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Guest blog: Should we share qualitative data?

Conversation analysts soon accumulate many hours of tapes and transcripts; usually these have been collected on the understanding that they are for the researcher’s own use, with permission only to publish extracts anonymously. But should such data be open to other researchers? Jack B. Joyce, Catrin S. Rhys, Bethan Benwell, Adrian Kerrison, Ruth Parry summarise here the arguments examined in a recent paper.

Jack B Joyce, Catrin S Hughes, Bethan Benwell, Adrian Kerrison and Ruth Parry

Data sharing has been central to the development of Conversation Analysis (CA) and is considered the bread-and-butter of the approach. Here we are talking about data sharing generally but we should point to Elliot Hoey and Chase Raymond’s Rolsi blog where they critically reflect on ‘Classic data’ and some of the pros/cons associated with drawing on a narrow range of data. CA has a fairly unique relationship with data sharing.  It is not an afterthought or a response to the Open Science movement; rather data sharing and ‘secondary’ analysis has been “baked in” to the CA approach from its inception. 

Harvey Sacks (often!) illustrates this point:

“It was not from any large interest in language or from some theoretical formulation of what should be studied that I started with tape-recorded conversations, but simply 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, p. 26, emphasis added). 

Ongoing debates

While the replication crisis or issues of data fabrication have not really touched the shores of qualitative research, the waves of the Open Science movement have brought these rumbling debates into sharp focus, and now many funders and publishers encourage or mandate data sharing. The arguments for reusing qualitative data include the checking of findings, fostering trust in science, enhancing researcher training, and importantly producing new findings which are cost-effective for researchers and avoid unnecessarily burdening participants (Kuula, 2011; DuBois et al., 2018). All-in-all, sharing data maximises the social value of publicly funded research.

Nonetheless, there are concerns about sharing qualitative data when it is highly sensitive. On-high mandates to share data can mean that we fail to protect our participants’ anonymity, or prevent subsequent researchers misinterpreting data which is highly contextual. Moreover, many of the policies and repositories (locally, nationally and internationally) are designed with quantitative research in mind. The extent to which repository specialists or ethics panels are prepared to advise qualitative researchers is varied; Mozersky and colleagues (2020) find that those groups felt responsibilities lay elsewhere.

Such is the difficulty of navigating the choppy waters of data sharing that many qualitative researchers understandably opt not to share their data. Can CA sail in and save the day? Not really; but CA can speak to some of these epistemological, ethical and practice issues and tilt the balance toward data sharing.

Practices of sharing CA data

Conversation analysts have, for the longest time, been sharing their data. You can see three distinct categories of sharing: making a whole corpus available to authorised scholars (as do Jepsen et al (2017) with their ‘one-in-a-million’ corpus of primary care interaction); sharing among a small number of fellow-researchers working on the same project (as often happens in close-knit groups of colleagues); and, most publicly but much more selectively, making selected extracts available in published articles.

For conversation analysts, the chief drivers for sharing data have been to add a level of rigour to the analytic findings and to give others the ability to check the analysis. Seeing the evidence means that “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, p. 26, emphasis added).

Primary/Secondary distinction of data

What can CA add to these ongoing debates about sharing qualitative data

In a new publication we argue that the data CA draws on is inherently sensitive even if not formally, legally protected. A person’s openly available actions during a meal may typically be regulated quite differently from their private medical records, but CA researchers quickly learn how prized and intimate mundane interactions can become when we request access to them. Although the ethical concerns associated with handling interactional data are not uniquely experienced by CA researchers, we argue that our experiences in needing to share sensitive data means we have much to contribute to ethical discussions around participant consent regarding data access and practices for maintaining anonymity even in widely-available recordings and transcripts.

An anonymised image of the kind typically used in a journal article

On epistemology, the highly contextual nature of qualitative data and thus the question of whether that data can ever be reinterpreted in secondary analyses has dictated the direction of data sharing discussions. We argue that CA’s endogenous conception of ‘context’ (in brief: that CA does not entertain or assume contextual explanations of phenomena, which was debated at length by Billig, Schegloff and Wetherell in the late 90s) means that data is always constituted for the first time at the point of analysis. Therefore, the distinction between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ data which directs the debates on whether to share qualitative data does not exist in CA. In fact, a more significant concern for CA researchers should be the relationship between researcher and data at each analysis (where data are “constituted for the first time” in each project) because of the way that we draw on our own memberships to recognise practices despite the CA appeal to ‘unmotivated looking’. (As an example , see the Twitter thread on this point and related concerns about “the whiteness in the erasure of the researcher” by Edward Reynolds.)

There is a strong practical legacy too: CA’s baked-in approach to sharing data during and after a research project should widen the existing debates around qualitative data sharing and can inform how other approaches might share their data.

Summary

CA is unique in its conception of ‘context’ and the real emphasis that is placed on data sharing as part of a rigorous approach. Our rich history (some of which we might now critically reflect on) means that we have experience and knowledge which can usefully inform these debates and shape others’ thinking on how and why data sharing can be at the bow of research design. 

So, should we share qualitative data? Well, you’ll have to read the article to find out… 

Joyce, J.B., Douglass, T., Benwell, B., Rhys, C. S., Parry, R., Simmons, R. & Kerrison, A. (2022). Should we share qualitative data? International Journal of Social Research Methodology

References:

DuBois, J. M., Strait, M., & Walsh, H. (2018). Is It Time to Share Qualitative Research Data? Qualitative Psychology, 5(3), 380-393. doi: 10.1037/qup0000076

Jepson, M., Salisbury, C., Ridd, M. J., Metcalfe, C., Garside, L. & Barnes, R. (2017). The ‘One in a Million’ study: creating a database of UK primary consultations. British Journal of General Practice, 67(658), e345-e351.

Kuula, A. (2011). Methodological and Ethical Dilemmas of Archiving Qualitative Data. IASSIST Quarterly, 34(3-4), 12-17. 

Mozersky, J. Walsh, H. Parsons, M. McIntosh, T. Baldwin, K. and DuBois, J.M. (2020a). Are we ready to share qualitative research data? Knowledge and preparedness among qualitative researchers, IRB Members, and data repository curators. The International Association for Social Science Information Service            and Technology Quarterly, 8(43), 1-26. doi:10.29173/iq952.

Sacks, H. (1984). Notes on Methodology. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis (pp. 21-27). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Paul ten Have, 1937 – 2022

Paul ten Have’s son Frans has shared the sad news of Paul’s passing. Paul ten Have died on Tuesday May 10, 2022 in a nursing home in Alkmaar (The Netherlands), two years after he lost his life partner Immelien Kramer.  

Paul ten Have

In 2002, Paul ten Have retired as an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Faculty of Social  and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam. At that time, he was also a staff member of the Dutch Graduate School in Science & Technology Studies: Science, Technology and Modern Culture. 

From 1992 on, and from 1996 on the world-wide web, Paul’s ETHNO/CA-NEWS has been an important resource for publications and activities in conversation analysis and ethnomethodology (www.paultenhave.nl). Since 2014, this work is continued on the EM/CA wiki site (emcawiki.net). In a biographical note on the pages of Ethno/CA-News, Paul described his own research interests as follows: 

“My research interests can be indicated by the concepts of ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, medical interaction, technology and research practices. I have a long-standing interest in qualitative research methods, as evident in most of my teaching, a number of publications, and some of my research. My general orientation has been shaped mostly by ethnomethodology, which I most often apply in the form of Conversation Analysis. Since the late 1970’s, I have done research on doctor-patient interaction in the context of the general practice consultation, i.e. in general medicine. (…) For the last 15 years or so, I have also developed an interest in the study of local practices involving various kinds of technology, such as ICT as in word processing or web page design.” 

Paul ten Have was a member of the small group of first generation talk-in-interaction scholars in the Netherlands around the end of the seventies (together with Hanneke Houtkoop-Steenstra, Martha Komter, Dorothea Franck, Marca Schasfoort and Dick Springorum). In 1979, this group had several meetings with Emanuel Schegloff during his stay in the Netherlands, and from 1983 on, there were regular data sessions with Gail Jefferson. In 1991 Paul organized one of the first international conferences on Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis in Amsterdam (together with Hanneke Houtkoop-Steenstra and Harrie Mazeland).

Paul was influential as a teacher of ethnomethodology, conversation analysis and qualitative methodology. His handbooks Doing Conversation Analysis (1999, second edition 2007) and Understanding Qualitative Research and Ethnomethodology (2004) offer accessible introductions. They reached a broad readership and are often quoted. Not only was the connection between conversation analysis and ethnomethodology a serious concern for Paul, he was also open to research in related and overlapping paradigms such as interactional linguistics, discursive psychology, membership categorization analysis, or related interaction studies such as Goffman and micro-ethnography.

Some publications

Have, Paul ten (1989) ‘The consultation as a genre’. In: B. Torode, ed. Text and Talk as Social Practice. Dordrecht / Providence, R.I.: Foris Publications: 115- 35

Have, Paul ten (1991) ‘Talk and institution: a reconsideration of the ‘asymmetry’ of doctor-patient interaction’. In: D. Boden, D.H. Zimmerman, eds. Talk and social structure: studies in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis. Cambridge: Polity Press: 138- 63 

Have, Paul ten; George Psathas, eds. (1995) Situated order: Studies in the social organization of talk and embodied activities. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America

Have, Paul ten (1999) Doing conversation analysis: a practical guide. London etc: Sage 

Have, Paul ten (2004) Understanding qualitative research and ethnomethodology. London etc.: Sage

Have, Paul ten (2005) ‘The Notion of Member is the Heart of the Matter: On the Role of Membership Knowledge in Ethnomethodological Inquiry’, Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung 30: 28-53 

Have, Paul ten (2013) ‘Identifying birds by their song’. In: Peter Tolmie, Mark Rouncefield, eds. Ethnomethodology at Play. Farnham, Surrey, U.K.: Ashgate

Harrie Mazeland, May 10, 2022

Guest Blog: Promoting CA in Brazil

As Conversation Analysis is increasingly taken up by researchers across the world, we are seeing efforts to bring the approach to their wider local communities. There are several initiatives in Brazil, and I’m delighted that Fabio Ferraz de Almeida, currently working in Finland, has sent in this report of an inaugural workshop in Sao Paulo.

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Fabio Ferraz de Almeida

The idea of organising an introductory CA workshop in Brazil began to take shape last year, while I was talking to a colleague, Bruna Gisi, professor of Sociology at the University of São Paulo (USP). Bruna was developing a postgraduate course on EM and Goffman and invited me to participate in one of the lectures. According to her, several sociologists in Brazil often talk about ethnomethodology but they rarely show how to put  it to use. Her suggestion was that we  discuss a particular EM concept and show how to ‘apply’ it in empirical research. 

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Guest Blog:  Building an EMCA community at CADSS

Groups of EM/CA analysts have sprung up all over the world to share expertise, pore over data together, bounce ideas off each other and provide a sense of shared community. Here Simon Stewart gives an enthusiastic account of recent developments of the group based on the south coast of England.

Simon Stewart, Southampton

This post is intended to share with the CA community some of the resources and learning that have come from our group, CA Data Sessions South (CADSS), in its first 18 months.

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Guest Blog: In memory of Jack Bilmes

All of us at ROLSI were sorry to hear of the death, in May of this year, of Jack Bilmes, one of ethnomethodology’s most original and independent voices, and a warm, generous and caring man. I’m very grateful to Professor Gabi Kasper, an old friend and teaching colleague of Jack’s, for allowing us to reproduce here the obituary that was read out at this year’s IPrA conference. The paper that Jack was to have presented a paper there will, happily, be published in Discourse Studies (1).

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Guest Blog: EM/CA for Racial Justice

There is an intriguing and welcome movement in EM/CA circles recommending that more be done by scholars to engage with social issues. Prime among these issues is racism, and I’m delighted that three early-career academics, Eleonora Sciubba, Natasha Shrikant and Francesca Williamson have agreed to report on their and their colleagues’ efforts to apply EM/CA perspectives on the issue.

The authors of this post [1] are members of a working group entitled, EMCA4RJ—or EMCA for Racial Justice—that was started in June 2020 [2] The purpose of this group is to foreground race and racism as central issues in the EMCA community. 

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Guest Blog: What it’s like to take up a new job in Finland

CA is in demand in many University departments, but scattered far and wide. Here’s the account of one early career researcher, Fabio Ferraz de Almeida, who has made the huge move from Brazil to Finland. Fabio had done his PhD in the UK with Loughborough’s DARG, so it wasn’t a completely unfamiliar move; but Jyväskylä is not the same as the East Midlands…

Fabio Ferraz de Almeida

What would you do if you noticed the pedestrian traffic lights turning red just before you started crossing a street? In Brazil and the UK, and in many other parts of the world, I assume, people would cross the street as long as they saw none vehicle coming. In Finland, however, this is not the case. I would say that one of the best ways for ‘doing being Finnish’ is to wait patiently for the red lights to turn green before crossing a street, regardless of whether any vehicles were in sight.

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How do I get published in ROLSI?

A couple of years ago we published a blog of a roundtable between the editor and a group of CA scholars at Linköping University, discussing ROLSI’s editorial practices. One of those researchers, Professor Leelo Keevallik, is now the Associate Editor of the journal, and she and I are very pleased to revisit some of those issues. We’re very grateful indeed to Dr Marina Cantarutti, one of global CA’s most active and well-connected early career researchers, for posing us questions which will be of interest to all, but especially those who are submitting for the first time.

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Guest Blog: A new book on “Recruitment” across cultures


Over the last few years, Conversation Analysis researchers have moved well beyond the American English origins data that the founders used; in ROLSI, for example, it’s quite normal that English be only one of three or four different languages studied in any one issue. But what is really exciting is when a research team takes on a big, cross-cultural project, and I’m very happy to have Giovanni Rossi, N. J. Enfield and Mark Dingemanse tell us about their admirable new collection – and it’s open-access, too.

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