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    Paul Feldwick

    I can't get my head round the idea some conversations are 'natural' and others not. I would go with Patricia Shaw's idea that all conversations are continual negotiations and contructions of relationships and sensemaking. So any participant can dominate or direct what's happening at any one time, but there's also the potential for this to change. In most commercial research I would guess there is a fairly strong drive by the 'moderator' to hold on to this sense of control as much as possible, and that will restrict the freedom of the conversation to evolve. Rather than stick with these notions of naturalness, it might be more interesting for researchers to reflect on issues of power and control in what they do - and the fact that they are part of the reality they are trying to study.


    thanks for this thoughtful comment, Paul ... I was trying to distinguish between CA's 'naturally arising' conversations ie happen in real life without a moderator and 40 quid involved, and the typical qually's more 'pointed' (more mercenary?) conversations, thinking that there IS, despite everything, a considerable overlap, cos we humans converse like we breathe, it defines us and sustains us, and although our clients set the parameters, whereas CA practitioners have no such constraints, still the less we 'moderate', the more we participate, the better.

    Jon Hindmarsh

    For those interested in more on CA there are some additional references that might be of particular value and that relate to issues you raise in your post Kevin:

    Claudia Puchta and Jonathan Potter have used CA to analyse the interactional organisation of focus groups in market research and include implications for moderators:
    'Focus Group Practice' (2004, Sage publications)

    Also Colin Clark and colleagues have undertaken a series of CA studies to unpack sales encounters (from street markets to tele-shopping to telesales to B2B sales and most recently studies of browsing in retail stores). I'd be happy to forward on the full references to anyone who is interested but their first major contribution was their book 'The Hard Sell' (1995, Harper Collins).

    Greg Rowland

    Jon, thank you for this contribution, much appreciated, will read references ...

    what do you think CA can make available to commercial qual research?

    Jon Hindmarsh

    (Too long - sorry!)
    As stated in the ‘In Depth’ piece, some companies are starting to use CA in amongst developments with ethnography, mainly technology companies like Xerox, Intel, Microsoft, etc., to inform the design of new systems (speech recognition systems, video conferencing systems, audio guides, etc.). More generally my feeling is that there are at least 4 areas where CA could be particularly useful in commercial environments:
    1. Understanding the skills of the focus group moderator to help in the training of moderators and the analysis of focus group data, which is the issue picked up by Aileen Mills (see the Puchta and Potter book for some initial pointers on that).
    2. Understanding verbal persuasion. Max Atkinson wrote a wonderful book on political speechmaking (‘Our Masters’ Voices’, 1984) which drew heavily on CA and gives a real sense of what works as persuasive language and how it can be seen to be persuasive. Using his analysis he trained a novice to get standing ovation at a Liberal party conference (for a ‘World in Action’ TV programme) and then started a company for training communication skills: Others have used similar approaches to study persuasive talk in meetings, management presentations, sales talk and the like. These sorts of studies could be applied from anything from preparing business pitches to developing radio and TV advertising.
    3. Understanding the power of the sequential organisation of conversation to grasp a range of practical problems: how to build rapport without appearing sycophantic (ask for the customers’ assessment of something and then agree by demonstrating your agreement rather than simply claiming it), how to get someone’s name without asking for it (give your own in a greeting and wait for the response!), how to keep a conversation alive (ask another question), how to anticipate disagreement (as discussed in the In depth piece)… etc, etc. All of these can have useful practical value in specific scenarios.
    4. However at its heart CA has an interest in the organisation of social interaction in everyday life. I have referred here to how existing studies could be used to inform practice. However I think that there is value in it as a method to be adopted in business to understand all sorts of issues of relevance to clients: how conversations, debates and discussions emerge is relation to TV advertising; how participants *structure* disagreements and debate in focus groups; how conversations between salespeople and customers emerge at point of sale (and the implications of different opening turns); how consumers structure objections to sales work (and the implications of different responses to those objections); and so on and so forth.
    There are some initial thoughts. It's difficult without specific commercial examples, nevertheless it’s something that I would be keen to explore further.

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