the side (you’ll be able to rub shoulders with people you’ve read about) … oh, and …
  • … since Liz Stokoe’s fantastic cakes (a secret factor of success since the earliest days), gorge on the baked goods (now competed for in a CA-ke off).
Screen Shot 2017-01-01 at 00.24.49.png

Lorenza Mondada presents Charlotte Allbury with a CA-ke off prize; a commemorative mug; Loughborough University caterers come good; and Eric Laurier cuts in

We should perhaps also say that the presentations are always decent, sometimes provocative, and occasionally brilliant; the event is, after all, basically a scholarly one. But without the enthusiasm and goodwill of our fellow-tribespeople who give it such spirit , it wouldn’t be as much fun as it perennially is.


Rebeca Clift distributes the prizes while one organiser tries to hold on to his copies

See you Monday 18th December, 2017!

This year’s anniversary event was kindly sponsored by Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Culture and Communication.

We should also like to thank our excellent postgraduate helpers, wthout whom the event would collapse into a heap: this year, we salute Marc Alexander, Kat Connabeer, Claire Feeney, Joe Ford, Emily Hofstetter and Bogdana Huma.

Guest blog: Marina Cantarutti on the latest EM/CA Bootcamp

One of the most enjoyable (if challenging) episodes in young scholars’ induction into the discipline is the chance to spend time in intensive discussion with peers and mentors. I’m delighted to feature a report by Marina Cantarutti, PhD student at the University of York, on the latest “EM/CA Bootcamp”,  organised by the very active group at the University of Southern Denmark.


Marina Cantarutti

The fourth edition of the intensive Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis course (a.k.a. EMCA “Bootcamp”) took place this December in Denmark. Organised by the Doctoral Programme in Language and Communication and the Research Unit ‘PIPE’ (Professional Interaction and Practice) at the University of Southern Denmark, the course gathered fifteen very enthusiastic PhD students from all over the world doing research at universities in Hawaii, Switzerland, Sweden, the UK and Denmark, for a four-day EMCA retreat (and treat!).

The programme included some mini-lectures on Ethnomethodology and Membership Categorization Analysis (Dennis Day), Embodiment/Talkless Action (Kristian Mortensen), Challenged Interaction and Intervention, and Applied CA and Research Design (Rineke Brouwer), and Making Collections and Instructed Actions (Johannes Wagner). What made each of these practical lectures truly enriching is the fact that they all focused on the issues that we need to face as EMCA researchers, such as the benefits and pitfalls of working through these methodologies, the objections directed at EMCA we may find in our contexts and across disciplines, and the challenges of working with different forms of interactions and data.

EMCAers at work

Learning from expert researchers is always fabulous, but working alongside peers is invaluable. Every slot in the programme included some form of groupwork that required, among other things, the building of collections, collaborative analyses, and exegesis of key texts.

Among the most challenging activities lay the debate on these tricky issues:

  • what an instruction can be in fact defined and recognised as;
  • the tricky placement of our research topics as being exponents of one or another particular form of applied CA;
  • the analysis of entirely talk-less segments of embodied (and instrument-/machine-mediated) action;
  • and of course, “decoding” Garfinkel.

Data sessions were very rich, as they involved the analysis of segments from different institutional contexts (schools, work meetings, a warehouse…), with different kinds of Members (teachers, students, social workers, robots!), in different languages, and with and without any talk, which once again proved how versatile and wide-reaching EMCA can be. It has to be said that these sessions were also special in that they were held at some unusual places, such as the playroom, and in the (empty) jacuzzi.

EMCAers at play

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-19-13-34Of course, it was not all work and no play at “Big Brother’s house”. EMCAers can also make good cooks, and each homemade meal turned dinner into a gourmet experience. Other true talents emerged after dinner as impromptu concerts in the jacuzzi, dancing lessons, and table football or ping pong matches happened, instructing us into other forms of “doing being X”.

And in the farewell evening, a new rite of initiation for EMCA researchers was born, under the creative mind of Magnus Hamann: the EMCA anthem, sung to the melody of the (in)famous YMCA.

EMCA 1.jpg

A semiotic puzzle

We are deeply grateful to Dennis and the team for four very inspiring days of learning, sharing and working together. This group of really enthusiastic researchers is ready to keep EMCA alive by helping, in our own way and with as much rigour as possible, to continue trying to make sense of social action and interaction across different spheres of everyday life.


The EMCAers take a well-deserved food break

Guest blog: Anna Spagnolli and colleagues on editing the Special Issue on meditated interaction

ROLSI is proud to host occasional Special Issues devoted to topics of particular interest or significance. In this guest blog, Anna SpagnolliIlkka Arminen and Christian Licoppe tell the story of their editorship of a new SI on the very lively topic of mediated interaction – communication via phone, text, videoconference and a host of other modern technological media.


The editors of the new ROLSI Special Issue on mediation interaction

A beginning

In George Eliot’s words, humans can do nothing without the make-believe of a beginning. We’ll set the beginning of the new ROLSI special issue on “Orders of mediated interaction” back a few years ago, when we started organizing a stream of panels at the International Conference on Conversation Analysis (ICCA) in 2010. By the time the stream was repeated at the subsequent edition of ICCA in 2014, we converged more firmly on an EM/CA approach to mediated interaction deriving from our work in mediated communication, mediated presence and multimodality.

We then decided to coordinate – not to say ‘mediate’ – the creation of a showcase of EM/CA studies on mediated interaction guided by the methodological aspects we considered important to highlight, and to make such showcase more permanent and accessible than in a conference panel. This is how the idea of ROLSI special issue took shape.

screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-17-32-32The journal, the authors and the reviewers made collaboration dreamily fruitful, and the project took off in a set of iterative cycles, leading to the published version that includes four contributions: “Orienting to Emotion in Computer-Mediated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” (by Stuart Ekberg, Alison R. G. Shaw, David S. Kessler, Alice Malpass and Rebecca K. Barnes), “Practices of Organizing Built Space in Videoconference-Mediated Interactions” (by Johan Hjulstad), “Embedded Reference: Translocating Gestures in Video-Mediated Interaction” by Paul Luff, Christian Heath, Naomi Yamashita, Hideaki Kuzuoka and Marina Jirotka) and “Providing Epistemic Support for Assessments Through Mobile-Supported Sharing Activities” (by Joshua Raclaw, Jessica S. Robles and Stephen M. DiDomenico).

Across these four papers, which also have a history and an import independent of the special issue project, some common principles are weaving and working in the background. We highlight these principles in our introductory paper “Respecifying Mediated Interaction” and we are now trying to summarize them here, as the inspirational motives of this special issue.

Orders of …what?

As the early CA work on landline telephone calls shows, the study of social interactions mediated by communication technology is not a novelty introduced by networked computers and mobile phones.

Those early analyses of telephone calls, however, were not interested in the role played by the medium in creating the structure and meaning of the social interactions observed, since they pursued more preliminary, foundational goals in the study of interactional practices. Then at some point, given the high availability of communication and information technology to carry out interactions, the interest in mediated interactions qua mediated started breaking out.


Embedding technology in communicative practice: from Raclaw, Robles and DiDomenico 2016

Now that many CA studies on mediated practices are being published or presented at conferences, we can try and tie together scattered reflections, concepts and remarks to describe the nature of interaction in technology-mediated settings from an EM/CA perspective. This special issue on ‘Orders of mediated interaction’ pursues this goal. Its four papers pay special attention to explaining the role of the medium as a resource to interaction; in parallel, our introductory paper tries to clarify more generally the role of mediated interaction in the fabric of normality.

Re-specifying mediated interaction

For a refined notion of mediation, we had to look outside the conversation analysis domain and at the pragmatic, critical approach to human action and cognition brought about by psychologists, computer scientists and social scientists such as Donald Norman, Lucy Suchman, Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores, Richard Dreyfuss, David Kirsh and many others.

As conversation analysts opposed objectivized notions of language and meaning, so those authors opposed a simplified rendition of mediated interaction. But then one has to try and condense that conceptual tradition into an EM/CA analytic approach: after being imbued with that conceptual legacy, how would one proceed and analyze the details of mediated interaction? Our response is: by grounding any difference (and similarity) with face-to-face interaction in the data, instead of presuming it; and by grounding in the data any account of a given interactional phenomenon in terms of the communication medium that the interactants are using. In this way, the claim that technology mediates an action will be the result of the analysis instead of its starting point. We summarized this methodological approach in the principle of procedural consequentiality.

Beware of techno-hype

While information and communication technology as a subject of inquiry can look dull to some scholars and raise no particular fascination to motivate their scientific effort, by no means can it be considered as a neutral subject. On the contrary, technological change and innovations have engendered very strong reactions throughout history, either in favor or in contrast.

Moreover, across technologies and historical periods, the arguments supporting pro and con positions surprisingly recur, with the result that discourse get easily and recurrently stuck around the same prejudicial positions both in society and in science: naturality versus artificiality, empowerment versus alienation, risks versus possibilities. Currently digital and mobile information and communication technology makes no exception. Due to its relying on immaterial, remote, synthetic objects and tools, it is easily considered as creating a domain apart, different in quality from typical or normal interaction, and deficient if compared with face-to-face interaction. One advantage of the psychological and sociological approach to mediated interaction referred to above is that it undermines the scientific bases of such prejudicial representations of technology. As we show in the central sections of our introductory paper, EM/CA  has accumulated evidence to show that mediated interaction is not essentially deficient or disruptive.


Gestures from participants not physically present (Andrew in Tokyo, Helen in Kyoto): Luff et al, 2016

Making complexity simple: solutions to data display

As Ayaß (2015) observes, transcripts inhabit a space between art and figure; yet there are some limits to artistic invention in transcripts and these are represented by the kind of information that is useful to report and by the standards that make symbols rapidly intelligible. Probably those aspects combined contribute to defining some CA aesthetics in transcriptions that offers a different viewpoint on the contribution made by each paper.

When transcribing mediated interaction, one can get lost in the amount of details and events to possibly include in the transcription or be dismayed by the difficulty in transcribing effectively a piece of interaction that spreads across different physical and digital environments. The articles in the special issue met this challenge bravely and the transcripts in the special issue make an interesting gallery. They offer various elegant solutions – that we discuss in our introductory paper – to display interaction occurring over fragmented, asymmetric, multi-modal, multi-source settings, without creating anything so unusual to demand the reader to get accustomed to a totally new set of symbols and conventions.

We cannot but thank again all the colleagues who contributed to this project as authors and reviewers, and ROLSI.


Ayaß, R. (2015). Doing data: The status of transcripts in Conversation Analysis. Discourse Studies, 17, 5: pp. 505-528

Guest blog: Andrew Carlin on a posthumous book by Stephen Hester

In an earlier guest blog, Andrew Carlin recounted the genesis and current scope of the influential ethnomethodological book series  Directions in Ethnomethodology & Conversation Analysis. He looked forward to the appearance of a book that the late Stephen Hester had on the blocks before his passing; here he remembers Steve and talks about the book and its contents.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 22.07.54

Andrew Carlin

Continue reading

Guest blog: Bogdana Huma on the interactional analysis of economic encounters

Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis have made significant advances in our understanding of how institutions work, but the business of economics has proved rather a tougher nut to crack. In this welcome blog, Bogdana Huma reports on a recent syposium on “economic encounters”. In a well-appointed attic in Maastricht, symposiasts analysed bazaars, cheese shops, cold calling, and much more….

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 09.45.12

Bogdana Huma, Loughborough University

Continue reading