13 August 2011

Methods in Conversational Remembering

Following the methodological perspective of discourse psychologists (Edwards & Potter, 1992) and conversation analysts (Atkinson & Heritage, 1984; Sacks, 1992), some studies in conversational remembering (Brown, Middleton & Lightfoot, 2001; Buchanan & Middleton, 1995; Middleton, 1997) were undertaken using recordings and transcriptions of naturally occurring interactions (e.g. reminiscence groups in residential homes and day care centers, and teamwork in intensive care units). That is, these interactions took place without being partially guided by prompts about memories suggested by an interviewer in accordance with specific research goals which go far beyond the situated activity. This naturalistic approach to discursive remembering undoubtedly reflects how and why people use memories in their daily lives and clearly represents a good example of an ecologically valid method for recollecting data for memory research in institutional settings. However, this method for collecting ‘naturally occurring data’ has some limitations, which are related to the degree of specificity of the tasks in which individuals reconstruct and communicate past experiences. It would only be applicable if interactions were fundamentally driven by remembering activities (e.g. reminiscence groups), because otherwise we would need a vast amount of hours of recordings in order to find processes of autobiographical and joint reconstruction of memories.
Some discursive psychologists (Potter & Hepburn, 2005) and conversation analysts (Schegloff, 1997) still believe that this sort of data collection is the most ecologically valid because, in contrast to what occurs in research interviews, participants would not have talked about the research topic, or talked about it in the way they did, without the researcher’s guidance (Taylor & Littleton, 2006: 27-8). If the research goals are directly related to the task from which natural occurring data is collected, that may be the case, but otherwise it would be implausible due to the fact that everyday life cannot be totally recorded.
Atkinson, J.M., J. Heritage, (eds.) (1984). Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Buchanan, K. & Middleton, D.J. (1995). Voices of experience: talk, identity and membership in reminiscence groups. Ageing & Society, 15, 457-91.
Brown, S.D., Middleton, D. & Lightfoot, G.M. (2001). Performing the past in electronic archives: Interdependencies and in the discursive and non-discursive organization of remembering. Culture & Psychology 7 (2), 123-144.
Middleton, D. (1997). Conversational remembering and uncertainty: interdependencies of experience as individual and collective concerns in team work. Journal of language and Social Psychology, 16 (4), 389-410.
Edwards, D., Middleton, D. & Potter, J. (1992). Toward a discursive psychology of remembering. The Psychologist 5, 56-60.
Potter, J. & Hepburn, A. (2005). Qualitative interviews in psychology: problems and possibilities. Qualitative Research in Psychology 2, 281-307.
Schegloff, E.A. (1997). Practices and action: boundary cases of other-initiated repair. Discourse Processes 23 (3), 499-545.
Taylor, S. & Littleton, K. (2006). Biographies in talk: A narrative-discursive research approach. Qualitative Sociology Review 2 (1), 22-38.

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