CHIMERA webinar: the softness of hard data

24 November 2021, 3:00 pm–4:00 pm

Chimera Seminar Series

with Professor Elizabeth Stokoe, Loughborough University

Event Information

Open to





CHIMERA (Collaborative Healthcare Innovation through Mathematics, EngineeRing and AI)


Zoom webinar


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 recordings of first dates, healthcare encounters, police interviews, and crisis negotiation, 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 and diagnostic instruments. In contrast to stereotypes, then, I will argue that apparently ‘hard’ data can be remarkably ‘soft’.


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.