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Conversation Analysis

Conversation Analysis

What is the field of Conversation Analysis?

 

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Yeah, conversation analysts, of which there are many, well, the leading ones Loughborough, which is part of the reason I’m here as well. It’s a nice community of people all doing similar kind of work. What we do is we try to understand interactions scientifically. And a lot of people think that, well, ‘I talk all the time, so I know how talk works.’ But it’s a bit like thinking ‘Well, we all know how to walk, but typically, we don’t know the machinery that connects our brain, our skeleton and our musculature to make walking happen or running or whatever.’

 

And talk is a bit the same. We all know how to talk, but we don’t necessarily understand the machinery of social interaction. And that’s what conversation analysis is about. And so, people typically have a sort of stereotypical idea of interaction or a very normative sense of things like what body language is or what science is.

 

And conversation analysts through, it’s a 50-year history of research, have shown how systematic interaction is. It’s not the messy thing that people also sometimes think it is. And so, what we do is we record multiple examples of a particular type of encounter. Whether that be mediators and clients or doctors and patients or friends or people on a date, which we can come back to later.

 

Then, sort of think about it. Again, I think the racetrack metaphor is useful because you can get a sense of along the obstacle course or the racetrack, you’ve got projects to be accomplished. So, within any telephone call, there’s going to be an opening, there’s going to be a reason for the call, there’s going to be the substance of the call and a pre-closing and a closing.

 

So, you can sort of see an overall organisation. And then you can sort of dig into particular projects along the way. So, in terms of the mediation telephone calls, what I do is transcribe them in a very technical way. Because we’re looking at talking in a very forensic way, focused very much on intonation and pacing and so on.

 

One of the projects on that call is going to be the mediator explaining the mediation. And there is various things that are interesting about that. One of them is that no one’s born learning how to explain mediation. It’s not that people do it naturally better or not. That services and mediators have their way of explaining mediation that they typically use.

 

But conversations, these calls are a little bit like natural experiments in that you can see this type of explanation. And they typically coalesce in two kinds of ways. And then you can see how does the caller respond to that? And you can sort of see the outcome right within the context of the call. Was it effective? Did it immediately hook the caller? Or can you see the caller starting to disengage?

 

So, these conversations are a little bit like little natural experiments that are there in the world. One thing, just as an aside, that I’m also doing with a colleague at Loughbrough, Fred Attenborough, is that we’re using these little natural experiments, of things like explanations of mediation, seeing what works and what doesn’t work. And then thinking about ‘Well, let’s have a look at the explanations of mediation online or on leaflets.’ Are they ticking the same boxes or are they going and saying ‘Uh, uh.’ There’s one of those things that doesn’t work and we can see that it doesn’t work because we’ve got the evidence from our little natural experiments in telephone calls.

About the mediator

Liz Stokoe Profile Pic

Liz graduated from University of Central Lancashire (Preston Poly) in 1993 with a traditional psychology degree. She then completed three years PhD research at Northampton University (then Nene College) with Dr Eunice Fisher. Liz videoed interaction in university tutorials, and conducted conversation analyses of topic production, topic management, academic identity, and the relevance of gender. She developed these and other interests whilst worki... View Mediator