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An Introduction to Membership Categorisation Analysis


Course Information

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The central concern of Membership Categorisation Analysis (MCA) is the description of the array of categorisation practices observable in members’ “naturally-organised activities”. This workshop is focused on exploring and understanding what Harvey Sacks called the “member’s machinery” and how that foundation was later developed into a concern with the analysis of “culture-in-action”. Sacks’ early analyses considered how relevant categories are ‘used’ not only to categorise individuals as ‘representative’ members of a given category but, in a broader sense, to both produce and recognise the orderly character that scenes and activities observably have. In this sense, MCA is not a formal method of inquiry as such but forms a live ‘resource’ for members in the accomplishment of reasoning, sense-making, and social organisation. For members, such practices are employed in a range of everyday practices both in forms of talk and conversation (e.g. in telling a story about some event), but also in mobility practices (such as forming a queue or ‘flow file’ in public space) or accomplishing visual order (for example, of producing and viewing memes). For analysts, an attentiveness to categorisation practices provides a powerful means of accessing people’s “improvised cultural practices” (Hester and Francis, 2017) which provide the very grounds upon which the sense of the world is built.

Course Code


Course Leader

Dr Robin James Smith
Course Description


The introduction to and exploration of this ‘categorial landscape’ will be led by an expert in the field. It will be structured over the course of two-days and will include a plenary talk on the evening of the first day. The workshop will provide a summary of Sacks’ early work by working through some classic examples in order to familiarise participants with the aspects of ‘membership categorisation devices’ that form the cornerstone of MCA. We will also move on to consider further examples which demonstrate the contribution of MCA in addressing the centrality of categorisation practices in a range of activities and settings. Following introductory remarks and orientations, the workshop will be practical in nature and the majority of the second day of the workshop will take the form of data sessions where participants will be encouraged to contribute their own materials. Participants attending the course will leave well prepared to begin or continue their own studies in membership categorisation analysis.


This in-person course covers:

  • Culture-in-action: the development of MCA
  • Identifying and describing MCDs and categorisation practices
  • Applications and key MCA studies
  • From the narrowing of MCA to the ‘joy of Sacks’
  • Working with (graphic) transcripts and video materials
  • Getting systematic with MCA?
  • Single case analyses
  • Building MCA collections
  • MCA beyond person descriptions (e.g. mobile and visual order)
  • MCA and the ‘categorial landscape’


By the end of the course participants will:

  • Understand the foundations of MCA
  • Be able to confidently describe the core components of the ‘categorial machinery’ and the ‘rules of application’
  • Be able to identify and describe these features in talk-in-interaction
  • Be able to identify and describe categorisation practices in a range of setting, including those that don’t include talk
  • Be able to identify MCA and categorisation practices in a range of settings and their own data


There are no special software requirements, although participants will likely benefit from having their own laptop.


Note that travel and accommodation may be required as this in-person course is spread across 2 days. Lunch will be provided on both days.

Day 1:

12:00 - 16:30 Workshop

17:30 Plenary lecture

Day 2:

09:30 - 14:00 Workshop

StartEndPlaces LeftCourse Fee 
25/05/202326/05/20230[Read More]

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