Guest Blog: The EMCA Doctoral Network Meetings restart, November 2021

Among the many formal and informal networks that support postgraduates and early-career researchers in CA and ethnomethodology, the EMCA is perhaps the most venerable and global. I’m delighted that two active members, Felicity Slocombe and Andrea Bruun have sent a report on the most recent meeting, November 2021.

The EMCA (Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis) Doctoral event ran every six months, pre-pandemic, with universities taking it in turn to host the event.

The event allows doctoral researchers to meet and engage with others using similar methodologies within their research and provides a vibrant context for building contacts and developing presentation skills within a friendly environment. Due to coronavirus restrictions, it had been two years since the last event. So we’re glad to report that the Network’s life has restarted: the event started up again, in person, on the 8-9th November 2021 at Loughborough University.

In this blog we will hear from two doctoral researchers who attended the event. Firstly, we will hear from Andrea Bruun from UCL whose research uses conversation analysis to examine prognostic decision-making within specialist palliative care multidisciplinary teams. We will also hear from Felicity Slocombe who was one of the doctoral researchers who helped organise the event. Felicity is from Loughborough University and her research uses conversation analysis to look at how we can maintain identity of people living with dementia.

What it was like as a participant: Andrea Bruun

It seemed unbelievable that this year’s EMCA doctoral network meeting would go through and actually be an in-person event. After having participated in virtual conferences and online data sessions in what feels like forever (since spring 2020), it was absolutely brilliant to meet people in real life and feel like you were at an actual conference again. You remembered how it felt like to small talk with people in 3D by the coffee table, actually raising your hand if you had a question, participating in actual applauses, and feeling the vibrant atmosphere that only comes with being in the same physical room together. 

As if meeting people at an in-person conference was not fulfilling enough, imagine that these people are also PhD students like yourself. Imagine the room of support and experiences being shared because everyone is on the same journey. Then imagine that every single one of these PhD students are working within the same field as you. Now you are frosting the support and the experience with a heavy layer of community, sprinkled with passion. If you are from a university or department with none or only a few people doing EMCA, then it felt like coming “home” – you felt understood. No matter who you turned to, they were on the same page as you, you did not have to defend your method or explain every little detail. This made it so easy and such a pleasure to network and make friends during the days.

This home we built on only two days housed the most diverse community within the EMCA tradition. People were working on data from many different settings; all the way from GP consultations to museums, even criminal trials, to grassroot group meetings. The presentations and data sessions involved all sort of topics such as transcription of laughter, analyses of specific words or question formats to how technology is used in interaction. It was so inspiring to see how diverse EMCA research is, and you got the feeling as if only the sky is the limit.

Having two days only focusing on EMCA was like falling in love with a partner all over again. Sometimes you can get stuck in your methods and (pessimistic and critical) ways and you might have a feeling of EMCA research not being enough – something is missing, and the grass might seem greener on the other side. But digging into all the exciting data, meeting such wonderful people, and having really interesting discussions made it clear why EMCA is important and why we are doing it – and then a lovely hotel stay and a delicious conference dinner for free do indeed help with making you fall head over heels.

Loughborough University

What it was like as an organiser: Felicity Slocombe

The EMCA doctoral event was a great event to be involved in organising. The organising committee consisted of academic staff and doctoral researchers: Prof. Alison Pilnick from the University of Nottingham, Dr. Marco Pino, and Dr. Jessica Robles, both from Loughborough University, Rachael Drewery from the University of Nottingham and Chloe Waterman from the University of Birmingham, who is in the write up year of her PhD and is now a Research Associate at King’s College London. We worked together to organise different parts of the event, such as the room booking, catering, and programme. It was a real team effort and especially lovely to work with Rachael and Chloe who are ahead of me in their PhD paths. 

My favourite part of the event echoes Andrea’s: of being in the same physical space as others. It felt like a friendly environment in which everyone felt comfortable to contribute their thoughts and experiences. It was great to have a meal together on the evening of the first day, everyone seemed in high spirits having not been able to meet like this with others throughout the course of my PhD so far, it was so refreshing and inspiring. The presentations, data sessions and papers-in-progress were so diverse and equally fascinating. I had the opportunity to present my data on the second day and the observations made have really helped me in beginning my analysis. 

Keynotes. Additionally, a big draw to the event were the keynote talks given at the end of each day: one by Prof. Charles Antaki, and one by Dr Jessica Robles. Charles spoke about ‘Asymmetries in interactions between people with learning disabilities and those who support them’. This was a stimulating talk which examined how staff members support people with learning disabilities in attempting a task. Charles contrasted two different approaches that staff members have taken: one in which a staff member uses directives and imperatives, where a distinct asymmetry between the staff member and the person with learning disabilities is evident from the interaction, in the other example the staff member tries to reduce the asymmetry between themselves and the person with learning disabilities. It was interesting to see how the two strategies work.

Jessica’s keynote discussed ‘Forms of allegedly non-racist race talk as possible instances of racism’. Jessica’s talk was thought-provoking and recognisable in conversations had with extended family members of claims of non-racist racist talk. Jessica discussed the practices that feature in the phenomenon of ‘non-racist’ race talk, which is an under-explored area in EMCA research. The two questions Jessica discussed were: (1) what counts analytically, for participants, as ‘racism denial’ or talk about race produced as ‘not racist’? and (2) how might racism denial be analysed as accomplishing racism? These questions were explored using examples from naturalistic interactions as to how racism denials are produced in their context, and how these cases can be analysed as possible instances of racism.

A big thank you to all those who attended, presented, and especially to the keynote speakers. I hope that more events like this become more possible in the future and return to their bi-annual appearance!