Guest Blog: a new journal on social interaction

It’s an exciting event when a new journal appears on the scene that immediately sounds appealing. I’m delighted that Brian Due and Kristian Mortensen will tell us about the background to the new Social Interaction. Video-Based Studies of Human Sociality, and explain how its online publication makes it exceptionally apt for publishing video and audio data.

Brian Due

Brian Lystgaard Due

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Kristian Mortensen

Digital technology has over recent decades had a strong influence on the ways EMCA researchers go about doing their job. Over the years, video and audio data moved from magnetic tape to digital capture; transcriptions were no longer written on typewriters but produced as text files on a desktop; text files could link directly to video files so any segment could be immediately accessed; collections were no longer stored as pieces of papers in folders, but could be organized electronically across different corpora.

Today, there are only two things missing to make the world of EMCA researchers perfect: computers have not learned to transcribe automatically – and probably never will to the level of detail required for EMCA analyses – and the beautiful tie between data and transcripts disappears the moment papers and books are published. Even where publications are electronically available, readers still typically only have access to transcripts instead of access to data.

Back to Harvey Sacks

This seems paradoxical, not the least if we look back at Sacks’ reason for recording interaction in the first place:

“[I started with tape-recorded conversations] 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: 26, our emphasis)

Tape-recorders were not that complicated to use, and they soon became the standard technological tool for EMCA researchers. However, as researchers such as the Goodwins, Streeck, Heath, Kendon, Scheflen and Birdwhistell started to work with film and video, this entailed the use of professional, heavy, expensive equipment, and physical hard-disks for data storage. We recall Frederick Erickson’s descriptions of ‘the old days’:

“The first videotape I made was done in the fall of 1967 in a study of small-group discussions of young people of middle school age. The camera I used weighed at least 25 pounds and was mounted on a heavy, wheeled tripod, with recording being done on reels of tape that were an inch thick and about 16 inches in diameter. This setup could only be used in a studio, so I brought a discussion group to that space, seated them in front of the camera, turned on extra lights around the room, and recorded continuously using the widest-angle camera lens. Having previously recorded such discussions using audiotape alone, one single videotape seemed marvelously illuminating; I could see who the speakers were addressing as they spoke – a particular individual, a subset of the group, or the whole group. A multimodal and multiparty analysis of the locally situated ecological processes of interaction and meaning making became possible using such an audiovisual record.” (Erickson, 2011: 181)

Today’s camera technology has become ever smaller, cheaper and easier to use. Cameras such as the GoPro, and even most smartphones, produce excellent video and audio quality. As for portability, unwieldy tripods are now often replaced by camera equipment that can simply be taped to a wall or ceiling, fixed to a helmet or placed on a bookshelf. As for storing data, memory space is no longer a real practical or financial concern. Consequently, video recordings are fast becoming the default choice for collecting these types of data in most contexts.

But how to let people see the data for themselves?

For many years, EMCA researchers have tried in different ways to give readers access to the audio and video clips in their publications. Some journals actually do allow you to upload clips to their website and provide the corresponding link in the articles (ROLSI does that). And some authors upload clips to their private or university website and put the link in the paper. But these solutions are rarely without challenges. Websites change or disappear and files with them. Only a few web archives have survived such as for instance Talkbank. And finally, where readers do have access to some (selective and edited) video files, it can be a tedious task to read hard-copy printed papers or pdf’s while switching between media to watch or listen to the clips.

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The new online journal, Social Interaction. Video-Based Studies of Human Sociality, seeks to address this by allowing for audio and video data to be embedded into the publication, enabling the reader to see and listen to the data at the specific point in the article, where an argument is made.

Online and open-access

Social Interaction is an online-only journal hosted by the Danish Royal Library. Establishing it in this format was quite an easy choice: firstly, we can’t remember the last time we had a hard-copy journal in our hands! Secondly, the journal aims for a quick turnaround for publications, and although most journals publish both on- and offline, the printed version sets the standard for length and number of papers in each issue. This inevitably leads to bottlenecks that affect and frustrate editors and authors alike. Social Interactionpublishes 4 issues per year, but the size of each issue varies, depending on the number of papers that are ready for publication. And whenever a publication is ready for publication, it will be uploaded to the site.

As researchers based in Denmark, we are quite fortunate: our university libraries provide access to all, or at least most, relevant journals in our field. Getting access to papers is rarely an issue. This is of course not necessarily true across the globe, and also not always the case for independent researchers. “Could you send me your paper on X” or “Does anybody have access to Journal Y” are requests that frequently pop up in emails, Academia, Facebook groups or the like. Thus, we have chosen not to be part of a larger publishing industry with economic interests, because we want the journal to be part of the “democratizing knowledge movement” with truly open access.

Technical and ethical considerations

Technically, the journal uploads the video clips to a private YouTube channel with specific “unsearchable” file names. From this platform, we embed the video clips into the source html code on the journal homepage and the specific article. Ethically and juridically, authors are responsible for any clips they choose to upload. This includes a requirement that permissions for public availability have been granted, and that the videos are edited to secure participants’ anonymity according to the agreements made with participants. The journal will provide optional guidelines for how to anonymize the clips. It should be noted, however, that the embedding of video clips is NOT a requirement; we are fully aware that making video-data available to the wider public comes with several concerns, and that some types of ‘sensitive’ data should never be included (e.g. from medical interaction or business communication where business strategies are discussed).

How we’re different

One way we wanted to differentiate the journal from others is the length of papers. Social Interaction publishes two types of papers: i) Regular papers are 4000 words (references, transcripts etc. are not included in the word count) and ii) discussion papers, responses and first-mover statements are 2000 words. We hope these shorter formats make it easier to rapidly turn strong arguments and novel findings into publishable papers. Inevitably, this means that for instance literature reviews might be shorter and more ‘to the point’, analytic sections may not necessarily be full-blown CA analysis as most articles are in e.g. ROLSI, and discussion sections may leave out summaries of the papers. However, we want to stress that the journal does not publish ‘working papers’, and that all submitted manuscripts will undergo a double-blind review process from established researchers in the field.

Finally, we welcome all types of articles addressing all aspects of social interaction, whether in ‘ordinary conversation’, institutions, public encounters or workplace settings.

We hope that Social Interaction will be taken to heart as an alternative platform, rather than a competitive venue, for ethnomethodological, conversation analytic and other approaches concerned with describing practices for sense-making in social interaction. We look forward to hopefully many submissions, and hope that our community appreciates the new journal.