Guest blogs: Reflections on IPrA 2017, Belfast (Part 1)

IPrA opning sot.pngEvery two years the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA) holds a huge conference – this year some 1,300 people gathered in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for a jamboree of language scholarship. As ever, it was a bazaar of wonders, from historical pragmatics through to eye-tracking experiments, with everything in between, in dozens  of languages. Conversation Analysis was well represented; I asked a number of colleagues to send their reflections, and in this, the first of two Guest Blogs, Liz Stokoe, Melisa Stevanovic and Marina Cantarutti tell us what it was like for them.

The Plenarist: Liz Stokoe

Liz egg 1.jpg

Professor Liz Stokoe, Loughborough University

Being asked to give a plenary at IPRA is an honour. In a line-up for Belfast 2017 that included Deborah Cameron and John Heritage, it was a bucket-list invitation for me. It was particularly lovely to be asked for 2017, twenty years after getting my PhD and so being halfway through my academic career. Saying ‘yes’ to the invitation was the easy part.

Planning the talk was trickier, however. On the one hand, I knew that a good proportion of the IPRA audience would be hardcore experts in my field – in my case, conversation analysis. On the other, I also knew that the majority of the audience would be expert in another area of language, linguistics, and pragmatics. And given that I spend a good deal of my time these days speaking at events in which audience members are experts in something else entirely – surgery, aviation, sales, the law – I was probably more anxious than usual!

Liz plenary photo.png

I designed my plenary around a theme: what we can learn from the first ten seconds of interaction. This enabled me to showcase a range of studies from my early PhD work on student tutorials through other settings I’ve studied, and how different the first ten seconds are when people call a familiar organization (e.g., the doctor, a travel agent) compared to calling an unknown service (e.g., mediation). I showed the differences between the openings of real and simulated encounters. And I ended with why the first ten seconds are crucial in the openings of high stakes conversations.

The room filled up on Wednesday morning for the 8.30 slot. Given that I am not an early morning person, I was glad so many delegates appeared to be. The room was vast. The IPRA audience was not the biggest I’ve spoken to, but it was the only one where I was trapped behind the podium (the venue had no lapel microphones, unbelievably…) with no real sense of whether anyone could hear me. So it was very calming to be introduced by my long term collaborator and good friend, Bethan Benwell.

How did it go?

Did I manage to engage the audience about the importance of the first ten seconds? I’ll let Twitter answer:

  • “The only thing getting me out of bed on an early rainy Wednesday morning. Worth it for the @LizStokoe plenary. #IPrA2017” (Claire Melia)
  • “Great demonstration of how to do #PublicLinguistics #IPrA2017 Loved the visuals too! @LizStokoe” (Zsófia Demjén)
  • “Will be interesting to see how #IPrA2017 attendants will start coffee break conversations next few days, having heard @LizStokoe :-)” (Barbara De Cock)
  • “The openings of simulations looks nothing like the opening of real police interviews. Use real data for training. @LizStokoe #emca #IPrA2017” (Edward Reynolds)
  • “#IPrA2017 Liz Stokoe: How do you spend the day (not) giving bad news? When students phone, don’t ask them to tell you their grades #clearing” (So Reissner-Roubicek)
  • “Stokoe notes the problem for mediation services is people don’t know what they’re for, & demonstrates through 1st 10 secs of call #IPrA2017” (Jo Meredith)

The established young academic: Melisa Stevanovic @MelisaStevanovi

Melisa head

Dr Melisa Stevanovic, Helsinki University

The conference in Belfast was my fourth IPrA. I realized that the bit-by-bit accumulation of IPrA experiences has finally started to pay back: many things felt easier. Unlike during my first IPrA, when I did not know many CA people, it was now relatively easy to spot the interactionally relevant papers from the program merely on the basis of the names of the presenters. And in the instances of the conference program being forgotten in the hotel room or in the depths of the backbag, I could find my way to the most relevant talks by simply following the crowd of those CA people that I, by now, know. As a result, my occasional visits outside the CA bubble felt like refreshing expeditions, since these were chosen voluntarily and not merely on the basis of deceptive presentation titles. Indeed, during some of these excursions, I managed to come across with wonderful talks that I think would have been of interest also to the wider CA audience.

Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 21.15.34

Sally Wiggins (Linköping University) on a discursive psychology of food assessment

Not just CA

But there was quite a lot of fresh air inside the CA bubble, too. Here I am not thinking that much about the diversity of the interactional phenomena, topics, or settings that CA folks investigate but more about all the different types of CA arguments presented at the conference. Besides the data-centered accounts of interactional practices, there were papers aiming to develop the conceptual side of CA, presentations exploring the interface between CA and other disciplines, studies that used CA as a theoretical basis for conducting research using other methods, and heart-warming unorthodox arguments, which were linked to the CA tradition but not really to the method as such. Being able to experience the happy co-existence of all these genres side-by-side was memorable, and I consider it also promising for the future of CA.

The postgraduate student: Marina N. Cantarutti @pronbites

Marina head.png

Marina Cantarutti, University of York

As a first year PhD student doing Interactional Linguistics, IPrA 2017 has been like finding a pot of gold. This conference has been a great opportunity to see current research and enlarge my reference list, to meet and greet the people whose papers and books I have devoured, and to have heartwarming reunions with other PhD students and past mentors.

IPrA is, indeed, an intensive and massive conference, so navigating the programme and making selections has proven to be a challenge. I have found myself caught in the dilemma between watching talks by the “big names” irrespective of topic, or selecting presentations relevant to my research by people whose name I had never come across before. I also experienced a couple of moments of excitement (and I admit, a little bit of discouragement) when I saw some of what I had deludedly thought were my own “discoveries” appear so neatly explained on someone else’s slides, but then I took it upon myself to make the most of after-presentation talks and tweets to pave the way for further discussion on shared interests, and perhaps consider future collaborations.

No pressure – this time

BCK+ST by Marina

A slide from Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen and Sandy Thompson’s magisterial talk on grammar and deonticity

It has also been inspiring to see early-career academics show how they are ahead of their game in questioning well-established beliefs, advancing CA-IL theory, and finding new niches. I obviously could not help feeling great pride in seeing my own University of York colleagues and supervisors make high-quality presentations. And yes, I did get a bit bitter about not having dared to present a poster, but on the other hand, there is great value in enjoying such a huge conference pressure-free!


All in all, I am truly grateful for the devoted organisation, the thought-provoking research, and the stimulating coffee/lunch talks. As a student who is but only starting to share in this ever-growing CA-IL academic community,  I have felt welcomed by the passion, collegiality, and professionalism I have found  in my second ever IPrA conference.

Another IPrA 2017 blog will be along soon.

For reports on IPrA 2015, Antwerp, see here and here.