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Guest Blog: How does a market trader get customers?

In a recent paper in ROLSI, Kenan Hochuli reported a remarkable study of the complex world of the street market. I’m delighted that he’s prepared a guest blog on the subject, concentrating on the crucial step in the selling process: getting the passer-by to stop.

Kenan Hochuli

Kenan Hochuli, Neuchâtel and Zurich

Market stalls are unique service institutions. They are located in public spaces and approachable from different directions. There are no material or technical devices that determine the sequence of sales. Sometimes it is not clear whether a person is just passing by a stall or if they intend to buy something. And this often happens in the course of already ongoing sales interactions. In view of these conditions, my article deals with seller’s efforts in transforming passers-by into customers and, more generally, participants negotiation of co-presence in the course of emerging multi-party-encounters.

A bit of background

I have been analyzing interactions at fruit and vegetable stalls on weekly markets in two cities: Zurich and Istanbul, looking to identify sellers’ strategies for “turning the passer-by into a customer”. The ROLSI article, however, is only about a Zurich market stall. For good reasons: Market stalls in the two cities may follow a similar logic: goods on the table, sellers behind, market visitors in front. But the principles according to which participants establish an interactional order for exchanging the goods may well be different, so I wouldn’t want to claim that the practices below are universal. More on that when I report on my field work in Turkey and, hopefully, elsewhere.

A view from behind the counter

The market stall set-up can be illustrated with a still image from behind the counter: Figure 1 shows a moment in which market-stall holder Erich is about to turn the conversation with the current customer Claudia (all names are pseudonyms) into a public scene in order to give an approaching market visitor, Luana, an opportunity to participate as a co-addressed recipient. He makes a joke, speaks louder, also raises the pitch of his voice and looks repeatedly at the third person. The latter, for her part, follows the events attentively while approaching and finally stopping. By doing so, she becomes a potential next customer.

Hochuli 1

Figure 1: The seller Erich, his current customer Claudia and the approaching Luana.

What is relevant about these processes?

There is much more going on at and around the market stall than just the dyadic interaction between customer and seller. Moreover, the respective social situations change very dynamically. Interactions are often limited to avoiding each other or in Goffman’s terminology: to create a state of civil inattention. It is a methodological challenge to demonstrate how this plays out in participants’ orientations and actions. Some of my statements I can only make because I have recordings from several perspectives.

How can data be collected in such a dynamic environment?

I filmed the market stall from two perspectives. One filmed the entire stall from the side. Figure 2 shows a screenshot from that recording. With a second hand camera I tried to film the events from closer up. On figure 2 you see me – just! – with the camera in the hand, coordinating with a colleague about who to ask for consent (marked in the green rectangle. Don’t ask me why I am the only person holding an umbrella). In addition to this, I placed a 360 degree camera on the market table. Often, it was this 360 degree camera that delivered the best and most useable pictures.

Hochuli 2

Figure 2: Screenshot from recording with static camera.

This type of data collection is only possible in a team. I was lucky that my colleagues from the URPP Language and Space group at the University of Zurich helped me often with the recordings. Although sometimes there were four or five of us, most of the people did not notice our presence. It is a characteristic of the situation on the marketplace that people are busy with other activities: Looking at the offer, avoiding other people, talking to each other.


When being asked by us if we could use the collected video data, fortunately, most people were positive about the project. But we had another problem. Watching the footage later, it became clear that also people who pass-by and slow their movements only for a short time could have a decisive influence on the respective situation. But – we had not obtained consent from these people, so we couldn’t use those segments of data. It all happened way too fast. I sometimes walk the market in the hope of meeting some of these people and ask them for permission….

Nevertheless, I hope that I succeded in showing that the complexity of the situation is not only relevant from a researcher’s perspective. The participants, too, overlook things and may therefore misinterpret the situation slightly wrong. For example, both Erich and his colleague miss the moment when Luana arrived to the stall with her partner (see Figure 2 in the background on the left). As the couple drifts apart, they two appear as independent parties. However, when Luana’s partner is greeted by the second seller, Luana – and then Erich! – intervene and the situation is negotiated quite wittily. Again, this expresses how much interaction takes place beyond the classical dyad, especially in an open setting as a public market stall. Moreover, it allowed me discuss the ethnomethodological and conversation analytic theory of “at a glance” interpretations in public space.

For greater detail about this study, see Kenan’s recent paper in ROLSI.


Guest blog: Supporting communication in dementia research

A growing area of application of Conversation Analysis is in helping people deal with the difficulties of dementia. In this very welcome guest blog, Joe Webb and Jemima Dooley tell us how adapting qualitative approaches could help people communicate their stories, and describe an exciting new collaboration with people who actually live with the condition.

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Joe Webb, Bristol

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Jemima Dooley, Bristol

A growing body of conversation analysis (CA) research focuses on dementia and communication (see Dooley et al., 2015, and Kindell et al., 2017 for overviews). However, people living with dementia are also keen to tell their own stories and be active researchers (McKeown et al., 2010). Continue reading

Guest blog: the EM/CA Bootcamp, 2018

Each year colleagues in Denmark organise an intensive get-together for postgraduates and other early-career researchers who want to delve into the mysteries of ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis. I’m glad to say that Sophia Fiedler & Søren Sandager Sørensen have sent in this insider’s report….

Søren Sandager Sørensen, Aarhus
Sophia Fiedler, Neuchâtel 

When you travel to Denmark, your luggage so full of text by Garfinkel, Schegloff and Jefferson that you’ve struggled to get your clothes into your suitcase; when the only geographical clue you have about your exact location in Denmark is the fact that you are not far from the sea; when – additionally – there are only linguists (and a few sociologists) in the house where you will stay for 5 days… Continue reading

Guest Blog: Marina Cantarutti on presenting CA to the public

Explaining what we do to the general public can be a daunting exercise, but the rewards can be well worth it.  Marina Cantarutti, doing her doctoral research at the University of York, took on the task, and presented her work at a science fair of the kind that hosted Saul Albert and colleagues’ excellent CA Rollercoaster. She lived to tell the (happy) tale…

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Marina Cantarutti, University of York

For some areas of linguistics, it may be a bit difficult to make your work accessible to the public without feeling you are betraying yourself, or your knowledge. The fear of trivialising is always at the back of one’s mind. Moreover, when you’re out there on your own, you are the sole representative of the discipline … daunting! Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Guest Blog: The 8th biannual EM/CA Doctoral Network meeting

Twice a year, UK postgraduates meet to thrash out issues in ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis, generously hosted by staff at a University. The second meeting this year was held at Newcastle. Jack Joyce tells the story, and Marc Alexander muses on the pros and cons of parallel sessions.

Jack Joyce, Loughborough DARG

The 8th biannual EMCA Doctoral Network event was hosted at Newcastle University. It brought the marvellous event to the land of Applied Linguistics, and gave us EMCA researchers a further opportunity to explore different ways with which EMCA is employed around the UK. The collegial and supportive spirit highlighted at past EMCA Doctoral Networks was again, present, giving us the chance to meet old friends and make new connections. Continue reading

Why ROLSI uses double-blind review

Many journals in our field, perhaps most, anonymise the submissions they send out for review, and pass comments back to authors anonymised in turn: a “double-blind” system.  This has always been ROLSI’s practice  (at least, it has been under the editorship of the last five editors). But occasionally a reader or potential reviewer raises the question as to why this is preferable to signed reviews, or indeed submissions with the author’s name attached.


Charles Antaki, ROLSI Editor

I thought readers might be interested in a recent e-mail dialogue with a reader on just these issues. Continue reading