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Title: The softness of hard data 


As largely (but not exclusively) qualitative researchers, conversation analysts work with datasets of audio- and video-recorded social interaction ‘in the wild’; that is, conversations that are not simulated, role-played, or experimentally produced. Our research focuses on how different words, phrases, and grammar - as well as non-lexical features like ums, uhs, in-breaths and overlaps - all combine to shape what happens next in a conversation. It also reveals a surprisingly systematic and, in some respects, universal machinery that drives everyday life. While conversation analysis is sometimes regarded as the soggiest of ‘soft’ qualitative research, I will show that it not only challenges common communication myths (e.g., about body language or gender differences) but can reveal fundamental problems with research data across the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ spectrum, from quantitative data collected in experiments to narrative accounts collected in interviews. Drawing on diverse datasets, including in sport interaction, I will show how simple things like asking ‘yes/no’ questions in different ways will tilt the answers given. I will also explore the issues raised when we scrutinize the spoken delivery of interview protocols, diagnostic instruments, coaching and communication assessment tools. In contrast to stereotypes, then, I will argue that apparently ‘hard’ data can be remarkably ‘soft’, and that it is crucial to understand the ways in which all data are collected. 


Elizabeth Stokoe is Professor of Social Interaction at Loughborough University. She conducts conversation analytic research to understand how talk works - from first dates to medical communication and from sales encounters to hostage negotiation. She has worked as an industry fellow at Typeform and is currently on secondment at Deployed. In addition to academic publishing, she is passionate about science communication, and has given talks at TED, New Scientist, Google, Microsoft, and The Royal Institution, and performed at Latitude and Cheltenham Science Festivals. Her book, Talk: The Science of Conversation, was published by Little, Brown (in 2018) and she has a co-authored book on Crisis Talk coming out later this year. Her research and biography were featured on BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific. She is a Wired Innovation Fellow and in 2021 was awarded Honorary Fellowship of the British Psychological Society.


Title: Interpreting mental health: a qualitative understanding of professional sport, work and privilege 


In this lecture I argue that, at least within sport and exercise sciences, a form of sociology advanced by C Wright Mills, which focuses on intellectual craft and imagination, has been neglected in the quest of a narrow form of scientific empiricism. In the field of sport and mental health, research is overwhelmingly comprised of, firstly, large-scale quantitative studies of type and prevalence, identifying performance-specific risk indicators, barriers and demands, and secondly, qualitative research that misleadingly prioritises narrative ‘disruptions’, constructing habitually mono-causal connections between poor mental health and a so-called athletic identity. Many studies overlook key sociological concerns such as ‘work’, ‘class’ and ‘privilege’. My interpretivist approach is different therefore and foregrounds the idea that, as Sartre (1944) states, for some, ‘hell is – other people’. Here I focus on an emerging uneasiness with ‘social’ spaces, a politics of agoraphobia, examining the ways in which athletes clearly have differing abilities to cope with the social aspects of their everyday lives, importantly their fears of others’ (un)civil attention. Interpreting the problematic nature of working lives in professional sport in terms of the social relations of space offers up different types of insights into a condition that lies beyond the reach of micro theories related to performance demands, injury, deselection, and of losing one’s identity. So, I will contend that poor mental health arises from, on the one hand, a wariness of becoming the object of others’ attentions, simultaneously destabilising the sense of social being of professional athletes, and on the other, as an outcome of assumptions regarding the privileges that wrap round their roles and work-life existence. I conclude the lecture by returning to the problem of interpreting the interdependence between the personal and the public, which underpins a Millsian sociological imagination, by asking to what extent for professional athletes this distinction holds in the context of an intense fascination with public figures, self-promotional social media, and struggles to protect the private in public realms. 



Professor Martin Roderick is currently Head of the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University and is an experienced sociologist undertaking research in the field of ‘sports work’, with expertise in life-course, biographical and career-related qualitative research. His published research to date has examined the ways in which the social identities of young, elite and professional athletes develop: his research has interrogated the fashion with which athlete identities are contoured by the structural aspects of their lives. Martin’s early research published as a book in 2006, The Work of Professional Football: A labour of love? was motivated by a desire to improve the working conditions for all professional athletes, a desire that remains a driving force behind his ongoing research ambitions. Martin has maintained his longstanding research interests connected with the problems associated with work and careers in professional sport, but his more recent focus has concerned the inter-connections among family life, issues of work-life balance, and mental health. Martin has recently completed research funded by the British Academy (2016), examining the effects of public recognition on the private selves of high profile athletes, and for The Football Association (2020), on player experiences of international representation. He recently edited a Special Edition of the Sociology of Sport Journal on ‘The Sociology of Sports Work, Emotions and Mental Health’ and serves on the Editorial Board for Qualitative Research into Sport, Exercise and Health.


Title: Questioning Meaning(s) in Qualitative Research: Reflections on a Taken For Granted and Vital Notion 


The concept, and pursuit, of meaning in qualitative inquiry is often centralized as the main axis that all qualitative research pivots around (Bruner, 1990; Dahlberg & Dahlberg, 2019; St. Pierre, 2021). For example, generic definitions of qualitative research take for granted that qualitative researchers “study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of or interpret phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011, p. 3). Although many qualitative researchers may take this notion of meaning as a given, contemporary conversations in the social sciences have highlighted the need to re-examine the ‘meaning of meaning’ and the consequences for qualitative research. In this presentation, I explore some of these emerging debates that include the tendency to trivialize or overlook meaning in qualitative research, a limited and/or hegemonic view of meaning in qualitative research, and the reconfiguring/destabilization of meaning(s) in qualitative research. I will then outline some of the ways in which qualitative researchers in the sport and exercise sciences are pushing these conversations forward, including examples from my own scholarship grounded in post-structuralist, discursive and narrative research. I conclude with offering ways we might continue to build on qualitative forms of inquiry in the sport and exercise sciences that engage with meaning(s) in ways that are critical, contested and questioned. 


Kerry R. McGannon is a Professor at Laurentian University, Canada. Her research program advances critical qualitative methodologies (e.g., discourse analysis, narrative analysis) to understand sport and physical activity behaviour. Specific streams of this work explore socio-cultural influences on self-identity and critical interpretations of sport and physical activity and the psychological implications. Professor McGannon also studies the media as a cultural site of self-identity construction within the context of sport, physical activity participation and health.  Peer reviewed scholarship includes over 150 publications in refereed journals and scholarly books and the forthcoming co-edited book Motherhood and sport: Collective stories of identity and difference. She is Co-Editor of the journal Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, Associate Editor of the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology and Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 

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