Yet more Conversational Analysis
In the spirit of conversation I, too, would like to add a few thoughts – especially as I have pontificated somewhat stridently of late on the subject of language and the need for more careful listening (and reading) in qual analysis.
First I would draw attention to, and re-emphasise, Kevin McLean's suggestion that we should not be too aloof or academically purist about "manufactured" conversation as material for CA.
There are, for instance, ways to "naturalise" your focus group conversational data a little, employing the gambits of natural occurrence, as Kevin's very useful self-reflexive pointers suggest. Allowing the conversation to stray and meander can often best be achieved by using highly curious, non-directive utterances like "I wonder", "I'm just mulling", or "it makes you think" from the moderator position.
These kinds of ploy reduce moderator "power" and help to bring forth "explanations" from respondents. By breaking down the role-lines, a more back and forth exchange is likely to emerge. Equally, talk which loosens the moderator power/control and permits the respondent(s) to "choose" the direction, almost always takes the conversation into the heart of an issue, important to the individual — and not, necessarily, the next subject area on the Discussion Guide!
Linear conversation and a too deferential powerplay might, for example, have failed to unearth the fact that the planned beer packaging reminded a significant number of men of sanitary protection. And the intended price restructuring might, in fact, have been a red herring because this particular ferry brand simply made some mothers psychologically anxious (and physically sick!).
Of course, while academic CA would be an "ideal" discipline in analysis of ethnographic verbal/written data, in a limited number of instances (with sufficient time and a generous budget) we can be eclectic and magpie-like in selecting "some of the best bits" from the theory to look, with a more careful and curious mindset, at — for example — video footage or audio recorded conversation.
Simple, more global questions might be privileged. For example, which words keep recurring? Why? Which proper nouns are dominant? Does person A use "we", "I" or "he/she/it" most often? And what do these small things tell us about her sense of her position/role in the activity or viewpoint described? This, in a sense, is itself an "artificial" mining of natural occurrence.
So, as a huge fan of language and much inclined to analyse the words, the gaps between, and those that are missing within conversations, I feel this subject area is a trail that has by no means reached its destination and look forward to yet more musings, thoughts, reactions and comments. A developing conversation, indeed!
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, September 2009
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2009