A focus group was put together, in which the facilitator was asked to lead a discussion on the pro’s and cons of the use of a university intranet system designed to aid university students in their study. Six participants in all took part including the facilitator all were female and studying for a university degree. The conversation was recorded and analysed using the Jefferson system. In analysing the conversation rhetorical achievements and the interactional flow of the conversation were identified.
The roles that each of the speakers held within the conversation and the devices they used to achieve such goals were identified. It was concluded that the study displayed the importance of conversation analysis in displaying how social order in certain situations can be achieved. However it was argued that without being able to engage in inference the researcher cannot truly identify the context in which some things are said and so the true roles of the participants within the conversation can not be identified. Introduction
Conversation analysis is the study of talk (Hutchby and Woofit 1999). Conversation analysis is one outcome of ethnomethodological tradition and seeks to conduct detailed analyses of conversation in naturally occurring situations. It was developed collaboratively by Sacks, Schegloff (1973) and Jefferson (1985) who began to record normal conversation and study it to see if they could formally describe the organisational details. The recorded conversations are then subject to transcription for the purpose of thorough investigation into the sequences of interaction found in the transcripts.
‘Conversation analysis is concerned with the production, through and in the course, of social interaction but takes conversation as the basic form through which that social order is achieved’ (Bryman 2001). Conversation analysis holds the assumption that the social settings in which social actions stand in a reflexive relationship are established in and through the details of interaction. By analysing conversation the researcher can identify the relationships that occur between the speakers.
Such relationships are extremely important to the researcher as they give rise to the rhetorical aspects of the conversation i. e. category entitlement, stake inoculation etc. Such aspects can identify the dominant and the passive speakers as well as the motivations for each of the speakers. The interactional flow of the conversation can also be established by identifying devices such as speaker selection, repair and interruption. Simplified, conversation analysis is a way of studying social interaction. This study aims to identify the interactional flow and the rhetorical devices that occur in a conversation held by a focus group of students discussing the pros and con’s of Web CT.
Web CT is an intranet system designed to aid university students in their study. Method. Design- This research used a focus group as its design method. The method of focus group used was the formal, focused interview, because the group was brought together for the purpose of research and all of the participants had been involved in using Web CT. No specific selection procedures were used. Participants- In total six participants including the facilitator took part. All of them were female. All of the participants were university students who actively used Web CT.
J1 is 25 years old and the facilitator of the group she is studying Psychology and Criminology. J2 is 20 years old she is studying Psychology. B is 19 years old and she is studying Psychology and Law. R is 22 years old and is studying Psychology and Criminology. E is 19 years old she is also studying Psychology and Criminology. L is 20 years old and is studying Psychology. Procedure- The interview was set in an open access computer room, on the premises of Coventry University. The facilitator was asked to lead and record a discussion on the pro’s and cons of Web CT. the facilitator used four prompts:
1. What are the best or worst things about Web CT? 2. How would you like to see Web CT improved? 3. Is it a good idea for the staff to put lecture notes on Web CT? 4. Is Web CT more useful for the staff or the students? The discussion lasted seven minutes. The recorded discussion was then transcribed using the Jefferson technique (see appendix). The resulting transcript was then analysed. Analytic Procedure- In analysing the transcript the main focus was on identifying the interactional flow of the conversation and how the conversation was organised to achieve certain rhetorical actions.
Analysis 1 Structural flow- The facilitator opens the conversation by introducing the discussion topic and prompts the speakers into participation by asking their opinions on the best and worst things about Web CT. The conversation begins slowly and J1 reverts to Other Speaker Selection to keep the conversation flowing (J1- E(… )) lines 9 and 12). B is the first to speak which gives the impression that she has some issues within the subject that she wishes to raise.
There are several occasions within the discussion where there is a considerable time of silence (2-5 seconds) followed by an utterance such as ‘err’ or ‘erm’, this implies that the speaker is finding it difficult to contribute to the conversation and is stalling to give themselves some time to think of an issue to raise (J2- yeah they’re good (5) J1- er (. ) the (. ) a few too (. ) I find the problem with it is a few too many… (line 17-18)). As the conversation begins to successfully flow J1 and J2 interrupt each other quite often.
They both interrupt other speakers as well but this happens less often than when they interrupt each other. At first the conversation seems to flow only between these two speakers (lines 25-38). At one point J2 uses interruption as a form of repair she does this quite forcefully and interrupts near the start of the conversation which gives the impression she is using Other Repair She uses an extreme case formulation to illustrate the fact that she has had trouble accessing Web CT at the beginning of term by stating her opinion that it is ‘never ready before term starts’ (J2- Erm the problems with Web Ct is that it’s never ready at the beginning of term so lines 8-10 ).
She uses this device several times within the conversation. Her uses of this device identify her as the aggressive speaker in the group. By using this device she is trying her hardest to persuade the group that her opinions on Web CT are valid and is protecting herself against possible challenges to her opinion. R, one of the mediocre speakers in the group has the most usage of category entitlement.
At one point within the conversation she does this so she can emphasise the importance of having lecture notes on Web CT (R- yeah cause I found I did better on those that put their notes on Web CT than those that didn’t (. )lines 64-65), it also seems that she makes use of category entitlement to determine the conclusions the other speakers may draw about the fact that not all of the lecture notes are put on Web CT. The use of her own experience can almost determine that the other speakers will not question her knowledge in this area of the discussion.
In another occurrence when she used this device it follows an occasion in which she uses an extreme case formulation (R- so we all had masses of fifty pages of paper (. ) instead you could have got three slides on the page and all my printing credits got used up and (. ) I had to buy some more (3)lines 43-45). It is clear that she uses the category entitlement to provide ‘evidence’ for the consequences of not receiving adequate training on the use of Web CT. Overall her usage of category entitlement helps her to establish the reliability of her experiences.
The use of a such a device identifies her an authoritarian within the group. R’s frequent use of category entitlement confirms this as she is non verbally sending a message stating “listen to me I have evidence to back up my statements”. R and J1 also use a significant amount of extreme case formulation in order to get their points across, although J2 is quite obviously the most aggressive of the group she seems to be equally challenged by both R and J1, they are not challenging what she has said but more importantly are challenging her role within the group.
Throughout the discussion the participants do not refer to the lecturers personally or formally they use the term ‘they’ (B- [they] know everyone’s got the lecture notes so the haven’t got to go (. ) through everything meticulously(4) J1- and they know people would have pre-read stuff [in books] lines 84-87) When talking about the students the term ‘we’ tends to be used most often (J2- yeah (1) the systems always going down and we had major problems with it going down last year didn’t we? (1) lines 22-23) This shows that there is some sort of ‘them and us’ mentality from the students regarding their relationship with their lecturers.
The use of the category terms ‘us’ and ‘we’ show there is a united front between the participants. Discussion This study identified the roles each of the participants took on throughout the discussion and the devices they used which helped the researcher identify such roles. The relationships between each of the speakers was identified. The study showed that there was no specific sequence of turn taking within the conversation and that it tended to flow between the two most dominant members of the group who seemed to be in some sort of rivalry with each other over their role within the group.
Overall the study displayed the importance of conversation analysis in displaying how social order in certain situations can be achieved. However the use of such a methodology does have it’s drawbacks. The fact that the researcher cannot engage in inference has a big impact on the analysis of the conversation and the fact that no influence from non-verbal communication and body language can be commented on has a severe impact on finding the meaning of what the participant has said.
The researcher cannot identify the context in which a statement was said, which means they cannot truly identify the exact role of each of the speakers within the group. Overall the validity of conversation analysis must be questioned. Although it can be said that no two conversations are the same surely the way in which they are analysed means that the researcher will always find the same devices and possibly the same findings. In short how many conversations need to be analysed before it is realised that the same result may occur?