4th EMCA Doctoral Network Meeting: In the Land of the Ethnos

Our new blog is by Joe Ford, Bogdana Huma, Lin Wu, Marc Alexander, Fabio Ferraz-de-Almeida and Yeuning Yang, all doctoral students at Loughborough University. They attended a busy and thought-provoking Ethnomethodology / Conversation Analysis training day in Manchester. There was something of a culture clash, as their lively report reveals…

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L to R: Fabio Ferraz-de-Almeida, Yuening Yang, Joe Ford, Lin Wu, Marc Alexander. Also in the picture: Sarah Cantwell (behind Lin) and Chris Elsey (in front of Marc). Photo by Bogdana Huma.

One of the benefits of the biannual EMCA Doctoral Network events, it is becoming clear, is the opportunity for PhD students to sample the various ways in which EMCA is practiced around the UK, avoiding the insularity that might otherwise develop from being exposed to only one department’s approach.

This was particularly apparent in the contrast between this year’s spring and autumn events, hosted by the universities of Nottingham and Manchester respectively.

The spring meeting was in a practical spirit, exemplified by the numerous training sessions and Ruth Parry’s keynote speech on the intricacies of doing a systematic review. This was consistent with the host university, where much of the CA work originates from the inherently institutional and applied environment of the Queen’s Medical Centre.

It was no surprise, then, given Manchester’s own unique theoretical position in the EMCA field, that they would host a rather different sort of event. The initial indication of this, however, was not theoretical at all. It came, rather, on the morning of the first day, as we discovered that the bulk of the event was to be held in a chapel, complete with lectern and stained glass.

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If this unusual choice of venue (which has surely set the ‘unusual venue’ bar rather high for the rest of our academic careers) was not enough, the impression was confirmed by keynote speaker Wes Sharrock, who opened the event not with Parry-esque practical guidance but, rather, an explication on ‘EM, CA, the social sciences and philosophy’ (Sharrock himself wryly commented upon the vastness of his topic versus the short time he had to explore it).

Whereas Sharrock’s concern lay largely in the immediate origins of EMCA (Garfinkel, Sacks and so on), the rest of the morning’s presenters touched upon remoter antecedents still, including Wittgenstein and phenomenology.

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An intellectual culture shock, then, for those of us who are used to CA in its modern and applied forms – but that’s hardly a bad thing.

The afternoon session took on the more traditional Doctoral Network format, with nine PhD students presenting their work in both preliminary and developed forms. The selection of topics was typically eclectic, including presentations on law, medicine and, in a particular audience favourite, food assessments. As has consistently been the case with these events, the atmosphere was friendly and supportive – a good thing, given that the tight scheduling meant that it was early evening before we went for dinner.

The second day of the event opened with a focus on data sessions. Seemingly uncontroversial, then, though even here there was room for experimentation, with one presenter having devised an ethnomethodological data session centred on field notes rather than recordings. As with the previous day’s presentations, these sessions provided a great opportunity for peer support and discussion.

The event concluded on an appropriately controversial note, with a training session on discursive psychology.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 17.41.09.pngWhile the presenter did make it clear that she was not there seeking converts, this did nothing to dampen the lively discussions that followed.

The Manchester EMCA meeting was, then, a philosophically and theoretically-tinged event, asking foundational, and often controversial, questions about the underlying assumptions of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis.

The PhD core of the event was nonetheless maintained, however, allowing three of us (Fabio, Joe and Lin) to present our work and one of us (Bogdana) to present our own department’s unique contribution to the EMCA mainstream. We now look forward to the next event in May 2016 and wonder what flavour the host university, Sheffield, will bring to the mix.