Guest Blog: Writing “Ethnomethodological Conversation Analysis in Motion”

There’s an increasing demand for Conversation Analysis texts as the discipline becomes established, and new markets emerge among students and researchers. One of the most intriguing texts to come out soon is Ethnomethodological Conversation Analysis in Motion: Emerging Methods and New Technologies, edited by a group based at Oulu University. I’m delighted that the group have written a piece for the blog.

L to R: Antti Kamunen, Pentti Haddington, Tiina Eilittä, Tuire Oittinen,
Anna Vatanen, Laura Kohonen-Aho, Iira Rautiainen.

In 2020, during the first months of the pandemic, we had been working on a book proposal on the Complexity of Interaction (also forthcoming in 2023) and had sent it to a publisher. In their response, the publisher expressed an interest in some of the chapters and their focus on “the development of methodology and methods in EMCA” (their words) and suggested we put together a separate book on that theme. 

Intrigued by the idea, we formulated some guiding questions and sent them to colleagues who we knew were using innovative research approaches within EMCA. We wanted to capture what was going on as a live, developing stream of scholarship and methodology – hence the “in motion” of the title. 

What we asked potential contributors was along these lines:

  • What aspects of their research had guided them towards creative methodological thinking? 
  • What traditional and new solutions had they used, and to what ends? 

Luckily, it didn’t take too much begging and pleading to get those colleagues aa potential authors, and we soon began to receive abstracts. As a result, the following question began to emerge and unite the current book’s chapters: What can be treated as evidence for analytic claims in EMCA, and how can such evidence be analysed and represented? The new proposal began to take form. We submitted the book proposal in February 2021. 

How to write about CA’s claims, and the evidence for them?

The intellectual process – including the writing of the book proposal, the compiling of a thematically coherent volume with contribution to the EMCA field, and the writing of the introductory chapter – was both challenging and exciting. It was important throughout to keep in mind that we were trying to track what was new and exciting in the discipline. It entailed various stages and working methods: we read texts together, made mind maps, wrote parts of texts both together and individually, and had repeated – sometimes endless – discussions around theoretical and methodological matters. In other words, we did a lot of going back and forth, which was necessary for the development of our thinking and putting all the pieces together.

A crucial stage in the overall process was a cottage getaway in beautiful winter scenery in a place called Rokua in December 2021, where we spent two days working intensely on the volume. A couple of months earlier, we had received one reviewer’s feedback on the proposal. The feedback was critical but very helpful, and the getaway allowed us to brainstorm and reorganize our thoughts and ideas that were, at that point, still quite dispersed. For instance, how we perceived the relationship between EM and CA and positioned ourselves in the field remained a question to be answered. Along with having great fun as a group, we experienced a breakthrough regarding the book’s overall focus: how an analyst can access a member’s perspective in interaction. This really helped us to rethink the book’s structure and formulate a response to the reviewer’s comments.

 The editors (l to r: Tiina Eilittä, Iira Rautiainen, Pentti Haddington, Tuire Oittinen, Antti Kamunen and Anna Vatanen)  at a two-day book planning getaway in December 2021, a picture requested by the then very pregnant editor Laura Kohonen-Aho, who participated remotely.

Having seven editors is not typical for books, nor is it conventional that five out of the seven are early-career researchers (ECR; doctoral and postdoctoral researchers). For them, the book project gave insights into the editor’s perspective and the steps involved in publishing a book. Early-career researchers’ input can be very beneficial to these kinds of projects by bringing in fresh, new viewpoints.

As a result, what we hope to have achieved is to test the boundaries of the field, while also respecting the established practices of doing EMCA research. The discussions about the concepts, theory, and methodology were helpful to all, and we all learned from each other. Moreover, another significant thing we learned from the process was how to work together intensively in remote and hybrid modes. The practices for remote collaboration we developed during the process have benefitted us all after the pandemic began to ease off. 

Reflecting on conceptual and methodological trends

During the process, we did a lot of juggling with concepts, which forced us to rethink our understanding of the EMCA methodology. In its final form, the book presents three themes in the field:

  • members’ private actions – how are private actions relevant for the organisation of social order and how can they be studied?
  • the analyst’s access to a member’s perspective – what means can be used to examine the perspective of understudied participants (incl. non-sentient, non-human species)?
  • the emerging trends of the EMCA methodology – what other methods and technologies can be used during data collection, analysis, and representation?

In the end, those themes informed 12 chapters, with headings like ‘Transcribing human-robot interaction: Methodological implications of participating machines’, ‘EMCA informed experimentation as a way of investigating (also) “non-accountable” interactional phenomena’, and ‘A satellite view of spatial points in conversation.’ We hope that this book acts as a conversation opener and inspires discussion on the development of the EMCA methodology! This is key reading for researchers and advanced students on a range of courses on conversation analysis, language in interaction, discourse studies, multimodality and more.

The cover of the book.

We use the title Ethnomethodological Conversation Analysis (EMCA) and are aware of the problems connected with the label, but we use it deliberately to emphasize the importance of the ethnomethodological roots for doing conversation analysis.

Together, they are considered to form an analytic mentality and approach for studying the construction of action, activities, and social order.