The 111th Peking University Medical Humanities Forum: Zhang Wei: Data Analysis and Data Session in the Study of Conversation Analysis

   On the afternoon of Thursday, April 20th, 2023, the 111th Peking University Medical Humanities Forum, as well as the 1st CACE Asia Lecture Series were held online (through Tencent Meeting) and offline simultaneously. Professor Zhang Wei, Ph.D. of the University of Hong Kong, researcher in Tongji University Research Center for Ageing, Language and Care, and a well-known expert in conversation analysis, was invited to deliver a lecture entitled “Data Analysis and Data Session in the Study of Conversation Analysis”. Associate Professor Li Fang (School of Health Humanities, Peking University) chaired the lecture. Nearly 30 students from the Department of Language and Culture in Medicine attended this lecture offline at Room 213, Yifu Teaching Building, Peking University Health Science Center. Moreover, there are also dozens of online listeners from PKU or other institutes.

   During the lecture, Professor Zhang Wei introduced the status, history of development, characteristics, and requirements of data session in the study of conversation analysis. She selected the classic data from Schegloff, a renowned scholar in the field of conversation analysis, and the data from students taking the elective course “Overview of Conversation Analysis” for in-depth analysis. Therefore, the practical methods of conversation analysis were demonstrated, and the importance and necessity of data session were further proved.

   To start with, Professor Zhang introduced the three basic steps of conversation analysis research: collecting data, paraphrasing data, and analyzing data. Specifically, data is usually collected in the forms of audio and video. After that, it was transcribed with Jefferson’s transcription system (or other similar systems), before entering the phase of data analysis, which is highly practical. Data Session is a traditional activity in data analysis. Although it was not established as a necessary research method in the 1980s, it has been widely recognized as an important method for the study of conversation analysis so far.

   After that, Professor Zhang introduced the characteristics and requirements of data session. The atmosphere of the data session is relaxed, friendly, and academic, with researchers exploring collectively and trusting each other. The experts and the newcomers communicate equally and learn together through practice. The process of data analysis is completely exploratory and a “unmotivated looking”, and also a rewarding practice. The looking contains two paths: one is to start from behavior, and observe the language resources used by people. The other is to start from the characteristics of language, and observe how language becomes a resource for social interaction and what behaviors it performs. The selection of data should be minimal and precise, especially for beginners. The duration should be less than 30 seconds, and it is better to have two to three participants in conversation analysis. When sharing data, corresponding audio and video materials should be prepared and transcribed text with sufficient blank should be provided. Taking the data of Schegloff (1996) as an example, Professor Zhang Wei elaborated the two main objectives of data analysis: to describe and report one’s findings and the process of discovery.

   In addition, Professor Zhang Wei emphasized that researchers should maintain value neutrality when analyzing the data. That is to say, researchers should only analyze the data from a technical perspective without emotional orientation or judging the participants. When analyzing the data, researchers should stand in the perspective of the conversation participants, speaking on good grounds and focusing on the text. In data session, there are often many collisions of ideas and new discoveries. So it is important to take notes carefully.

   After the lecture, Professor Zhang Wei answered some of the questions raised by the students in the course of “Overview of Conversation Analysis”, and shared the selected and revised data from her students with everyone, guiding them to actively think and ask questions. After discussion, the audience actively asked questions, and a heated discussion on the issues of: the turn segmentation, incomplete syllables, and the appearance of the same or similar turns in the data was carried out among Professor Zhang and the audience. Professor Zhang answered the questions one by one, and made in-depth and detailed analysis of the corresponding parts of the data. The audience have gained a deeper understanding of the research methods of conversation analysis, and felt the friendly and rigorous atmosphere of data session.

   After the audience’s questioning session, the two hour lecture has come to an end. Associate Professor Li Fang summarized Professor Zhang Wei’s excellent lecture, which explained profound theories in simple language. Associate Professor Li expressed gratitude to Professor Zhang on behalf of all the audience.

   Extended reading:
In November 2019, Professor John Heritage, a world-renowned scholar, launched CACE Asia at “the First National Medical Conversation Analysis Seminar” at the School of Health Humanities, Peking University. The lecture series has provided an academic research platform for cooperation, exchange, and resource sharing for Asian medical conversation analysis scholars.

Department of Language and Culture in Medicine