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Guest blog: The Cardiff EM/CA doctoral student meeting

Every year a UK university hosts a meeting for doctoral students working in the fields of ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis. This year it was held at Cardiff University. Jack Joyce and Linda Walz have sent in a lively and inclusive report, and Louise White has kindly contributed a warm personal reflection. 

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The 7th biannual EMCA Doctoral Network event was hosted at Cardiff University. It continued the tradition of providing the opportunity for PhD students to explore the various ways with which EMCA is employed around the UK and give us all a glimpse of EMCA research outside of our own departments.

The collegial and supportive spirit which the EMCA Doctoral Network has fostered over the past events continued with an afternoon start on the first day, which allowed us some time to explore Cardiff and the many sites where Doctor Who and Torchwood are filmed.


Our host, Robin Smith, welcomed us all to Cardiff and to the beautiful Glamorgan Building. The meeting opened with a trio of presentations on institutional data. Bogdana Huma’s (Loughborough) paper explored how prior relationships are enacted in business-to-business calls. Tatiana Gherman (Loughborough) focused on the macro-organisation of meetings and the methodological challenges of such an investigation. Marion West (Wolverhampton) examined undergraduate supervisions and how roles are constructed in situ in such interactions. The first opportunity to engage with some data was up next, Jack Joyce (Loughborough) shared his data on resistance in medical interactions, raising issues of the tensions between personal and institutional identities. Matters of identity negotiation were further explored through Emma Greenhalgh’s (Sheffield) data on teaching English to a group of adult learners.

Is EM/CA still useful?

The first day was rounded off with a superb plenary by Richard Fitzgerald (Macau), who posed the critical question as to whether the EMCA methodology apparatus was still appropriate in a modern world with new forms of data. Richard emphasised that in ethnomethodological inquiry, the phenomenon takes prevalence over the methodology. He introduced us to the Sacks archive held at UCLA and ended his talk by encouraging us as EMCA practitioners to read Sacks’ work as often as we can throughout our careers and, given the opportunity, to visit the Sacks archive ourselves. Discussions were continued over drinks and a meal at a local Indian restaurant.


Post-Portuguese-bakery session

After some of us had enjoyed breakfast at a Portuguese bakery, day two began with a paper session with a general focus on sequence organisation. Yuening Yang (Loughborough) identified resumptions markers  employed to return to a prior topic. Mariana Cantarutti (York) explored the (dis)association between participants from an Interactional Linguistic approach. Julian Molina (Warwick) shared his data on board members’ process of agreeing on a vision for young people’s education and skills. Clare Nicholson (Anglia Ruskin) started the second paper session of the day on how people with intellectual disabilities do resistance. Marc Alexander’s (Loughborough) talk investigated (non)agentive formulations in noise complaints and Fabio Ferraz de Almeida (Loughborough) explored how suspects achieve counter-denunciations in police interviews. The blame and police theme continued with Louise White (Loughborough), who shared a police interview extract prompting a discussion of how the suspect distances themselves from blame by invoking contrasting membership categories. Linda Walz (York St John) gave the final data session of the day, on an investigation into how expatriate bloggers mobilise categories in their personal narratives to work through what impacts moving abroad is having on them as a person.

Membership categorisation

The meeting concluded with further application of membership categorisation to online data as William Housley (Cardiff) gave an engaging plenary, calling for unity and solidarity between different strands of ethnomethodological research in an increasingly interdisciplinary environment. He pointed to the need to “move beyond the narcissism of small differences” and begin to think of our tradition more holistically. He took up issues addressed by Richard Fitzgerald’s plenary, encouraging engagement with emergent phenomena in social media and the methodological challenges these entail. Due to the social changes we are witnessing, he noted that sociology and with it EMCA will become one of the most important disciplines in the 21st century.

Breadth and goodwill

The meeting showed the breadth of ethnomethodological research on both institutional and non-institutional data in face-to-face, telephone and online settings. It was imbued with a spirit of open-mindedness where differences between research strands and the variety of data investigated can engender new discussions and maybe even challenge existing methodologies and hopefully contribute to moving the field forward. The EMCA Doctoral Network Meeting proved once more to be a great opportunity for inspiring exchanges within the research community. We all look to the next meeting in Newcastle, eagerly anticipating a similarly outstanding event.


Louise White adds a personal reflection:

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Catching a particularly early morning train from Loughborough to Cardiff was a painful prospect. But, as I sleepily greeted three of my fellow Loughborough attendees on the platform at Loughborough station clutching my bundle of train tickets, we were all feeling excited for what the next couple of days would entail. Lots of EMCA!

When we arrived, we received a very friendly welcome. Handshakes were swapped and there was a round of introductions amongst all attendees and, thankfully, there were no cringey icebreakers. The usual jokes about the large number of people from Loughborough in attendance bounced around the room, but it was great to meet those who had travelled from elsewhere including York, Wolverhampton, Warwick, and Sheffield, some we had met before and others we had not. The number of 13 doctoral students in attendance, though on the small side, provided an intimate, rather than intimidating, atmosphere for the meeting.

Good mix

Looking at the programme, it seemed a shame that there were no technical sessions or reading groups. However, these sorts of sessions can be difficult in terms of engaging a whole group, and keeping everyone focused on the same activity or topic which isn’t necessarily relevant, or interesting for all involved. The meeting was very varied and diverse without these sorts of sessions, and it was a pleasure to spend our time learning more about each other’s projects in such a warm and encouraging environment. In terms of the content of the sessions, there was a great mixture of presentations and data sessions on a variety of topics and with a generous length of time dedicated to each, in particular the data sessions.

William Housley’s engaging plenary was a fantastic end to the two-day meeting. Although we received the programme for the meeting only a few days before it began, this meant that every session the programme promised, we received. It was clear that the programme had been carefully put together, the sessions were allocated in a logical order, which allowed comparisons and connections to be made across them. Dr Smith also notified us that the Wales Doctoral Training Partnership would generously provide funding towards reimbursing our accommodation and travel expenses, something we were very grateful for. Although there was no set hashtag encouraged at the event, attendees intuitively used #EMCA; and that seemed to do the trick.

All in all, we found Cardiff University to be a brilliant host for the EMCA Doctoral Network Meeting. Next stop: Newcastle University, October 2017.

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.

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.

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Charles Antaki

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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.

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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).
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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: Lucas Seuren on reading classic CA

One of the pleasures of PhD work is the chance to browse in the dustier corners of the digital library. Lucas Seuren reports on finding books and articles which pack a remarkable punch, even many years after first publication.


Lucas Seuren, Groningen University

A few years ago, before I had started as a PhD student, I attended a few talks by Trevor Benjamin who at the time had just finished his dissertation on other-initiation of repair. During these talks he would point out that while conversation analytic research has developed much over the past few decades, there was still so much we did not know about what he called the ‘boring topics’. Continue reading

Guest Blog: Lisa Mikesell on repair in conversation with dementia patients

Readers of the journal will often see Conversation Analysis applied to real-world problems, and in this guest blog, Lisa Mikesell reports on her work with patients with dementia. The full story is in her article in the current issue, and here she asks how   caregivers manage the delicate task of monitoring patients’ actions – and on occasion, correcting them when things go wrong.

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Lisa Mikesell, Rutgers University

I often work closely with clinicians, from neurologists to psychiatrists. I take a keen interest in how communicative and social behaviors are typically measured, and what those measures end up meaning clinically and practically to both providers and patients. Continue reading