Speaking in public (SNF project no 100014_144376)

Project funded by Division 1 / Social Sciences and Humanities, Swiss National Foundation

(100014_144376 – from 2013 to 2015) (100012_162689 – from 2016 to 2017)

Title of the project:

Speaking in public: Social interactions within large groups.

Contributions from a conversation analytic multimodal perspective

Principal investigator: Lorenza Mondada

Post-doc researcher: Sara Keel

PhD candidates: Hanna Svensson and Nynke van Schepen

University of Basel


This project aims at investigating social interaction within larger public groups, and at offering a detailed micro-analysis of the systematic organisation of the interactional order of meetings, based on video recordings treated in the perspective of Conversation Analysis.

If meetings have been analysed within a broader perspective in sociology, social psychology, discourse analysis and more recently in management research, micro-analytic approaches of the moment-by-moment details of embodied conduct in meetings are still scarce. Moreover, if business meetings are increasingly studied, public meetings in which citizens actively participate are still understudied. This lack of in-depth detailed analyses can be related to methodological difficulties (recordings often concentrate on the focal persons doing a speech or on chairmen directing the debates, and only seldom offer details about what all of the participants are doing), but also to perspectives focusing more often on active speakers rather than on recipients, audiences or entire participation frameworks. Within Conversation Analysis, there is a long tradition of detailed analyses of small groups, but only few studies concerning interactions in larger groups.

This project aims at offering significant advances in the analysis of public talk and social interaction in larger groups, by focusing on a diversity of public meetings in which citizens actively participate, speaking and debating publicly. The aim is to describe the systematic organisation of interaction, turn-taking, and participation in these activities.

The project is based on an important corpus, constituting a series of exemplary instances of interactions in larger groups: they document a participatory democracy project in urbanism in Lyon (France), concerning the rehabilitation of an ancient military site and its transformation into a public park. The participatory process has been implemented in a series of meetings involving a large number of citizens: information meetings, collective visits on the site to be transformed, brainstorming meetings. The empirical basis of this research project is secured: meetings have already been video recorded during past fieldwork (2008-2011) by the Principal Investigator (PI) as she was working at Lyon University

On this basis, the project develops an extensive detailed analysis of interaction in larger groups, within the perspective of Conversation Analysis. More particularly, it deals with:

• Analysis of a variety of episodes of public speaking, involving lay people who are not used to speak in public;

• Analysis of the specific turn-taking system(s) involved in the management of social interaction in large groups, as well as of larger participation frameworks, including not only ‘main’ speakers and chairmen, but also all of the participants (not reducible to a mere ‘audience’);

• Analysis of proposals, negotiations, disagreements, collective elaboration of solutions, decision-taking in brainstorming sessions;

• Analysis of the embodied and visible conduct of the participants, as a crucial dimension for a detailed understanding of their action and participation;

• Analysis not only of talk-in-interaction (public discussions) but also of public writing-in-interaction, which is important for the understanding of decision-taking in larger groups;

• Analysis of longitudinal aspects, on the basis of recordings covering more than 6 years of activities.

• Analysis of various materialities and spatialities involved in the collective elaboration of the urban project, such as  plans and other visualizations, and the in fieri material architectural realization.

• Analysis of the mobile apprehension of the park in the critical inspections by the citizens in visits of construction site with the architect, in historical visits organized by and for citizens, as well as in their everyday use of the partially – and then totally – opened park.

These new foci constitute innovative contributions to contemporary important topics in Conversation Analysis and more broadly in linguistics, sociology and anthropology, concerning the interactional organization of institutionality, history, multimodality and mobility.