Guest blog: a new journal on social interaction

It’s an exciting event when a new journal appears on the scene that immediately sounds appealing. I’m delighted that Brian Due and Kristian Mortensen will tell us about the background to the new Social Interaction. Video-Based Studies of Human Sociality, and explain how its online publication makes it exceptionally apt for publishing video and audio data.

Brian Due

Brian Lystgaard Due

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Kristian Mortensen

Digital technology has over recent decades had a strong influence on the ways EMCA researchers go about doing their job. Over the years, video and audio data moved from magnetic tape to digital capture; transcriptions were no longer written on typewriters but produced as text files on a desktop; text files could link directly to video files so any segment could be immediately accessed; collections were no longer stored as pieces of papers in folders, but could be organized electronically across different corpora.

Today, there are only two things missing to make the world of EMCA researchers perfect: computers have not learned to transcribe automatically – and probably never will to the level of detail required for EMCA analyses – and the beautiful tie between data and transcripts disappears the moment papers and books are published. Even where publications are electronically available, readers still typically only have access to transcripts instead of access to data.

Back to Harvey Sacks

This seems paradoxical, not the least if we look back at Sacks’ reason for recording interaction in the first place:

“[I started with tape-recorded conversations] because I could get my hands on it and I could study it again and again, and also, consequentially, because others could look at what I had studied and make of it what they could, if, for example, they wanted to be able to disagree with me” (Sacks, 1984: 26, our emphasis)

Tape-recorders were not that complicated to use, and they soon became the standard technological tool for EMCA researchers. However, as researchers such as the Goodwins, Streeck, Heath, Kendon, Scheflen and Birdwhistell started to work with film and video, this entailed the use of professional, heavy, expensive equipment, and physical hard-disks for data storage. We recall Frederick Erickson’s descriptions of ‘the old days’:

“The first videotape I made was done in the fall of 1967 in a study of small-group discussions of young people of middle school age. The camera I used weighed at least 25 pounds and was mounted on a heavy, wheeled tripod, with recording being done on reels of tape that were an inch thick and about 16 inches in diameter. This setup could only be used in a studio, so I brought a discussion group to that space, seated them in front of the camera, turned on extra lights around the room, and recorded continuously using the widest-angle camera lens. Having previously recorded such discussions using audiotape alone, one single videotape seemed marvelously illuminating; I could see who the speakers were addressing as they spoke – a particular individual, a subset of the group, or the whole group. A multimodal and multiparty analysis of the locally situated ecological processes of interaction and meaning making became possible using such an audiovisual record.” (Erickson, 2011: 181)

Today’s camera technology has become ever smaller, cheaper and easier to use. Cameras such as the GoPro, and even most smartphones, produce excellent video and audio quality. As for portability, unwieldy tripods are now often replaced by camera equipment that can simply be taped to a wall or ceiling, fixed to a helmet or placed on a bookshelf. As for storing data, memory space is no longer a real practical or financial concern. Consequently, video recordings are fast becoming the default choice for collecting these types of data in most contexts.

But how to let people see the data for themselves?

For many years, EMCA researchers have tried in different ways to give readers access to the audio and video clips in their publications. Some journals actually do allow you to upload clips to their website and provide the corresponding link in the articles (ROLSI does that). And some authors upload clips to their private or university website and put the link in the paper. But these solutions are rarely without challenges. Websites change or disappear and files with them. Only a few web archives have survived such as for instance Talkbank. And finally, where readers do have access to some (selective and edited) video files, it can be a tedious task to read hard-copy printed papers or pdf’s while switching between media to watch or listen to the clips.

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The new online journal, Social Interaction. Video-Based Studies of Human Sociality, seeks to address this by allowing for audio and video data to be embedded into the publication, enabling the reader to see and listen to the data at the specific point in the article, where an argument is made.

Online and open-access

Social Interaction is an online-only journal hosted by the Danish Royal Library. Establishing it in this format was quite an easy choice: firstly, we can’t remember the last time we had a hard-copy journal in our hands! Secondly, the journal aims for a quick turnaround for publications, and although most journals publish both on- and offline, the printed version sets the standard for length and number of papers in each issue. This inevitably leads to bottlenecks that affect and frustrate editors and authors alike. Social Interactionpublishes 4 issues per year, but the size of each issue varies, depending on the number of papers that are ready for publication. And whenever a publication is ready for publication, it will be uploaded to the site.

As researchers based in Denmark, we are quite fortunate: our university libraries provide access to all, or at least most, relevant journals in our field. Getting access to papers is rarely an issue. This is of course not necessarily true across the globe, and also not always the case for independent researchers. “Could you send me your paper on X” or “Does anybody have access to Journal Y” are requests that frequently pop up in emails, Academia, Facebook groups or the like. Thus, we have chosen not to be part of a larger publishing industry with economic interests, because we want the journal to be part of the “democratizing knowledge movement” with truly open access.

Technical and ethical considerations

Technically, the journal uploads the video clips to a private YouTube channel with specific “unsearchable” file names. From this platform, we embed the video clips into the source html code on the journal homepage and the specific article. Ethically and juridically, authors are responsible for any clips they choose to upload. This includes a requirement that permissions for public availability have been granted, and that the videos are edited to secure participants’ anonymity according to the agreements made with participants. The journal will provide optional guidelines for how to anonymize the clips. It should be noted, however, that the embedding of video clips is NOT a requirement; we are fully aware that making video-data available to the wider public comes with several concerns, and that some types of ‘sensitive’ data should never be included (e.g. from medical interaction or business communication where business strategies are discussed).

How we’re different

One way we wanted to differentiate the journal from others is the length of papers. Social Interaction publishes two types of papers: i) Regular papers are 4000 words (references, transcripts etc. are not included in the word count) and ii) discussion papers, responses and first-mover statements are 2000 words. We hope these shorter formats make it easier to rapidly turn strong arguments and novel findings into publishable papers. Inevitably, this means that for instance literature reviews might be shorter and more ‘to the point’, analytic sections may not necessarily be full-blown CA analysis as most articles are in e.g. ROLSI, and discussion sections may leave out summaries of the papers. However, we want to stress that the journal does not publish ‘working papers’, and that all submitted manuscripts will undergo a double-blind review process from established researchers in the field.

Finally, we welcome all types of articles addressing all aspects of social interaction, whether in ‘ordinary conversation’, institutions, public encounters or workplace settings.

We hope that Social Interaction will be taken to heart as an alternative platform, rather than a competitive venue, for ethnomethodological, conversation analytic and other approaches concerned with describing practices for sense-making in social interaction. We look forward to hopefully many submissions, and hope that our community appreciates the new journal.


Guest Blog: Saul Albert on how to draw graphics onto video clips (and why you should)

Occasionally one comes across a new bit of kit or a new technique which looks immediately enticing and exciting. This is certainly one: Saul Albert reports on his recent Drawing Interactions project that aims to create new graphical techniques and tools for the transcription, analysis and presentation of interaction research.


Saul Albert, Tufts University

Conversation analysts usually show their work using Jeffersonian transcripts with traced outlines or video stills in a ‘film strip’ style. These kinds of graphical transcripts present research for finished publications. But what about the exploratory phases of interaction research such as transcription and collaborative data sessions?

The drawing interactions project set out to develop tools and methods for the transcription and analysis of interaction based on artistic drawing techniques and video studies of analysts’ work practices. The project emerged from conversations between Saul Albert, Toby Harris, Pat Healey, Claude Heath, and Sophie Skach after The Fine Art of Conversation workshop, which explored artistic methods for depicting interaction. After seeing how much researchers enjoyed drawing their data, the team planned a hack-session to build software tools to support graphical approaches to transcription.

Developing the prototype

We studied video of analysts’ work practices from the Learning How to Look and Listen project, including a data session by the much-missed Charles Goodwin with John Haviland. Chuck and John often use gestural reenactments alongside descriptions, and they repeatedly mention needing tools to transcribe bodily actions (you can see the kind of thing I mean here). That was a great help in showing us what we wanted the drawing application to be able to do. Based on our analysis of many such moments in Chuck and John’s discussion, we designed three main features into our prototype: we wanted everyone to be able draw on the data; to draw on a paused bit; and to highlight a moving bit. 

In my illustrative guide below, I’m drawing onto a clip of a group of designers sitting round a table and discussing a set of plans.

Drawing Interactions – Prototype App 1 from toby*spark on Vimeo.

1. Letting everyone have a go
We noticed that whoever controls the laptop tends to direct analytic attention to specific features of the interaction.  Others struggle to participate as much. This asymmetry is normal when the ‘owner’ of the data directs the data session towards specific issues;  but it’s not always necessary or desirable. So we designed an interface to provide multiple analysts with access to the timeline using a movable ‘film-strip’ style overlay, which analysts could tap to pause, scrub, or review the video.

2. Drawing onto the paused timeline
This way you can trace over the video to highlight specific aspects of embodiment.  Drawing onto the paused video creates a mark on the little ‘film strip’, which can be touched to return to that moment in the video.

3. Drawing highlights onto the moving timeline
We adapted the ‘telestrator’ feature from TV sports to capture analysts’ own drawn gestures. Moving the timeline while drawing with the stylus creates a moving ‘spotlight’, highlighting a particular feature which you can play back and forth as much as you like.

The Workshop

We showcased the prototype at the New Developments in Ethnomethodology workshop organized by Michael Mair at Liverpool University’s London campus.

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Sophie Skach explained figure drawing methods such as using lines and circles capture postural configurations, bodily volumes and gestural dynamics with a few quick pencil marks. She showed us how to use rapid sketching to do quick and dirty ‘field notes’ rather than transcriptions as such. This technique uses our embodied knowledge of anatomy and motion to infer how bodies are working, what they are doing, and what they might (projectably) do next. Claude Heath demonstrated how to trace on top of video to reveal the negative spaces  that groups of people create through interaction. His field inscriptions  method involves layering acetate onto a laptop screen, pausing the video and tracing lines of sight, bodily orientations and shared fields of movement.

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Finally, Toby Harris demonstrated the prototype and discussed extending the app to use motion capture data to review and annotate scenes from multi-point perspective. Pat Healey also showed his and Sophie’s work collecting and visualizing interactional data from a pair of trousers embedded with sensors to show the non-visible postural shifts of seated interlocutors.

More info and future possibilities:

We are now collecting feature requests for another round of development, so please leave your ideas and comments on the project site or email me

Guest blog: doing a data-session ‘remotely’

Some researchers are lucky enough to work in a community of like-minded scholars, with whom they can easily chat, meet up and collaborate; when that’s not the case, the isolation can be damaging. That’s why it’s so heartening to see a group of UK postgraduates inaugurate a regular “remote” data session, bringing people together who would otherwise be apart. This lively blog by Marina Cantarutti, Jack Joyce and Tilly Flint gives the story.


Marina Cantarutti

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Jack Joyce

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Tilly Flint

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Guest blog: Leelo Keevallik on making grammar real

As a featured debate article in ROLSI vol 51(1), I invited Leelo Keevallik to showcase her argument that traditional conceptions of grammar needed to change: to take the body, and its deployment in the unfolding of turns, seriously. I’m delighted that she also accepted an invitation to write a guest blog, reflecting on how she came to this challenging, and tantalising, new conception.

Leelo Keevallik

Leelo Keevallik, Linköping University

My training as a linguist started behind the Iron Curtain according to a very traditional philological curriculum and no course literature in English. But I was fascinated by the neat grammatical paradigms, the prudent morphology tables, and the precise categorizations of parts-of-speech. Continue reading

Guest blog: Talking with Alexa at home

I imagine that many interaction researchers will have been curious about how a voice-activated internet-connected device might be integrated (or not) into conversations at home.  Martin Porcheron along with Stuart Reeves,  Joel Fischer and Sarah Sharples (all at the University of Nottingham) went the next step, and did the research. Here Martin and Stuart explain how the research was done…

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Martin Porcheron

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Stuart Reeves

Voice-based ‘smartspeaker’ products, such as the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod have become popular consumer items in the last year or two. These devices are designed for use in the home, and offer a kind of interaction where users may talk to an anthropomorphised ‘intelligent personal assistant’ which responds to things like questions and instructions. Continue reading

Guest blog: Melisa Stevanovic and Elina Weiste on impossible content analysis

Two of Finland’s most active and productive young Conversation Analysis researchers, Melisa Stevanovic and Elina Weiste,  tried their hand at an intriguing experiment: analysing what people said about doing CA. The result was a thoughtful article (not in ROLSI) but clearly there was more to it than that, so I was delighted when they agreed to do a guest blog here.

The title they suggested was “On the impossibility of conducting content analysis: Back story of our data-session paper”, which sets the scene tantalisingly…

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Dr Melisa Stevanovic, Helsinki University

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Dr Elina Weiste, Helsinki University

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Guest blog: Jason Turowetz on “I just thought…”

“I just thought… ” is one of those phrases whose meaning we think we know, but there are intriguing subtleties in what people do with it in conversation. In a recent article for the journal, Jason Turowetz delved into some of its main uses. Here he gives the background to the story. 

Jason Turowetz

My article on ‘I just thought formulations’ has its origins in a study of speed dating I conducted with a colleague, Matthew Hollander, in 2009, when we were graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It seems a long way back, but that shows how a phenomenon can lodge in your head and inspire a continuing thread of research. Continue reading