Applications and future developments - Applications

Discursive Psychology: Theory, Method and Applications - Sally Wiggins 2017

Applications and future developments

Chapter contents

· Applications of DP research: encouraging change 222

· Future developments of DP research 227

· Epilogue 230

In this final chapter, we will consider the possibilities of applying discursive psychological (DP) research and how it might develop in the future. As such, it will build on Chapter 9, where we explored the range of existing areas of DP research to provide inspiration for your own projects. In considering applications of DP, it is important to situate this within the wider academic environment. The current climate of higher education, while varying considerably across institutions and cultures, is marked by staff accountability, consumerism and the demand for a high volume of research outputs. Academics and researchers are required not only to produce sufficient high-quality research, but also to demonstrate the impact of this on some aspect of the world. We are accountable not only to our students, our institutions and funding organisations, but also to society at large — to the public whose money is spent on education and research. It is therefore all the more important to consider different ways in which our research can be applied — and how we might (re)define application — without feeling pressured into producing research worthy of a Nobel prize. All research which is carefully and appropriately conducted, and which engages with theories and methods, is worthwhile. Sometimes you just have to think about different ways in which your research can encourage change.

I would also argue that the full potential of DP research has yet to be realised. There is so much more we can contribute to different realms of research and social life. With the magical combination of discourse, social actions and psychological notions, DP is perfectly placed to examine the social world. With our data for the most part being taken from everyday life, one could argue that our research is already applied, since it does not need to translate research findings from a laboratory or questionnaire to the ’real world’. It both begins and ends with people’s practices. It is an approach that thrives on the apparent chaos and messiness of everyday social interaction. What is needed, therefore, is not for DP to be more applied, but to be more vocal and visible about the different ways in which we are already applied, to be more open to the ways in which research might develop and evolve, and to embrace the exciting possibilities of research that lie ahead.

Applications of DP research: encouraging change

Before we can consider the applications of DP, we first need to be clear about what we mean by ’applied’. The term is often used as a contrast to what might be described as pure, theoretical or basic research. Doing so constructs a dichotomy between research that does, or does not, serve a practical purpose. It is much more complicated than that, of course, and it can become embroiled in political or moral discussions about what research should be doing and for whose purpose it serves (see, for example, Hepburn (2006) for a discussion on such issues in relation to NSPCC helpline research; see also Antaki (2011) and Richards and Seedhouse (2005) for applications in CA research). Similarly, one may hear arguments that we should make research relevant for the ’real world’. Another assumption of this ’ideology of application’ (Potter, 1982) is that the exchange of knowledge is thought to be uni-directional: that research can be applied to real-world practice, but not the other way around. A number of questions therefore arise when we consider applied research:

· What is being applied?

· For what purpose is the research being applied?

· Who benefits from the application?

· What are the actual benefits of application?

· At what stage should the research be applied?

These questions also raise the issue of knowledge: what knowledge is being produced by the research and whose knowledge counts as being more valid than another? In other words, can we claim that our research ’findings’ (or results, analyses) are more important or more valid than anyone else’s understanding of the issue? Who are we to say that our research should change other people’s practices? These are challenging issues for a relativist, social constructionist approach such as DP. We cannot take lightly the assumption that our research has the answers that will solve others’ problems. This does not mean that our research cannot be applied, only that we should be critical and reflexive throughout the process. Being relativist does not mean that we cannot take a stance on an issue. Quite the opposite: it means that we are acutely aware of the political implications of taking a stance and of the consequences of different versions of reality. Our choices are thus all the more carefully made.

In summary, then, the issue of application is not a straightforward one. We need to be cautious about making a distinction between various components — e.g., researcher/researched, theory/practice, pure/applied research — otherwise we risk perpetuating the very dichotomies that we are aiming to deconstruct. Instead, it may be helpful to consider the application of DP in terms of encouraging change. It is ’encouraging’ because it does not assume that change can or will occur. There are many other agents involved in the world, and our research is only one small piece of the picture. Possible changes could be anything from changing ideas or theories on a specific topic, changing everyday practices (such as the words we use to describe something) or change at a wider policy or societal level. In that sense, application can be understood as a means through which the research is relevant beyond the confines of the study itself. We do not have to make big changes to make a difference; sometimes the smallest research paper can set in motion other ideas or practices. See also Box 10.1 for a comment on how dissemination can be application in itself.

With this in mind, the rest of this section discusses three ways in which DP research can encourage change. These collect together a range of different ideas that can used to stimulate ways of engaging with the world.

1. Application through challenging research

One of the core ways in which DP research can be applied is through challenging research, whether that be the broad approaches (e.g., cognitivist perspectives on emotion), theories and models (e.g., tripartite model of emotion) or methods (e.g., using questionnaires to measure emotional states) that underpin research practice. We might use DP research to challenge how we theorise ’attributions’ or ’thinking’, for example, or how we interpret people’s talk as part of social practices rather than a direct reflection of internal states. In this way, the application is developed through a direct engagement with other research, and specifically, offering an alternative perspective on one or more stages in the research process. Some of the earliest DP research could be understood as applied in that sense, in that it challenged cognitivist or experimental approaches to attributions, memory and attitudes. This is encouraging change among researchers about the ways in which we conduct our research or theorise our concepts.

While this understanding of application engages first with academic research, this does not preclude much wider consequences. Changing research practices can have a knock-on effect in other spheres, such as the content of university courses (and thus what students learn and take with them into their future careers), trends in funding patterns, dissemination to the public, and so on. We therefore do not have to directly change people’s practices to have an influence on those areas. What is happening is that we are encouraging change at a different, and earlier, stage. It is application at the heart of an issue, where ideas and concepts emerge and take shape in the academic sphere. To encourage change by challenging research, your work (written reports, presentations and so on) should engage directly with a specific aspect of research. It will need to demonstrate a balanced and critical understanding of other research, to clearly explicate how your work contributes to this and builds an argument towards the need for change. This may not necessarily be achieved in one report or journal article; for some of the bigger issues, it will need to be built up gradually with a body of literature in support of a particular argument. It can happen in the conversations you have with colleagues or fellow students, in the text of your written publications and in the ways in which you might disseminate your research in social media. Each piece of evidence, each report, is important in itself; we need all the pieces of the jigsaw to make the bigger picture.

Box 10.1: Dissemination as application?

The development of the internet, and its various online spaces, has opened up new ways of disseminating research beyond academic journals and conferences. While the increasing use of ’open access’ journals is beginning to break down the financial barrier to research findings, there are other ways of engaging with people outside your university. For instance, you can create a website or blog to discuss research issues or report on projects, use Twitter or social media to garner interest in your research and share ideas with other people, or use YouTube videos to show a presentation or analytical skill. We could therefore consider this kind of dissemination as a form of application, of encouraging change in some way. This new era of greater access to research is an exciting time, though it also brings new issues that have yet to be fully realised. The internet not only allows you to share your research, it also means that other people have greater access to you and your research. This can be a very positive thing, and certainly there are examples of researchers being invited to talk about their research on local or national radio or television, or being reported in news media. It also means, however, that we need to be prepared to discuss (and defend) our research with a much wider range of people than our academic peers or fellow students. Maintaining a professional approach is vital.

2. Application through showing the DP lens (critical reflection)

Another way in which DP research can be applied is through showing people the materials of our research, showing the world through the DP lens. The process of collecting audio, video or text-based materials, transcribing these into word documents, and collating instances of patterns or specific interactional practices can provide, in itself, an insight into everyday social life in a way that people are typically not familiar with. This means that DP research can be applied at a very early stage in analysis, following a coding stage to collect together instances of an issue, but before a polished analysis of the transcripts has been completed. Just seeing the transcripts and/or being shown clips from the videos can be enough to highlight something that people had not previously noted. It is easy to forget that the skills we gain as DP researchers — in examining social interaction and psychological notions in detail, in taking apart discourse to see how it ’works’ — are valuable in themselves. While people may be familiar with seeing videos (of themselves and others) in daily life and on the internet, they may be much less familiar with approaching these videos with a focus on the detail of discourse and interaction. By showing others a glimpse into life under the DP lens, therefore, we can illuminate aspects of social interaction that were previously unnoticed and illustrate the psychological actions performed therein.

This form of application might also be understood as a way of providing people with the resources (the videos, the transcripts, the coded clips) in which they can reflect on or examine their own practices: critical reflection. In the first instance, this can be done with the participants who were involved in the research. This must be carried out sensitively, however; it is not simply a case of sharing your data files. A workshop or meeting should be arranged to enable you to feed back to your participants as well as providing them with the opportunity to ask questions, discuss issues or request further resources. Assuming you have ethical approval to share the data, you could then also invite other interested individuals or organisations to the workshop. A resource pack — in the form of video/audio files, selected transcripts, and guidance notes — should then be provided for the long-term use of individuals or institutions. This will need to be planned into the project at the early stages when seeking ethical approval (or even when seeking funding).

3. Application through turning practices into strategies

The third way in which DP research might be applied develops from the second, and can be considered the next stage in the process. Examples of research in this area are therefore closely aligned with the previous ones. This is application through turning discursive practices into strategies for action — through the identification of a specific discursive practice and making a recommendation as to how this can be adopted, modified or (removed) in order to change people’s practices. There is an important aspect to this: it focuses on participants’ practices as being the key to the (new) strategies, rather than a researcher-imposed authority as to what is ’correct’ or appropriate behaviour. Researchers must work closely with participants in what might be referred to as the ’dissemination’ stages. This might first involve the identification of a problem or issue that needs to be resolved, and in that sense this form of application is particularly relevant for institutional practices where there are more likely to be routine patterns of interaction that recur frequently.

One of the ways in which this might happen is first to hold a workshop — as described in the second application example above — in which participants can see the materials and begin to reflect on their existing practices. The process of turning these into strategies would then require a second stage, such as further workshops in which participants could collaboratively examine the data and decide on alternative strategies for changing their practices. There might be outputs produced by the participants, to help make the changes more concrete. In Lamerichs and te Molder’s (2011) work, for example, their participants (14—17 year olds) presented their conclusions in a play. This kind of application is therefore more likely to be a long-term project, where adequate time can be planned to ensure that the research is used to its full potential.

Box 10.2: Top tips when ’applying’ DP

· Start small: Be focused and specific. Discursive practices and social interaction are diverse and context-dependent, so try to identify a small, situated practice to focus on. Your research is more likely to have an application if it is clearly defined and limited to a small aspect of social life.

· Take your time: Creating an intervention or applying research usually happens gradually, so be patient and think about the long-term process of application.

· Involve others: If applying DP in a setting that involves changing people’s practices, it is important to involve those people at all times in the process. Do they actually want to change their practices? Whose responsibility is it to make the change? Applied research works better as a collaborative process.

· Think creatively: There are many ways in which research can be applied, and not all involve directly changing people’s practices or theory. Working collaboratively with researchers in other disciplines or with people in different organisations (e.g., industry, commerce, charitable work) can be a way of developing an applied strand to your work.

· Find a pattern: Institutional practices are more likely to be regular than everyday, mundane settings (i.e., counselling or therapy talk versus chatting with friends), and finding a regular pattern might be the first step in identifying how that pattern has consequences for social practices or psychological issues.

· Focus on your passions: Research can be an exciting though also effortful and time-consuming process, so only do research that you are really passionate about. Consider ways of encouraging change that work within your time and resource levels; as noted above, there is more than one way to be ’applied’.

Future developments of DP research

Writing a section on the future developments of any area of research is, of course, a tricky business. We cannot predict the future, but we can reflect on current developments and speculate as to how these might be taken forward. This section will highlight three areas of DP research that are beginning to emerge in recent years to provide further inspiration for your own research. These developments are important both for the theoretical and the analytical progress of DP: we need to move forward and adapt to changing circumstances.

1. DP and technology

The ever-increasing integration of mobile technology with people’s practices provides a rich source of ideas for DP research. In our everyday lives, we are likely to interact with screens, devices and equipment in some form on a regular basis. We use technology to work, to connect with people, to plan our schedules, entertain ourselves and find out about the world. Some forms of technology become extensions of our physical bodies: not only can we wear technology, but it shapes the way in which we move in the spaces around us. Other areas of research, such as ethnomethodology, human—computer interaction and conversation analysis, have already begun to explore the way in which interaction is shaped in, and through, technologies. DP research has the potential to play a very important part in research in this area, given its interest in discursive practices and psychological and social actions, for these, too, are often at the core of technological developments.

There are different ways in which we can approach this area. Research into online interaction is still in the early stages and at the moment is mainly focused on message board interaction where forum members discuss a particular topic, seek advice or support. As online spaces morph into new objects — such as email, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, vlogs and Instagram — these provide different ways of examining how people live their lives in ’virtual space’. These are spaces in which identities are negotiated, accountabilities are managed and relationships are made or broken. They are exciting areas, where there are psychological implications of talk and text, and where psychological terms and issues are used to manage delicate social practices. So we need to develop new ways of capturing these kinds of data (see Meredith & Stokoe, 2014, for example) and analysing that data in a way that is sensitive to the original social context within which they were produced.

We can also examine the ways in which technology is integrated within ’offline’ interaction: what happens as people use technology in social settings rather than what happens in the online spaces themselves. This can be illustrated with the example of the phone. There is now an established body of work on telephone helpline interaction, with what happens when people phone a helpline, and how these calls are managed. There is much less, however, on how people use and interact with phones while they are also involved in other social settings. With smartphones, for example, people can be much more mobile and be involved in multiple tasks while using phones. So DP research could examine how these interactions are managed and how they are used to accomplish particular psychological and social business. This may require not only new methods of data capture but also new ways of analysing the embodied interaction (how the physical as well as the psychological spaces are managed).

2. DP and subject/object relations

While the origins of DP where immersed in a time when cognitive psychology was particularly popular, the current academic climate in the social sciences has seen a shift towards emotional states and embodied practices. This includes the ’turn to affect’: the renewed consideration of emotions and ’experiences’ from physiological, psychological and phenomenological perspectives. Researchers from a range of approaches and epistemological stances are (re)engaging with this aspect of embodiment, and of how this alters the way in which we interact with others and the world around us. There has been a subtle shift, then, from a focus on cognitivist explanations to experiential ones. From a DP perspective, this shift still assumes a dualist stance, in which there is an inner/outer body and a separation of mind/body. This develops an area that Edwards (2005a) has already noted as warranting further DP interest — subject/object relations — or how discursive practices construct, enact or reify the distinction between the subject (people) and objects (the world).

One way in which DP research might engage with this is to explore embodiment as a central issue: how the practices or processes of the physical body are invoked in discourse and used to accomplish social actions. At what point does crying or laughing become a social act, for example, and how does this implicate other people in terms of accountability or identities? What about bodily pain or pleasure, or emotional states — supposedly individual and ’internal’ sensations? How are these produced in interaction and made relevant for social actions? We can also consider the issue of subject/object relations in terms of how distinctions are made between mind and body, how mental versus physical states are invoked in interaction to achieve specific goals. These might be in the service of institutional concerns (such as for medical care, educational achievements or legal cases) or in more mundane — but still highly consequential — settings, such as chatting with friends or family.

Engaging with the issue of subject/object relations will therefore require a thorough engagement with theoretical issues and to dig much deeper into some of the psychological concepts that have already been considered by DP (and other) research. It will remain resistant to dualist and cognitivist accounts — which separate out mind/body or assume an underlying cognitive explanation for human behaviour — and focus instead on everyday social practices. It will involve engaging with researchers from a range of approaches and assumptions, with those who seek to get ’inside’ the individual. DP provides a way of re-specifying the concepts of psychology, but this involves a radical change in both our theories and methods.

3. DP and other approaches

It was noted in Chapters 1 and 2 that there are a number of different approaches that might be broadly glossed as ’discourse analysis’. Beyond these, there is a further array of approaches — both theoretical and methodological — which analyse talking and interaction in some form. Some of these are concerned with individuals rather than interaction, or with culture rather than communication. Beyond research that deals primarily with words (which we might group together as ’qualitative’), there is research that aims to examine cause and effect and to identify the rules of human behaviour. These approaches vary in terms of their ontological (what exists in the world) and epistemological (how we know about what exists in the world) stances, and there is considerable antagonism and tension between the political and ideological aims of each approach. There is, in short, something for everyone.

As different approaches develop, however, there is a tendency for each to become ever more insular and isolated from the others. Sometimes this is due to the need to be distinctive, to be clear about what makes one research project ’discursive psychology’ rather than ’critical discursive psychology’, for example. This in itself is not a bad thing; it is helpful to be able to distinguish approaches to ensure that each is theoretically and methodologically coherent, and it can help in terms of training new researchers and ensuring quality control in research. It can, however, lead to what has been termed ’methodolatry’: the privileging of methodology over other research considerations. We are at risk of becoming increasingly divided, looking only at our own micro-areas of research in order to keep up with the latest developments while missing the bigger picture. Add to this the challenges of diversifying one’s skills in different methodologies and the lure of being a ’specialist’ in one’s preferred area of research, and one can easily lose sight of the really important research questions.

The third potential area for the development of DP research, therefore, is to engage more fully with different approaches both within and across single disciplines. This will be challenging work: to find ways of maintaining the integrity of each approach while also truly collaborating on research. The possibilities, however, are immense, whether we engage with researchers who study the same topic (but from a different approach), or those from different cultural perspectives, different disciplines, methodologies and ideologies. While DP might have emerged from within psychology, it is almost interdisciplinary (or multidisciplinary) by definition in its concern with various components of social interaction and of how psychological concepts are made relevant in and for interaction.

Box 10.3: Activity: the future of DP

The future of DP has yet to be written, and your own research may play a part in how it develops. Consider for a moment how you think DP should evolve: What issues might it consider? How should we develop our means of ’collecting’ data? How might it be used more effectively alongside other research? You might also consider what practical considerations need to be put into place to help facilitate this development. Do we need journals or conferences that are ’just’ for DP research or would this be too insular? What sorts of technological developments might help to change the landscape of DP research? What DP research would you do if money and time were not an issue?


Since the beginnings of DP, much has been achieved in terms of challenging theory and research practice. It has considered a broad range of psychological issues and social settings, developed alongside critical debates and technological advances, and flourished alongside the growing range of methodologies and approaches across the social sciences. Not bad for an approach that has had to fight against much resistance and conflict along the way. I did say that this was a feisty area of research. And yet these debates have been important in the development of DP. They have encouraged a healthy and active reflection on just what it is we are studying, and why it is important to do so. Without discussion — without discursive practices, social action and the management of psychological issues — DP would not exist. But we are in the early days of this approach. There is still so much more to be done.

Key points

· Applying DP research can be understood in terms of encouraging change, whether that is change to theory, methods or practices.

· Start small and don’t rush into trying to be ’applied’. Even the smallest piece of research can have lasting impact.

· As a research process that is grounded in the wonderful chaos of people living their lives, DP research should adapt in as many ways as life changes.

· Possible future areas for DP research are: (1) examining psychological actions in and through technology, (2) explicating subject/object relations, and (3) closer engagement with other approaches and disciplines

Recommended reading

Abell, J. & Walton, C. (2010). Imagine: Towards an integrated and applied social psychology. British Journal of Social Psychology, 49(4), 685—690.

The special issue of the British Journal of Social Psychology (2012, vol. 51) provides a reflection on 25 years of DP by some of the key researchers in this area.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about discursive psychology

In this section, you will find some common or potential criticisms and concerns of DP that may be faced at any time in one’s research career in DP. Whether you are a student with your own questions, a tutor facing quizzical looks from your students, or an established professor pre-empting critical comments on a grant application, it can be helpful to know what questions you may be asked and some strategies on how to respond. They have been grouped according to whether the FAQs relate to theory, transcription or analysis (the three core areas where questions are often asked). The FAQs are written in bold with responses immediately underneath.

FAQs about DP theory

What is the point of DP?… or Why should I use it?

Discursive psychology offers a rigorous and systematic way in which we can examine how psychological business is involved in, and used for, the purposes of social actions. It can illuminate the detail of discursive practices — how people talk and interact in different settings — and the consequences of these practices. It is ideally suited to answering questions such as how we are held accountable for our actions, how our identities are invoked in different contexts and how psychological matters are used to perform social actions.

Isn’t DP the same as discourse analysis?

No, since discourse analysis is a broad set of approaches to analysing discourse, each of which has different theoretical assumptions and analytic tools. DP is one form of discourse analysis and so shares the argument that discourse constructs (rather than reflects) reality, but has its own range of principles (see Chapter 1) and ways of doing research (see Chapters 38). See Chapter 2 for a comparison of DP to other forms of discourse analysis.

Isn’t DP just like conversation analysis?

No, though it was inspired by and continues to be influenced by developments in conversation analysis (CA). The similarities between CA and DP are the focus on the detail of talk and interaction (and using these to drive research questions), a focus on participants’ orientations and a preference for naturalistic data. The differences are primarily in terms of DP’s constructionist focus (on how categories are invoked in talk and how particular versions of reality are constructed) and its anti-cognitivist stance (arguing against the reduction of language to cognitive processes).

Doesn’t DP ignore subjectivity?

DP does consider subjectivity, but theorises this in terms of how people make relevant and manage subjectivity in the unfolding sequence of social interaction. For instance, this is tackled in the form of subject/object relations, with how people invoke subject-side constructions (e.g., experiences, thoughts, emotions) as a contrast to object-side constructions (e.g., objects in the world, facts, events) and how these are involved in social actions. So it takes a different theoretical and analytical stance on what subjectivity is: placing this in the social and discursive world, rather than the intra-individual world of cognitions, perceptions and bodily states.

Isn’t DP more like linguistics or English language studies rather than psychology?

Like linguistics or English language studies, DP is interested in discourse, but it differs in that it is about discursive practices: with how people talk and interact in social settings. Linguistics and related disciplines, by contrast, are typically interested in individual understandings of language and language production. DP also places psychology at the heart of social interaction, with how psychological concepts are managed and made consequential in the way in which we talk and interact with each other. It is about people and their practices, and the dynamic interplay between discourse, psychology and social life. How much more psychological does it need to be?

Isn’t DP a bit like behaviourism?

No, in that DP does not bracket off psychological concerns and treat these as analytically unavailable. Nor does it reduce discourse and interaction to an individual level. Instead, DP examines how people’s categories and understandings are produced in interaction, and how minds, emotions, perceptions, and so on, are made ’real’ in particular ways and the consequences of these in social settings.

Do we have to know about psychology to use DP?

No, psychology as a discipline doesn’t have exclusive rights to knowledge about psychological issues (just as we do not have to be a medical doctor to have a right to know about our bodies and health). While it may be helpful to have a background in psychology studies, DP research does not assume that you know psychological theory or research.

Why does DP seem to reject the idea that there are cognitive (and other ’internal’) processes? Surely it is obvious that we all think and feel things?

DP does not deny that there are cognitive processes or that people have emotions or ways of experiencing the world. But it does challenge the assumption that these concepts should be used as a way of making sense of people’s discursive practices (talking, writing, interacting with other people). In other words, it argues against the referential view of language, which assumes that the words we speak are used to refer directly to ’internal’ states or processes. So DP challenges cognitivism, not cognition. Discourse is theorised primarily as action, not as representation: as performing social business rather than representing an apparent intra-individual state.

Why don’t we learn about why people use language?

This is an interesting and important research question to ask, but DP research does not seek to determine causal relationships (it works with a different set of theoretical assumptions about discourse; see Chapter 1). However, it does provide a powerful analytical tool to examine how people use language and the consequences this has in different social settings. In some ways, we could argue that this is even more important than why people use language in the first place, since it focuses us on the ways in which discourse, social practices and people are woven together. It allows us to examine not why people use language, but what happens when they do.

FAQ questions about DP transcription

How do you know which bits to transcribe? Are we simply picking sections at random (I don’t have time to transcribe it all)?

If you have a lot of data, it can be more time-efficient to first watch or listen to all of your data and make detailed notes (see Chapter 5) before you begin any transcription. As you do so, identify any possible sections of the data that are relevant to your research question; these are the sections that you can then transcribe first. If you have a small amount of data, you can follow the same procedure or else start from the beginning and transcribe the whole corpus. When you first transcribe, however, it is usually more efficient to just transcribe words-only. Once you are more familiar with the data, then you can transcribe sections in detail.

How do you know what to transcribe in detail?

Once you have produced some words-only transcripts, and coded these for different instances or occasions in which a psychological category is being invoked, then you can identify those sections to transcribe in more detail. Start with just a few first, and transcribe more as you do more analysis; sometimes the analysis will point to sections of transcript that require more detail. So work slowly at first, and intersperse transcription with coding and analysis.

When creating a coded corpus, how much of the transcript should I copy across for each ’instance’ that I find?

When identifying particular instances or psychological categories in the data corpus, you will need to copy-and-paste these into a separate coded document. You should include a few lines of talk before and after the ’thing’ in the transcript that you are focused on so that you capture some of the surrounding interactional context. It is always better to include a little more transcript than you think you will need, than to risk missing out on some piece of interaction that you later have to search for again.

When do you start a new line?

There are no hard-and-fast rules for when to begin a new line when transcribing, and ultimately it will not damage your analysis if you have too many or too few words on each line. In principle, though, you should start a new line when: (a) there is a pause of around (1.0) or more, as this typically indicates a noticeable pause in the interaction, (b) a change of speaker or when some other feature needs to be noted (such as a door closing or movement of people), and (c) before you get to the end of the page. Create a reasonably wide margin in your transcript, as this not only helps ease of reading, but it can also provide space for analytical notes or for the formatting of many academic journals.

When using Jefferson symbols, do you place the symbol before or after the word?

In most cases, the symbol is placed before the letter or word to which it applies; for example, when noting ↑rising or ↓falling pitch sounds. With symbols such as CAPITALS for louder talk, or underlining for emphasis, then the symbol features at the same time as the letter or word. Sometimes, as in the case of interpolated laughter (laughing while talking), the symbol features within the w(h)ord, just at the point at which it is audible. Finally, some symbols, such as those indicating °quieter°, >speeded-up< or talk, should be placed before and after the words to which they apply.

Do I need to include all the symbols if I won’t be referring to these in my analysis?

Yes. You cannot know from the start which features of the discourse will be relevant for your analysis, and the analysis itself relies on having a detailed transcript to work from (alongside the audio/video file where this is available). So always include as much detail as you can. Conversely, however, you won’t need to refer to all the transcription symbols when you are analysing or interpreting the data; they are there to provide a written representation of the video/audio data.

Should I transcribe things as they are said, or how they should be spelt?

It is usually preferable to transcribe things as they are said, to capture the particular intonation or inflection of the talk. Never ’tidy’ up the talk or improve the grammar. You need to transcribe the talk as it was said, not how you think it should have been said. There are occasions, however, when it can be helpful to have standard spellings being used if you are searching for particular words or phrases across a data corpus. In such cases you may just need to be sensitive to alternative forms of the word when searching or else begin with standard spelling when transcribing to words-only level, then refine it once you include the Jefferson transcription symbols.

How do I transcribe regional accents?

There is no prescribed way of transcribing regional accents, though the characteristic nature of certain accents (such as frequent rising/falling pitch, raised pitch towards the end of turns at talk, different vowel sounds, and so on) can usually be indicated through careful use of the Jefferson transcription symbols and spelling words as they sound phonetically rather than orthographically. The steak example used in this book, for instance, features a strong Scottish accent saying the words ’does not’; this was transcribed as ’disnae’ to represent this in a way that was more faithful to the spoken dialect. If regional accents are particularly important to your study, then you can also note the accents that are used when describing the participants in your report.

When and how do you transcribe visual information?

This is typically done as a third (or later) stage in transcription. When first starting to transcribe, code and analyse your data, it may not be apparent as to which visual features are going to be important for the analysis. For example, are eye gaze, pointing at something, holding of objects or movements of the body going to be relevant? To include all visual information in a transcript would not only be an incredibly lengthy process; it would also make the transcript almost impossible to read. Better to use the video recording as your first point of contact, and add in one or two visual features as and when you begin to consider these in your analysis. For suggestions on how to transcribe these, see Chapter 5.

My data are in a language other than English. Do I need to translate this and, if so, do I analyse it before or after I have translated it?

It is more usual to transcribe the data in its original language, analyse it as such, then provide a translation into English if presenting this for an English-language publication (which is the majority of academic journals). See Nikander (2008) for a very helpful discussion on such issues.

FAQ questions about DP analysis

Why are there no fixed guidelines about how I should analyse the data using DP?

Like many approaches, DP analysis requires a sensitivity to different aspects of discursive and social practices that cannot be reduced to something akin to a mathematical formula or a controlled experiment. It is a skill as much as a process, but there are broad stages that can be followed (see Chapter 6) to ensure that DP research is coherent and rigorous. Because social interaction and discursive practices vary so considerably there can never really be fixed guidelines — the analytical context will always vary. This is what makes DP research exciting; we have a set of procedures to follow, but each piece of DP research will provide unique insights and new ideas.

How do I get started on analysis with DP?

DP analysis begins when you start considering your research area; it starts with your research question and how you approach the world in a particular way. But when you have a piece of transcript, and you want to know how to start analysing this, see Chapter 6, stage 1. Your first stage is to read the data and familiarise yourself with what is there.

Why don’t I just count the words? Wouldn’t a statistical analysis be more effective (and less hassle)?

You can count the words, but it wouldn’t tell you anything about how they work to perform social actions. It would just tell you how many words there are, and the frequency of some over others. This can be helpful in some cases as a starting point — for instance, I have used this approach to gain an overview of the different types of words used to make food assessments (e.g., Wiggins, 2014) — but it needs to be followed up by a more detailed analysis of the interaction. A statistical analysis would require large data sets and could be possible, but that typically draws on assumptions about the referential status of language (that words refer directly to intra-individual concepts, such as attitudes, desires, beliefs, etc.).

Does ’action orientation’ mean that people are deliberately motivated or consciously using their language in a particular way?

No, it means the way in which the discourse makes available certain social actions, without needing to explicitly state these. For example, in Extract 1 in Chapter 1, Lucy’s ’I prefer red’ works as a request for red wine, without her needing to state this specifically. Even if people were deliberated motivated or consciously using their language in a particular way, we wouldn’t be able to access that particular cognitive process or structure. We can, however, examine how people treat each other as being motivated, biased and so on, and that in itself is often more important for social practices.

What is a ’device’ in DP and how would I know if I found a new one?

The DP devices are broadly analytical tools; they are features of talk that are identifiable in some way, so in that sense they need to be prevalent enough in discourse and interaction to be recognisable. The list in Table 6.1 are those which are most often used in DP research, though there are others that are just emerging and which yet may be added. You may find a new one in your own research, though it might not be apparent that you have found one until it can be used or applied in other research; that is, to be regular enough to work across different contexts. What is important is that the devices allow us to investigate the psychological and social actions being performed in the talk, and to focus our attention on these rather than with other aspects of discourse.

If discourse is seen to vary so much all the time, does this mean that we are unpredictable in the way that we talk or act?

No, and quite the opposite. One of the things that conversation analysis (and DP) has shown is that social interaction is actually highly ordered, even to the level of pauses, interruptions and turn-taking. So we are not as unpredictable as might be expected.

Why can’t I just summarise the gist of what was said? Why do I need to include extracts in the results section?

How would you know what the ’gist’ was, anyway? If you try to pick out the things that you think are important, then you would be missing all the detail of what is actually going on, and how the social actions are being performed. By providing extracts in the results section, we not only stay grounded in the data, and ensure that our interpretation is close to the evidence (reducing the ’interpretative gap’, see Edwards, 2012), but also make this analytical process clear and transparent to anyone reading our analyses. In that way, we are opening ourselves up to the scrutiny and allowing readers to make their own decisions about our interpretations.

How do I link my analyses to other research? Does this have to be other DP research or can it be any other study?

One of the key ways in which you can ensure that your analysis is valid and coherent is to show how your study is situated within a broader research context. This might be other DP research or from any discipline or analytical approach. Drawing on DP research in your analyses can help to show how the devices you are using, the categories or psychological business you are analysing, have been considered by other research. So it can show whether your analysis adds something new, for example, or builds on the scope of previous studies. When referring to other (non-DP) research in your analysis section, just be sure that you are consistent with the theoretical approach taken in your study. Another piece of research might make very different claims, for example, about a topic area or psychological concept, so what they ’find’ and what you are ’finding’ might be very different things.

What if other people come to a different interpretation or conclusion from mine? Does this mean that DP isn’t scientific? Should I use inter-rater reliability?

Other people are entitled to have different interpretations and conclusions, and these may well add some new insights. This is very different from saying that DP isn’t scientific. Science is about debate, ideas and interpretations as much as it is about rigour, evidence and systematic observation (again, see Edwards, 2012). DP is a social constructionist approach. If we argued that there was only one interpretation, then we would be arguing against our own epistemological stance. It would also sound pretty dogmatic. Inter-rater reliability also suggests that there is some fixed truth or version of reality that we are trying to observe, and that with enough independent observers, we will be able to identify it. We can, however, incorporate other interpretations and ideas in the analytical process through data sessions and feedback at presentations of our work. These help us to check out the credibility of our interpretations and how well they stand up against critique. So we are not aiming to find ’the truth’ about the data. We are aiming to provide an interpretation that is grounded in the data and which says something interesting and useful (whether that usefulness is about theory or practice; see Chapter 10).

How do I know if my analysis is correct? Surely it is all subjective? (aka… how do I know that I am not just making this up?)

First, there are epistemological issues to be considered here. DP doesn’t claim to have the ’correct answers’ because it argues that there are many different versions of reality and no single version has precedence over another. Similarly, it would take issue with the claim that some things are ’objective’ (and ’true’) and others are ’subjective’ (and, by corollary, supposedly ’less true’). At the same time, there is a very practical concern here, and that is that we need to know when we are doing ’DP analysis’ and when we are doing something very different. What is important, then, is that we focus on the three core principles of DP (see Chapter 1) and apply these to the analysis: working with participants’ orientations, grounding our research questions in the data, and using the DP devices to orientate us to the psychological business and social actions that are being performed. See Chapter 6 on validating the analysis for further discussion on this.

How can a DP study be representative of the wider population when it uses small samples of talk from just a few people?

DP doesn’t claim to be representative of a wider population any more than a statistical analysis of data from 100 people claims to be. The aim of DP is to examine discursive practices and how these work in different social contexts, and it argues that each interaction is unique. The ’wider population’, and its many social interactions, is too diverse anyway to try to capture something that might represent it all (or even part of it). Instead, DP research can illuminate ways of talking about different psychological concepts and how these are involved in different social actions. And it does so in real, applied, settings; in the places where people live their lives and in which ways of talking have direct consequences. Rather than trying to ’apply’ or translate our findings onto another section of the population, we can instead show how our research has direct relevance in actual social settings.