New Book: Emotion and Discourse in L2 Narrative Research by Matthew T. Prior

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Matthew Prior

My name is Matthew Prior and I am an assistant professor at Arizona State University, where I teach and conduct research in the interdisciplinary fields of applied linguistics, second language (L2) and multilingualism studies, and discourse studies. I am pleased to join the QuAFE blog and its network of scholars interested in qualitative approaches to emotion research. One of my primary areas of interest is how emotion and related socio-psychological matters intersect with language and identity, particularly for L2 users and multilingual groups and individuals.

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My book, Emotion and Discourse in L2 Narrative Research has just been published by Multilingual Matters/Channel View Publications (2016). In it I engage with and critique the emotional space of contemporary narrative and ethnographic research on multilingualism and transcultural belonging. Based on the published literature and interview-based studies I conducted with adult immigrants living in the US and Canada, this book brings attention to emotion as an interactional and institutional resource. The nine chapters explore the central role emotion plays in speakers’ identities and experiences through a close examination of its dynamic representation and management.

Emotionality—emotion as action, topic, and resource—forms the theoretical and analytical heart of this book. Within the research context, emotionality is an ever-present component of the identities and stories that speakers and listeners take up and avoid, and the ways in which those identities, stories, and related matters get reshaped and responded to over time. While answering questions such as How do interactants construct and manage their own and each other’s emotionality?, this book aims to make visible the emotional and interactional ‘realities’ of the researcher, the research participants, and the research.

This shifts the focus away from taxonomies and intra-psychological processes to micro-interactional resources and discursive practices (e.g., question-answer sequences, feelings talk, discursive organization, storytelling, interpretive framing, emotion formulations) in addition to macro-social concerns (e.g., immigration, displacement, discrimination, community histories). However, I avoid reifying micro-macro binaries by exploring how both are mutually constituted by and constitutive of the production and reception of this emotional work. As a means to empirically ground this investigation of emotionality and the representation of self and experience, this book advances a discursive constructionist approach that draws on ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, discursive psychology, and cognate lines of discourse analysis (e.g., Buttny, 2004; Edwards, 1997; Peräkylä & Sorjonen, 2012; Sacks, 1992).

This approach to emotion discourse and emotion management is also informed by psychological research on emotion regulation as well as Hochschild’s (2012) work on emotion labour. Along with discussing the various points of convergence between narrative interview research and therapeutic discourse, I consider the predominance of ‘negative’ (e.g., sadness, anger, fear, shame) emotionality, the resistance to ‘positive’ emotionality, and interactants’ collaborative efforts to manage distress and humour.

Finally, although I align with critiques that label some lines of contemporary qualitative inquiry as overly ‘emotionalist’ or ‘romantic’ for their tendency to elevate “the experiential as the authentic” (Silverman, 2011, p. 179), I argue that researchers should reclaim the ‘emotionalist’ label by actively attending to participants’ emotional work while pursuing greater reflexivity and analytical rigor.


Buttny, R. (2004). Talking problems: Studies of discursive construction. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Edwards, D. (1997). Discourse and cognition. London: Sage.

Hochschild, A.R. (2012). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Peräkylä, A. & Sorjonen, M-L. (Eds.) (2012). Emotion in interaction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sacks, H. (1992). Lectures on conversation. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Silverman, D. (2011). Interpreting qualitative data (4th ed.). London: SAGE.

Feelings, intersubjectivity and emotional reflexivity

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Zoe Boden

Happy new year!
After a little hiatus, the QuAFE blog is active again, so do consider writing something about your event, article, book or current research, at whatever stage. We will also be hosting our second workshop event later in the year, and I’ll have more news on that later in the spring.

In this post I want to discuss the themes of my article “Feelings and intersubjectivity: Interviewing those bereaved by suicide and those who have attempted suicide about the suicide process” which will soon be published in Qualitative Health Research (available now online first). The article explores emotional reflexivity, an area that I think qualitative psychology in particular, needs to examine more deeply (sociology seems to be making strides with this already). In our study, we interviewed both individuals who had made suicide attempts, and those who had been bereaved by suicide. The interviews were often long and obviously dealt with distressing experiences. As researchers, we found the impact of listening to accounts about suicide deeply affecting.

The paper uses a phenomenological lens to explore how feelings permeated the whole process of research, and how our feelings and those of the participants intermingled. We start the paper by arguing for the epistemic importance of feelings – they tell us things. Feelings help us know about our situation before we have reflected on it. Without emotion, the meaning of a story is lost or misunderstood. Emotion contributes to experience immediately and continuously (Cromby, 2012). We use Fuch’s (2013) typology of feelings to anchor our exploration. He says there are five layers of feeling, from the most basic feeling of being alive (particularly pertinent in a study of suicidality) to the most complex, intentional emotions. We secondly think about the ethical importance of emotion. Exactly because they tell us about our world, feelings help us make moral decisions. As researchers we are constantly faced with ethical demands. As Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) say, research is a ‘moral enterprise’. Feelings can help attune us to moments of ethical importance, and can help us negotiate dilemmas.

So how do we actually sensitise ourselves to the emotional experience within a research encounter, and how do we make sense of our feelings once we identify them? Our paper goes on to argue, using phenomenological theory, that thinking about feelings as intersubjective phenomena – things that tell us about our relationship to others and the world – is helpful. And that we need to engage in a ‘reflexivity of feelings’, to interrogate our felt-experiences in the same way we interrogate our assumptions and standpoint. We offer a tentative sketch of some of the types of feelings we encountered; those that restrained us, connected us, or distanced us. Those that made us feel used, those that we seemed to be substituting, those that lingered beyond the research and came up unexpectedly in dreams and fantasies.

We give three case study examples. My own experience looks at how to acknowledge absences as feelings in their own right – emptiness, meaninglessness – and also how to deconstruct the opposite, those feelings that overwhelm – chaos, tumultuousness. I was struck by how my own engagement with the project came to echo the hopelessness and helplessness that so often accompanies experiences of suicide.

The last part of our paper deals with the issues connected with keeping the research ethical and researchers safe. We argue that emotional preparedness is only partly feasible. To live in the moment with your participant means you can never be entirely ready for what may come up, but you can put safeguards into place. We were lucky enough to have support akin to clinical supervision throughout our project, but we also mention a range of other ways we can support ourselves and each other when working in this way, that is ‘with our hearts open’, on sensitive qualitative research.

I am particularly interested in hearing from other researchers who are working with themes of emotional reflexivity – please do email me if you are, as I am developing some opportunities in this area.

You may also like to read my co-author’s blog about her experience of this research.

References and further reading

Cromby, J. (2012). Feeling the way: Qualitative research and the affective turn. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 9, 88–98. See also a post on John’s book.

Fuchs, T. (2013). The phenomenology of affectivity. In K. W. M. Fulford, M. Davies, R. Gipps, G. Graham, J. Sadler, G.Stanghellini, & T. Thornton (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of philosophy and psychiatry (pp. 612–631). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2009). InterViews: Learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing. London: SAGE


New Book: Feeling Bodies by John Cromby

Feeling Bodies coverMy book, ‘Feeling Bodies: Embodying psychology’ has just been published by Palgrave.

The book draws on a range of evidence – from psychology, sociology, social theory, neuroscience and other disciplines – to make the claim that feelings are the most basic and raw stuff of experience. Following the philosopher Suzanne Langer, the book argues that “the entire psychological field … is a vast and branching development of feeling” (Langer 1967, p.22)

The book presents a lengthy description of what feelings are. For present purposes, though, it is sufficient to think of them as body states that can be subjectively experienced. Understood this way, feelings are not just emotions. In one sense they are more general than emotions, because they are an important part of every experience. For example, they include hunger, pain, desire, boredom confusion, certainty, hesitancy and impatience, as well as emotional feelings. But in another sense they are also more specific than emotions, because they include only the embodied, felt, affective, sensual or corporeal aspect of emotion, rather than the entire relational complex (in Ian Burkitt’s terms) of which emotion consists.

Feeling is continuous. There is never a (waking) moment when we are not feeling something, even though how we feel might not have a ready name – it may not, for example, accord with our understanding of any widely used emotion word. However, for this and other reasons feelings tend to drop into the ‘background’ of experience where their presence and influence is not always recognised.

This tendency fuels the fantasy that experience is primarily a matter of information processing, that we function psychologically very much like the computers we so often use. But when we imagine that experience is produced by machine-like information processing, by cognitive software running on neural hardware, we effectively separate mind from body. At the same time, we place an illusory divide between individual felt experience and the bodily movements, social relations and material conditions by which it is constantly interpellated (‘called out’).

By contrast, an emphasis on feeling might form part of the basis of a thoroughly embodied psychology that does not pre-emptively separate body from mind. And because feelings are always bound up with our relations and intentions, as well as with our bodily needs and desires, an emphasis on feeling might supply important elements of a thoroughly social psychology that does not artificially separate individuals from their resources, circumstances and situations.

The book details how a psychology of this kind changes the way we understand a small number of topics: beliefs (particularly, health beliefs), doctor-patient interactions in chronic fatigue syndrome, and paranoia. It also discusses feelings in relation to the ‘affective turn’ in the social sciences, humanities and psychology, using the example of ‘enhanced interrogation’ – torture – to draw out similarities and differences between concepts of feeling and of affect.

I briefly discussed some implications of this idea of feeling for qualitative research in a previous blog post. The book presents a longer discussion that contrasts the potentials of quantitative and qualitative methods for studies of feeling. It argues that both can potentially be useful, according to the kind of question being asked. Both kinds of method also encounter difficulties when feeling is the topic of investigation, but qualitative research is – on balance – better able to overcome them.

Whichever method they adopt (and some are more useful than others), researchers can do this by adopting a more sophisticated understanding of meaning. In qualitative research, the default option is to treat meaning as almost exclusively linguistic, as largely a matter of the words and phrases that participants speak. But in everyday experience the meanings of language are already saturated with feelings, and these feelings are already just as much a part of its meaning as the words themselves – as this example suggests.

More information about the book is available here, and you can download a sample chapter here.

Langer, S. (1967). Mind: an essay on human feeling (Vol. 1). Baltimore: the Johns Hopkins University Press.

‘Just a hour? Just a hour.’ Conversation analysis, repeats and the interactional construction of humour.

Richard Greenhill

Richard Greenhill

My name is Richard Greenhill and I am currently studying towards an MRes in the Division of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University under the supervision of Dr Sarah Seymour-Smith. Over the past two years, I have become increasingly interested in discursive approaches to psychology. In this post, I would like to outline how conversation analysis can be applied to the area of humour.

Humour can be studied from a variety of perspectives. For example, phenomenological accounts have discussed what humour means for both healthcare professionals and service users in residential care settings (see Bauer, 1999). In this blog, John Cromby has looked at how laughter can be used to counteract aggressive political critique and how tension created between other opposing emotions can create a humorous experience.

Conversation analysis is a bottom-up analytic technique that deals with the “rules of conversational sequence” (Sacks, 1992: 3) as a means of understanding what is being done in everyday mundane talk-in-interaction. With regards to humour then, conversation analysts are interested in how humour is built-up interactionally through each speaker’s turn in conversation. The following data comes from the British sitcom PhoneShop. As scriptwriters base comedy on their knowledge of how humour operates in naturalistic settings, there is value in examining scripted humour. Stokoe (2008) has previously examined talk-in-interaction on the American sitcom Friends and identified ‘interactional breaches’, whereby an individual gives an unexpected (or dispreferred) response, as a comedic device. Here, I would like to explore how repeats are used by the scriptwriters of PhoneShop to create a humorous interactional misunderstanding.

The following extract was featured in a teaser clip for PhoneShop and I would therefore assume that it is intended as particularly humorous. The extract runs from around 12:00 to 12:32 and involves the character Jerwayne trying to convince Ashley to join him on an escorting job. Clearly, there is both physical and syntactical humour at play here. I would like to focus on the sequence in which the phrase ‘a hour’ is repeated five times. Repeats in conversation can play different roles. For example, they may be used to indicate a speaker has made a mistake and should repair this mistake (Jefferson, 1972). They can also be used to do the action of ‘being surprised’ (Wilkinson & Kitzinger, 2006).

In this conversational sequence [transcript], Jerwayne’s initial utterance of ‘for a hour’ is followed by silence and Ashley’s repeated inflected utterance of ‘just a hour’. Jerwayne then repeats ‘just a hour’ without inflection. Taken in isolation, the silence and Ashley’s inflected question would appear to indicate that his repeat is doing ‘being surprised’, with Jerwayne confirming that the surprise in question (‘a hour’) is indeed correct by repeating it again. However, the sequence does not end at this point and is followed by another silence, before Ashley and Jerwayne both repeat the utterance ‘a hour’ again. In a different conversation, Ashley’s subsequent repeat could be indicative of him attempting to initiate a repair to Jerwayne. Yet in the previous turns, Jerwayne has already confirmed ‘a hour’ as correct and does so again after Ashley’s subsequent repeat. To understand what is happening here then, we must look to the next turns in conversation. These are an even lengthier silence followed by Jerwayne introducing a new topic (‘bruv, this ain’t no fucking accident’). Therefore, I would conclude that there has been some kind of interactional breakdown in understanding, which leads to humour through the absurd nature of a series of unnecessary repeats.

What can this sort of analysis contribute to our understanding of humour? Some accounts may locate the emotions caused by humour as internal mental states. On the other hand, this sort of conversation analysis suggests that emotional states can be constructed through our everyday interactions. In particular, humour, and the emotions that it implies, can be constructed on occasions when these interactions go ‘wrong’.


Bauer, M. (1999). The use of humor in addressing the sexuality of elderly nursing home residents. Sexuality and Disability, 17(2), 147-155.

Jefferson, G. (1972). Side sequences. In D.N. Sudnow (Ed.) Studies in Social Interaction (pp. 294-33). New York, NY: Free Press.

Sacks, H. (1992). Lectures on Conversation (Vol. 1), Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Stokoe, E. (2008). Dispreferred actions and other interactional breaches as devices for occasioning audience laughter in television “sitcoms”. Social Semiotics, 18(3), 289-307.

Wilkinson, S., & Kitzinger, C. (2006). Surprise as an interactional achievement: Reaction tokens in conversation. Social Psychology Quarterly, 69(2), 150-182.

Pregnancy, Birth, First Year Stages, Emotions and Identity of First Time Mothers

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Catherine Culbert

My name is Catherine Culbert and I have just completed a degree in Psychology at the University of Greenwich. I am due to start my MSc in Child and Adolescent Psychology this September. This qualitative study was my dissertation topic that I undertook in my final year.

One of the most significant and life-changing transitions experienced by a woman in her lifetime will be becoming a mother (Mercer, 2004). Motherhood has three transitional stages: pregnancy, giving birth and being a mother. Psychological, physiological and relational changes occur at each of these stages, making this transition enormously complex for a woman and her partner.

The emotions that mothers experience during these transitions are complex and involve considerable psychological adjustment. Oberman and Josselson (1996) argue that the experience of motherhood is one of ‘dialectical tension’ where the changes that occur may produce a sense of loss and a sense of self-expansion, so both joy and misery can coexist.

The altering identity change of a woman who is pregnant for the first-time appears to be a process that moves from abstract ideals of motherhood to forming a new identity that is socially recognized.

Support plays a vital role in making each transitional stage on the way to motherhood easier. Partners, mothers, friends and hospital professionals make up some of the layers of support needed by each woman during this very challenging time.

This study was formed around two open-ended questions: what emotions do mothers’ experience during the transition of pregnancy, birth and the first year after having their child and what are the effects on their identity and support systems during this transition?

Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis was used to analyse six semi-structured interviews of women who had experienced this transition for the first-time. The data produced four superordinate themes: (1) movement of emotion-positive (four) and negative (five), (2) the altering identity: a process rather than a battle, (3) the different layers of support-its presence and its absence and (4) transition complete.

All participants experienced positive emotions at conception, pregnancy, birth and first year stages and these included feelings of enjoyment, protection and relief:

“I loved being pregnant, I loved it”. (Sarah)

“…once I’d passed the fourteen weeks, I was really well so able to enjoy it and be proud”. (Clare)

Frequent negative emotions included blame, guilt, anxiety and isolation with one participant saying,

“I enjoyed my pregnancy but I was anxious and I think my anxieties grew and grew…” (Sue)

Breast-feeding produced intense feelings of blame especially when the feeding was difficult:

that’s a horrible feeling to think oh my God, I have starved my child”. (Louise)

“I felt less of a mother and I felt a failure and I wasn’t doing my best for her and I wasn’t giving her everything”. (Sarah).

Identity is an integral part of a person and is constantly changing in accordance to life transitions. The findings in the theme ‘identity change’ indicated women previously held abstract ideals of motherhood, which they let go resulting in regaining control, and finally, having a new identity. Some examples:

“I had to let my perceptions go…so yes vulnerable to having to let go and go OK what ever happens, happens”. (Louise)

“ She makes me want to be a better person, because I can see her copying me all the time…so I think OK I have to be a better person …and I just don’t care what people think about me”. (Sarah)

The third superordinate theme describes the different layers of support and all participants experienced this in different ways from their partners, mothers, friends and their chosen hospital. Participants felt that friendships changed saying frequently that “they didn’t understand me”. Maria says of this:

“ I didn’t have any mum friends at that point to talk about this sort of thing, I probably just didn’t say it to anybody because I don’t think…they won’t get it, they won’t understand, I didn’t have anyone that was going through it at the same time as me that was like me”. (Maria)

Transition complete was the final theme and this was evident at the end of each interview with the overwhelming feelings that this transition had been a difficult one but was highly rewarding in ways not only in the creation of a baby. Sarah says:

“I think that I have felt it is a beautiful journey becoming a mother because your body…everything changes, your body, your priorities change, your outlook, everything changes, your house!” (Sarah)

The implications of this research study is the fact that women have a great deal to say about the transition that is experienced when having a first child and need to be listened to without being judged. The emotions are overwhelming at times and it is evident from this research that this is a normal part of childbearing. The emotions a woman experiences can move so quickly from intense happiness to utter loneliness and exhaustion. It is important to see that all experiences of childbirth are unique and that the information about this is honest and open at all points in the process.

All of the six participants shared the positive emotion of enjoyment during conception, pregnancy, birth and the first year stages whilst all sharing the negative emotion of vulnerability at these stages. Another striking finding was how each of the participants felt a huge sense of blame and guilt around the breast-feeding of their baby where they all struggled with little hospital support.

The findings also revealed the stark reality of becoming a mother for the first-time and how this was very different from the ‘ideal’ picture of motherhood that is portrayed through different mediums.

The transition into motherhood for the first-time is a challenging period and the six participants that were recruited were extremely honest, open and fluent when being interviewed and it is due to this that has produced the work for which I am extremely grateful.


Mercer, R.T. (2004). Becoming a mother versus maternal role attainment. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 36, 226-232.

Oberman, Y., & Josselson, R. (1996). Matrix of tensions, a model of mothering. Psychology of Women quarterly, 20, 341-359.

Dalek Relaxation for Humans


John Cromby

Why is this short film funny? Of all the aliens in ‘Dr.Who’, the Daleks were voted scariest by viewers. Although this suggests that the humour simply arises from the sheer absurdity of an icon of terror encouraging relaxation, I will argue that something else is also occurring.

Various reasons have been given for the Daleks’ capacity to inspire fear. They are “the least human things you can think of” and they “have no motivations, no plans, just an obsession with killing.”[i] The editor of ‘Dr.Who Adventures’ magazine wrote that “Daleks represent the very worst of the very worst. They hate everything that isn’t like them. They don’t like asking questions and would sooner exterminate you than understand your point of view. They hate first, blast second, and are always full of anger. They’re oppressive, predictably dangerous and seem unstoppable. And they glide…”[ii] And, in the brilliantly titled “Ex-Tra-Po-Late’”, philosopher Robin Bunce proposes that the Daleks are frightening because “we recognise that they were once better. They are the nightmare future we dread .. they are sexless, heartless brains, shut up in machines incapable of intimacy, who have forgotten what it means to laugh and no longer think of themselves as individuals.”[iii]

Strikingly, what these explanations all share is a dependency on the Daleks’ back story. Each rests on established narratives that construct the Daleks as evil, remorselessly efficient killers. For culturally-competent viewers, these stories do help constitute the background meanings that images of Daleks supply. At the same time they do not seem immediate enough, not affectively ready-to-hand with sufficient force and clarity, to engender the absurdity that makes this film humorous.

The immediate absurdity making this film funny is rather an affective or felt paradox. It is created, firstly, by the sharp contrast between the rising pitch of that grating, insistent voice and the content that it speaks: “inhale .. calm .. exhale .. relaxed..”. Secondly, the synchronised images contribute, alternating between Dalek heads and various stereotypically-relaxing tropes – candles, rainbows, forests, beaches, sunsets. Thirdly – and for those in the know – the Daleks’ back story then deepens the paradox. But most proximally the film’s humour is produced by a felt paradox engendered, in the moments of watching, by its conjoined sonic and visual elements.

The stories films tell are designed to induce feelings – hence we have ‘tearjerkers’, ‘feel-good’ films, horror films and ‘rom-coms’. Simultaneously, film works quite directly to engender feeling by orchestrating and manipulating the sensorium. Like most films, this one works on both of these levels. Nevertheless, its capacity to generate laughter seems more immediately dependent upon the experiential tension it creates between anxiety and relaxation, than upon aspects of the Dalek’s history frequently known only to fans.

There is more at stake here than the capacities of a fictional alien. If my suggestion is correct, it speaks to debates about the relationship between affect, feeling and language (Leys, 2011; Wetherell, 2012). It highlights the empirical possibility of ‘affective textual’ analyses that explore how language is already saturated with feeling (Cromby, 2011). And it suggests, again, the need for qualitative researchers to consider how meaning is constituted from felt, sensory, imagetic and sonic elements, just as much as words.

Cromby, J. (2011). Affecting Qualitative Health Psychology. Health Psychology Review, 5(1), 79-96.

Leys, R. (2011). The Turn to Affect: a critique. Critical Inquiry, 37 (Spring 2011), 434-472.

Wetherell, M. (2012). Affect and Emotion: a new social science understanding. London: Sage.




Follow up from the Feelings and Emotions Across Time & In Space workshop

Hello! Further to Victoria’s great review of the day (see previous post), I’m happy to share with you some photos and some of the slides from the speakers at the Feelings & Emotions across Time and in Space workshop on May 8th.

Laura McGrath

Dr Laura McGrath (UEL)


Dr Martin Willis (Loughborough)


Prof Paula Reavey (LSBU) & Prof Steve Brown (Leicester)

This first QuAFE event was met with lots of interest and support – we sold out the first set of places in just a week – which shows how much interest there is in this type of work.

As part of the feedback from the day, I asked delegates to suggest ideas for future events and activities, and I’m pleased to say we had a number of great ideas, and hope to start acting on them soon. If anyone who wasn’t at the event has ideas, please feel free to email me at with your suggestions.


Dr Virginia Eatough


Dr Gavin Sullivan

Additionally, I mentioned that we have plans to put together a proposal for an edited book, so do look out for announcements via the jiscmail list in due course (email me to join this list).

Please click the links below for pdfs of slides from some of our speakers on the day:

Dr Laura McGrath Affording narratives of distress Space-time in mental Health services

Dr Martin Willis Organising Feelings Past, Present and Future

Prof Paula Reavey & Prof Steve Brown Topological Affects Towards an Expanded Model of Remembering