Ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis and the Study of Action-in-Interaction in Military Settings

Elsey, C, Mair, MD ORCID: 0000-0003-0929-5426, Smith, PV and Watson, PG
(2016) Ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis and the Study of Action-in-Interaction in Military Settings. In: The Routledge Companion to Military Research Methods. Routledge,Abingdon.

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In this chapter we discuss what ethnomethodology and conversation analysis can contribute to studies of the military, specifically understandings of ‘action-in-interaction’ in military settings. The chapter is methodologically focused and explores how work in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis provides an alternative way of approaching the problems posed in studying the different forms of practice that constitute ‘soldierly work’. Rather than approach these issues in the abstract, and in line with the central thrust of ethnomethodological (e.g. Garfinkel 1967, 2002; Heritage 1984; Lynch 2007) and conversation analytic studies (e.g. Heritage 1995; Pomerantz & Fehr 1997; Sacks 1995; Schegloff 2007), we shall outline this approach through a discussion of the methods employed, and difficulties encountered, in the course of research we conducted into a specific case. This was a fatal ‘blue-on-blue’ or ‘friendly fire’ attack on British infantry by American aircraft during the Second Gulf War (see Mair, Watson, Elsey & Smith 2012; Mair, Elsey, Watson & Smith 2013). What initially drew us to the incident was the availability of a cockpit video-tape that was leaked to the public during a controversial coroner’s inquest in 2007, some four years after the attack took place. Crucially this videotape contained the audio communications between the two pilots involved in the attack and the ground forward air controller (GFAC) they were working with, providing unparalleled access to such an incident as it unfolded. Our interest in the footage was twofold. We wanted, firstly, to see what insights we could glean from data of this kind about combat as experienced first-hand, ‘first-time-through’ (Garfinkel, Lynch & Livingston 1981); and, secondly, we wanted to look at what the three official inquiries made of the incident (including two military boards of inquiry, alongside the coroner’s inquest) and explore how they had used (and problematised) the video as a resource for analysing the actions of the pilots. This methodological strategy reflects the ‘duplex’ forms of analysis that ethnomethodology and conversation analysis rest upon (Watson 2009): in this case, an analysis of the pilot’s communicative and sense-making practices coupled with an analysis of locally situated reconstructions of those practices by a number of authoritative auditors. This analysis of members’ reconstructions of practices, rather than ours as researchers, involved us ‘tacking’ between the video and after-the-fact accounts of what the video could be said to show. In order to explain how we proceeded, we will initially discuss the problems we encountered in transcribing the video and what those difficulties themselves revealed about what the pilots were doing. After that, we turn to the ways in which we established links between the video and the reports published by the official inquiries, reports which offered competing and apparently conflicting interpretations of what happened and why. Based on this, and having linked our research to wider work in the field as we go, we will conclude, finally, by returning to the question of what ethnomethodological and conversation analytic research adds to our understanding of action-in-interaction in military settings: namely, a focus on its specificities and the forms of organisation internal to it.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis, Sociology, Military Studies, Research Methods
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 08 Jan 2018 15:58
Last Modified: 12 Nov 2019 14:39
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