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By comparing two distinct governmental organizations (the US military and NASA) this paper unpacks two main issues. On the one hand, the paper examines the transcripts that are produced as part of work activities in these worksites and what the transcripts reveal about the organizations themselves. Additionally, the paper analyses what the transcripts disclose about the practices involved in their creation and use for practical purposes in these organizations. These organizations have been chosen as transcription forms a routine part of how they operate as worksites. Further, the everyday working environments in both organizations involve complex technological systems, as well as multi-party interactions in which speakers are frequently spatially and visually separated. In order to explicate these practices, the article draws on the transcription methods employed in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis research as a comparative resource. In these approaches audio-video data is transcribed in a fine-grained manner that captures temporal aspects of talk, as well as how speech is delivered. Using these approaches to transcription as an analytical device enables us to investigate when and why transcripts are produced by the US military and NASA in the specific ways that they are, as well as what exactly is being represented in the transcripts and thus what was treated as worth transcribing in the interactions they are intended to serve as documents of. By analysing these transcription practices it becomes clear that these organizations create huge amounts of audio-video "data" about their routine activities. One major difference between them is that the US military selectively transcribe this data (usually for the purposes of investigating incidents in which civilians might have been injured), whereas NASA's "transcription machinery" aims to capture as much of their mission-related interactions as is organizationally possible (i.e., within the physical limits and capacities of their radio communications systems). As such the paper adds to our understanding of transcription practices and how this is related to the internal working, accounting and transparency practices within different kinds of organization.
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Doing the Organizations Work
Transcription for All Practical
Governmental Purposes
Alex Holder
, Christopher Elsey
, Martina Kolanoski
*, Phillip Brooker
and Michael Mair
Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom,
Institute of Allied
Health Sciences Research, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom,
of Sociology, Goethe-University, Frankfurt, Germany
By comparing two distinct governmental organizations (the US military and NASA) this
paper unpacks two main issues. On the one hand, the paper examines the transcripts that
are produced as part of work activities in these worksites and what the transcripts reveal
about the organizations themselves. Additionally, the paper analyses what the transcripts
disclose about the practices involved in their creation and use for practical purposes in
these organizations. These organizations have been chosen as transcription forms a
routine part of how they operate as worksites. Further, the everyday working environments
in both organizations involve complex technological systems, as well as multi-party
interactions in which speakers are frequently spatially and visually separated. In order
to explicate these practices, the article draws on the transcription methods employed in
ethnomethodology and conversation analysis research as a comparative resource. In
these approaches audio-video data is transcribed in a ne-grained manner that captures
temporal aspects of talk, as well as how speech is delivered. Using these approaches to
transcription as an analytical device enables us to investigate when and why transcripts are
produced by the US military and NASA in the specic ways that they are, as well as what
exactly is being re-presented in the transcripts and thus what was treated as worth
transcribing in the interactions they are intended to serve as documents of. By analysing
these transcription practices it becomes clear that these organizations create huge
amounts of audio-video dataabout their routine activities. One major difference
between them is that the US military selectively transcribe this data (usually for the
purposes of investigating incidents in which civilians might have been injured), whereas
NASAstranscription machineryaims to capture as much of their mission-related
interactions as is organizationally possible (i.e., within the physical limits and capacities
of their radio communications systems). As such the paper adds to our understanding of
transcription practices and how this is related to the internal working, accounting and
transparency practices within different kinds of organization. The article also examines how
Edited by:
Helen Fraser,
The University of Melbourne, Australia
Reviewed by:
Ken Tann,
The University of Queensland,
Jenifer Ho,
City University of Hong Kong, Hong
Kong SAR, China
Martina Kolanoski
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Language Sciences,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Communication
Received: 18 October 2021
Accepted: 31 December 2021
Published: 02 February 2022
Holder A, Elsey C, Kolanoski M,
Brooker P and Mair M (2022) Doing the
Organizations WorkTranscription
for All Practical
Governmental Purposes.
Front. Commun. 6:797485.
doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2021.797485
Abbreviations: AR 15-6, Army Regulation (AR) 15-6 investigation; CA, Conversation Analysis; CCs, Capcoms; CDR,
Commander (NASA); DOD, Department of Defense (US); EM, Ethnomethodology; IO, Investigating Ofcer; JTAC, Joint
Terminal Attack Controller; LOS, Loss of signal; MQ-1B Predator, Armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance
remotely piloted aircraft or drone; NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration; mIRC, Military internet relay chat;
ODA, Operational Detachment Alpha; PLT, Pilot (NASA); SPT, Science Pilot (NASA).
Frontiers in Communication | February 2022 | Volume 6 | Article 7974851
published: 02 February 2022
doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2021.797485
the original transcripts have been used by researchers (and others) outside of the
organizations themselves for alternative purposes.
Keywords: military, NASA (national aeronautics and space administration), ethnomethodology and conversation
analysis, transcription, inquiries
This article compares two distinct governmental organizations
(the US military and NASA) as perspicuous worksites that
produce written transcripts as part of their routine work
activities and practices. It examines the transcription practices
of these organizations with respect to everyday working
environments made up of complex, multiple-party interactions
in which speakers are frequently spatially and visually separated
while engaged in collaborative work. These are technical
worksites with multiple communication channels open and in-
use to co-ordinate disparate and varied courses of action. How
these complexities are re-presented in the transcripts produced
provides researchers with a window into the priorities and
purposes of transcription, and the worktranscripts are
produced to do in terms of these organizationstasks. This
paper thus examines how transcription ts within the
accounting practices of the organizations and how these serve
various internal and external purposes. Above all, then, it is
interested in how transcripts make the practices they detail
accountablein Harold Garnkels terms (Garnkel, 1967:1),
that is, differently observable and reportable, in their specic
contexts of use. By attending to transcription practices in these
terms, it becomes possible to draw out lessons about the internal
working, accounting and transparency practices within different
kinds of organization. With our focus on transcription practices
in organizational contexts, this represents a particular kind of
study of work(Garnkel, 1986). To aid this comparative
exercise the transcription practices routinely used in
ethnomethodology and conversation analysis will be deployed
as an analytical device to consider decisions made about the level
of detail included in any given transcript and the consequences of
these decision-making processes.
1.1 Transcription: Theoretical Implications
As with all social scientic research methods and tools,
transcription is built upon a set of assumptions about the
social settings and practices under investigation. Whether in
academia or professional contexts, the work of transcription
always requires that a set of decisions be madeexplicitly
acknowledged or otherwisein accordance with the goals and
purposes of the work, the background understandings which
underpin it, and prior knowledge about transcribed interactions.
As Bucholtz (2000) argues, these decisions can be grouped into
two categories: interpretivedecisions concerning the content of
the transcription and representationaldecisions concerning the
form they take. In this regard, written transcripts are never
natural data, neutral imprints of the transcribed interaction,
but professional artifacts whose production is ultimately
contingent upon organization-specic ways of maintaining and
preserving what happened for the recordfor particular practical
The methodological research literature in this area has
suggested that transcription rarely receives the same level of
scrutiny and critique applied to research topics or data
collection processes, which are frequently the focus of
accusations of bias, subjectivity, selectivity, and so on
(Davidson, 2009). As Lapadat (2000) frames the issue,
transcription is too often treated as holding a mundane and
unproblematicposition in the research process, characterised as
being neutral, objective, and concerned solely with re-presenting
the spoken words presented in the original recorded data. In the
vast majority of cases, little to no effort is made to account for the
transcription practices which have been employed, with their
reliability usually taken for granted, a process in which the
contingencies of transcriptionare often hidden from view
(Davidson, 2009).
For those seeking to open those contingencies up, a key feature of
transcription is how original audio/visual data is converted into text
for analytical and practical purposes (Ochs, 1979;Duranti, 2006). As
Ochs (1979) has demonstrated, the very formatand re-
presentation of audio and/or video-recorded data directly impacts
how researchers and readers interpretthe communication
transcribed so that, in her eld for instance, talk between adults
and children is almost automatically compared to adult-adult
interactional practices. Likewise, seemingly trivial omissions of
spoken words can considerably shift the readersunderstanding
of the overall interaction and situation, as Bucholtz shows in a highly
consequential analysis of how transcription of a police interview can
impact legal proceedings and outcomes (Bucholtz, 2000). However,
when taking a practice-based view on transcripts, the work/act of
reading and interpreting a written transcript is just as important to
consider as the work/activities involved in producing the transcript.
Crucially, both activities are part of the organizational work of
accounting for and preserving organizational actions (Lynch and
Bogen, 1996). Just as presuppositions and organizational purposes
inuence the production of the transcripts, they also guide the use of
the transcripts, where the transcribed situations are woven into
broader narratives. In military-connected investigations these
narratives include legal assessments based on assumptions of
normal/regular soldierly work and the dening operational
context. For NASA, these narratives center on communicating
the signicance of their missions to domestic public and political
audiences as more or less direct stakeholders on whom future
funding depends, alongside underlining organizational
contributions to scientic and technical knowledge.
Transcription practices are, on the whole, then, opaque. A
notable exception in this regard, however, is the discipline of
conversation analysis, which, in its perennial focus on
transcription techniques and conventions, tends to be more
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Holder et al. Transcription for Practical Governmental Purposes
transparent with regards to the contingencies, challenges and
compromises which are an unavoidable feature of transcription
(section 2.2 for full details). Tellingly, for the current analysis,
when set against the example of conversation analysis, we nd
that the US military and NASA also do not explain their
transcription practices in any of the documents created. The
assumption is that the workof explicating the transcription
method is not necessary to the organizationsactual work.
However, one reason why these worksites represent
perspicuoussettings for comparison is because it is possible
to learn lessons from the complexitiesinherent in the
production of transcripts in technology-driven, spatially/
visually separated, multi-party interactions (Garnkel, 2002;
Davidson, 2009, 47). That is why, after some additional
background, we want to unpack what is involved below
(sections 3,4).
2.1 Overview of the Organizational Settings
2.1.1 The US Military
This paper draws together our ndings regarding the
transcription processes and practices employed by US military
personnel following a range of high-prole incidents and
accidents that led to the death and injury of civilians during
operations involving a combination of ground force and air force
units (e.g., planes, helicopters and drones). Table 1 provides an
overview of the key military incidents covered in this paper (listed
in chronological order of occurrence).
What unites these tragic incidents for the purposes of our
comparison is that they each resulted in formal internal
investigations, Army Regulation or AR 15-6s, and because
transcripts of both events were produced using the original
audio-visual recordings to capture the various parties speaking,
though by different parties in each case. Given the loss of civilian
life involved, these incidents achieved notoriety when the
incidents were eventually made public and thus require careful
scrutiny. How transcripts help in that regard is worth some
2.1.2 National Aeronautics and Space Administration
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is
an independent agency of the American government that
oversees the US national civilian space program as well as
aeronautics and space research activity. From their earliest
human-crewed spaceights, NASA have kept detailed Air-to-
Groundconversation transcripts covering every available
minute of communications throughout human-crewed
missions. These transcription practices mobilise a vast pool of
human resources in their productionfrom the crew and ground
teams themselves, to technical operators of radio/satellite
communications networks across Earth, to teams of
transcribers tasked with listening to the recorded
conversational data and putting them to paper. This makes it
all the more impressive that NASA have been consistently able to
TABLE 1 | Key features of two incidents involving US Military.
Feature of incident Baghdad airstrike, aka collateral murderUruzgan incident
Year 2007 2010
Location Baghdad, Iraq Uruzgan, Afghanistan
Casualties 11 civilian casualties (inc. 2 Reuters journalists), 2 children seriously
16-23 civilian deaths. Serious injury to men, women and children
Investigations AR 15-6 investigation of the incident (2007); Investigative work by
WikiLeaks (2010)
AR 15-6 investigation of the incident in general and Command
Directed Investigation into the conduct of the Predator drone crew
(both 2010)
Transcript and original record WikiLeaks leaked audio-video le (full and edited versions);
Transcript produced by WikiLeaks doesnt ascribe speakers
Transcripts of talk from Predator crew cockpit and Kiowa helicopter
cockpit produced as part of the original AR 15-6 Investigation
Who produced the transcript? Not transcribed by US military in 2007 US Military
When was it produced? Transcribed by WikiLeaks in 2010 2010. Report was complete within a couple of months of the
incident, though not publicly available until 2011
When/how was it made public? Uploaded onto the Collateral Murder webpage with leaked video of
incident in 2010
Freedom of information requests by the Los Angeles Times and
American Civil Liberties Union. Released to the public in April 2011
Purpose of the transcripts
production (if known)
Sub-titling To provide an account of what happened during the incident.
To provide an evidentiary basis for claims made in the AR15-6
reports. The transcripts were also used during interviews with those
Part of dossier of evidencereleased by WikiLeaks
Redactions present? N/A Minor redactions for the purpose of censoring swearing, preserving
anonymity of those involved, and obscuring the names of certain
technologies and procedures
Author publications Mair et al. (2016),Elsey et al. (2018) Holder et al. (2018),Holder (2020)
Frontiers in Communication | February 2022 | Volume 6 | Article 7974853
Holder et al. Transcription for Practical Governmental Purposes
produce such transcripts within approximately 1 day of the talk
on which they were based. Even with NASAs Skylab
programAmericasrst space station, which was occupied by
nine astronauts throughout the early 1970sit was possible to
record and transcribe every available minute of talk occurring
when the vehicle was in range of a communications station,
amounting to approximately 246,240 min of audio and many
thousands of pages of typed transcripts. Though granular detail is
difcult to acquire, the annual NASA budget indicates the size of
the enterprise, with the mid-Apollo peak of close to $60 billion
levelling out to between $18 billion and $25 billion since the 1970s
to today (between 0.5 and 1% of all U.S. government public
spending) (Planetary Society, 2021). Just why such a huge
transcribing machine has been constructed and put to work as
part of that effort remains, however, curiously unclear.
Ostensibly, the transcripts capture talk for various purposes: to
support journalistic reportage of missions, as a kind of telemetry
that allows a ground team to learn more about space missions in
operation, for its scientic functions (e.g., astronaut crews
reporting experimental results) and as a matter of historical
preservation. Yet as these transcripts are not drawn on in their
fullness for any of these purposes, an exploration of the
transcripts themselves is required to learn more about their
practical organizational relevance.
2.2 Jefferson Transcription Conventions as
Analytical Tools
This study is informed by the principles and practices of
ethnomethodology (hereafter EM) and conversation analysis
(hereafter CA). These sociological traditions have had an
enduring connection with transcription practices and processes
as a matter of practical and analytical interest. Given their
preoccupation with them, how transcripts t into these
academic enterprises is worth exploring.
In outlining what gave CA its distinctive creative spark,
Harvey Sacks (1984: 25-6, our emphasis) suggested CAs novel
approach to sociology needed to be understood in the
following way:
[This kind of] research is about conversation only in
this incidental way: that conversation is something that
we can get the actual happenings of on tape and that we
can get more or less transcribed; that is, conversation is
something to begin with.
Yet despite this emphasis on transcripts as something to
begin analytical investigations with, for researchers working
in these areas the re-production and re-presentation of audio/
visual data has, in part, also been a technical issue. While it
was Sacks who instigated the focus on conversations as data, it
was Gail Jefferson who worked to develop and revise
transcription techniques and conventions that reected the
original recordings as closely as possible (Schegloff 1995;
Jefferson, 2015). The now established Jeffersonian
transcription conventions were designed to capture the
temporal or sequential aspects of talk (e.g., overlap, length
of pauses, latched utterances) and the delivery of the
utterances (e.g., stretched talk/cut-off talk, emphasis/
volume, intonation, laughter). For analysts in these elds,
transcripts were intended to re-present the original
recordings as accurately as possible in order for the
resulting analysis to be open to scrutiny by the reader,
even if the recording was not available.
In this paper, we use these same transcription techniques as
an analytical resource to investigate the transcription practices
of a specic set of organizational and institutional settings.
Unusually compared with those transcribing verbatim,
routinely document the transcription procedures and
processes applied to any given dataset (audio and/or video).
partially, to recover the sense-making and reasoning practices
which shaped how transcripts were produced and to what ends
in the organizations we examine. A key issue we will take up in
this paper is why a specic transcript was created and
disseminated in a particular form, something which, we will
argue, the transcript itself as an organizational artifact gives us
insight into.
Using transcription conventions as an analytical device and
method allows researchers to explore the following issues
(Davidson, 2009:47):
What is included in a transcript?
What is considered pertinent? What is missing (e.g., speaker
identiers and utterance designations)?
What is deliberately missing or omitted?
What is/was the purpose/use of the transcript?
When was it originally produced?
What is the wider context of the transcripts production and
release (e.g., legal/quasi-legal inquiry, inquest, leak)?
Who is/was the intended audience?
Is the original recording available? Is the transcript an aid to
follow the audio/video or intended to replace it?
These research questions will be applied to the transcription
practices in two contrasting work contexts, namely US military
investigative procedures and the documentary work of space
agencies, in order to provide a window into these settings and
to explore issues of record-keeping, self-assessment and
accountability. These organizationstranscription practices
are compared as they adopt different approaches as to what
is transcribed and when. For instance, whereas, NASA
operates a completistapproach to transcription (i.e., with
a setup for recording and transcribing all interactions relating
to day-to-day space activities within the limits of the physical
capacity of their communication setups), the US military
audio/video record all missions conducted, but only
selectively transcribe when there is a military incident
requiring formal investigation. This is an important
distinction as it speaks to the motives for transcribing and
the practical purposes that transcripts are used for. The
relevance of this distinction and its implications will be
unpacked below.
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Holder et al. Transcription for Practical Governmental Purposes
In this section of the paper we outline how and why the US
military and NASA use the datathey collect as part of their
work. It will also unpack how this data is re-presented, what is
transcribed and the transcription practices that are recoverable
from transcripts as artifacts alongside their uses within these
3.1 US Military AR 15-6 Investigations
All airborne military missions and a growing number of ground
missions are routinely audio-video recorded. Alongside training
and operations reviews, this is done for the purposes of
retrospectively collecting evidence in case of the reporting of
incidents that occur during operations. As outlined above, such
incidents include actions resulting in the injury or death of
civilians. However, it is normally only when an incident is
declared and a formal internal inquiry is organized that the
audio-video recording will be scrutinized for the purposes of
producing a transcript. Fundamental differences between the
cases we have previously analysed become apparent at this
stage. First, not all types of inquiries require transcripts for
their investigative work. Depending on the objective, scope
and purpose of the investigation, the recorded talk may be
treated as more (or less) sufcient on its own. Secondly, the
transcripts produced can, at times, be made available either as a
substitute for the original audio-video data or as a supplement to
it. To demonstrate the relevance of these issues, we will examine
two cases in which transcription was approached in divergent
ways. By describing, explicating and scrutinizing the
transcription practices used in each case, we can contrast the
workthese practices accomplish. The analysis in this section
focuses on the Uruzgan incident as it provides documentary
evidence of transcription practices in conjunction with how
military investigators read, interpret, and use transcripts as
part of their internal accounting practices. The Collateral
Murdercase will be taken up more fully in sections 3.1.2,4.2.
3.1.1 The Uruzgan Incident
The Uruzgan incident, which took place in Afghanistan in 2010,
was the result of a joint US Air Force and US Army operation in
which a special forces team, or Operational Detachment Alpha
(ODA), were tasked with nding and destroying an improvised
explosive device factory in a small village in Uruzgan province.
Upon arriving in the village, however, the ODA discovered that
the village was deserted. Intercepted communications revealed
that a Taliban force had been awaiting the arrival of US forces and
were preparing to attack the village under cover of darkness. As
the situation on the ground became clearer, three vehicles were
identied travelling towards the village from the north, and an
unmanned MQ-1 Predator drone crew were tasked with
uncovering evidence that these vehicles were a hostile force
and thus could be engaged in compliance with the rules of
engagement. In communication with the ODAs Joint
Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC)the individual
responsible for coordinating aircraft from the groundthe
Predator crew surveilled the vehicles for well over 3 hours as
they drove through the night and early morning. Despite their
journey having taken the vehicles away from the special forces
team for the vast majority of this period, the vehicles were
eventually engaged and destroyed by a Kiowa helicopter team
at the request of the ODA commander. It did not take long for the
reality of the situation to become clear. Within 6 minutes the rst
call was made that women had been seen nearby the wreckage,
and within 25 min the rst children were identied. The vehicles
had not been carrying a Taliban force. In fact, the passengers were
a group of civilians seeking safety in numbers as they drove
through a dangerous part of the country. Initial estimates claimed
that as many as 23 civilians had been killed in the strike, though
subsequent investigations by the US would conclude there had
been between fteen and sixteen civilian casualties. Though
investigations into what took place identied numerous
shortcomings in the conduct of those involved in the incident,
the strike was ultimately deemed to have been compliant with the
US rules of engagement and, by extension, the laws of war. The Role of Transcripts in Investigations of the
Uruzgan Incident
In this rst section of analysis, we will approach the investigative
procedures which took place following the Uruzgan incident,
identifying the ways in which investigators made use of
transcripts in order to: re-construct the ner details of what
unfolded; make assessments of the conduct of those involved in
the incident; make explanatory claims about the incidents causes;
and, nally, contest the adequacy and relevance of other accounts
of the incident. The Uruzgan incident is distinctive as a military
incident because of the vast body of documentation which
surrounds it. There are two publicly available investigations
into the incident which not only provide access to the details
of the operation itself, but also make visible the US armed forces
mechanisms of self-assessment in response to a major civilian
casualty incident. The analysis will exhibit how the three
transcripts that were produced following the incident were
employed within the two publicly available investigations in
order to achieve different conclusions.
The rst investigation to be conducted into the Uruzgan
incident was an Army Regulation (AR) 15-6 investigation
(United States Central Command, 2010). AR 15-6
investigations are a type of administrative (as opposed to
judicial) investigation conducted internally to the US armed
forces concerning the conduct of its personnel. Principally, AR
15-6 investigations are structured as fact-nding procedures, with
investigating ofcers being appointed with the primary role of
investigating the facts/circumstancessurrounding an incident
(Department of the Army, 2016: 10). In order to tailor specic
investigations to the details of each case, the appointing letter by
which a lead investigator is selected includes a series of requests
for information. AR 15-6 investigations are intended to serve as
what Lynch and Bogen might call the master narrativeof
military incidents, providing a plain and practical versionof
events that is rapidly and progressively disseminated through a
relevant community(1996: 71). Within this process AR 15-6s
represent initial investigations that are routinely conducted where
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Holder et al. Transcription for Practical Governmental Purposes
possible mistakes or problems have arisen (see the Collateral
Murder analysis in sections 3.1.2,4.2 for another example).
The task of conducting the AR 15-6 investigation into the
Uruzgan incident was given to Major General Timothy P.
McHale, whose appointing letter stated that he must structure
his report as a response to 15 specic requests for information
listed from a-t. These questions included:
1) what were the facts and circumstances of the incident (the 5
Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why)?
2) was the use of force in accordance with the Rules of
Engagement (ROE)?,
3) what intelligence, if any, did the ring unit receive that may
have led them to believe the vans were hostile?(United States
Central Command, 2010:1415)
In producing responses to these requests, the appointing
letter clearly stated that McHalesndings must be supported
by a preponderance of the evidence(United States Central
Command, 2010: 16). In accumulating evidence during the AR
15-6 investigation, McHale travelled to Afghanistan to
conduct interviews with US personnel, victims of the
incident, village elders, members of local security groups,
and others. He reviewed an extensive array of documents
relating to the incident, including personnel reports, battle
damage assessments, intelligence reports, and medical records
alongside the video footage from aerial assets involved in the
operation. Crucially, he also analyzed transcripts of
communications that were recorded during the incident. In
this way, it can be said that McHales investigative procedures
were demonstrative of concerns similar to those of any
individual tasked with producing an account of an historical
event. That is, he sought to use records as sources of data...
which permit inferences...about the real world(Raffel, 1979:
12). Transcripts of recordings produced during the incident
were central among McHales sources of data and, before
making assessments of the character of their use in the AR
15-6, it is necessary to introduce the three different transcripts
to which McHale refers in the course of his report: the
Predator, Kiowa and mIRC Transcripts.
The rst transcript, which will be referred to as the
Predator transcript, was produced using recordings from
the Predator drone crews cockpit. This transcript documents
over four of hours of talk and includes almost a dozen
individuals. That said, as the recordings were made in the
Predator crews cockpit, the bulk of the talk takes place
between the three crew members who are co-located in
Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The crew includes the
pilot, the mission intelligence coordinator (also known as
MC/MIC), and the camera operator (also known as sensor).
Though the conversations presented in this transcript cover a
diversity of topics, they are broadly unied by a shared
concern for ensuring that the desired strike on the three
vehicles could be conducted in compliance with the rules of
engagement. This involved, but was not limited to, efforts to
identify weapons onboard the vehicles, efforts to assess the
demographics of the vehiclespassengers, and efforts to assess
the direction, character, and destination of the vehicles
movements. In terms of format, the Predator transcript is
relatively simplecontaining little information beyond the
utterances themselves, the speakers, and the timing of
utterancesthough the communications themselves are
extremely well preserved as Figure 1 shows.
The second transcript is the Kiowa transcript. As above, this
document was produced using recordings from the cockpit of one
of the Kiowa helicopters which conducted the strike. This
document is far more restricted than the Predator transcript
in several important ways. For one thing it is far shorter, around
six pages, and largely documents the period immediately
surrounding the strike itself. There are far fewer speakers, with
only two members of the Kiowa helicopter crew, the JTAC, and
some unknown individuals being presented in the document.
Additionally, the subject matter of the talk presented is far more
focused, almost exclusively concerning the work of locating and
destroying the three vehicles. In terms of transcription
conventions, the Kiowa transcript is far more rudimentary
than the Predator transcript, crucially lacking the timing of
utterances andin the publicly available versionthe
identication of speakers (see WikiLeaksCollateral Murder
transcript in sections 3.1.2,4.2 for comparison). As such, the
transcript offers a series of utterances separated by paragraph
breaks which do not necessarily signify a change of speaker, as
exhibited in Figure 2.
Though the Kiowa transcript presents signicant analytic
challenges in terms of accessing the details of the incident, our
present concern lies in the ways in which this transcript was used
in McHales AR 15-6 report, and as such the opacity of its
contents constitutes a secondary concern in the context of
this paper.
Where the Kiowa transcript is opaque, the nal transcript to
which McHale refers in the AR 15-6 report is almost entirely
inaccessible. That transcript, known as the mIRC transcript,is
constituted by the record of typed chatroom messages sent
between the Predator crew and a team of image analysts,
known as screeners, who were reviewing the Predators
video feed in real time from bases in different parts of the US.
mIRC(or military internet relay chat) communications are
text-based messages sent in secure digital chatrooms which are
used to distribute information across the US intelligence
apparatus. Excepting some small fragments the mIRC
transcripts in the AR 15-6 report are entirely classied, and as
such, the only means of accessing their contents is through their
quotation in the course of the AR 15-6 report. As it happens,
McHale frequently makes reference to the contents of the mIRC
transcript because, as we shall see, he considers faulty
communications between the image analysts and the Predator
crew to have played a causal role in the incident.
Though the transcripts which are present in the Uruzgan
incidents AR 15-6 investigation each,indifferentways,fall
short of the standards established by the Jeffersonian
transcription conventions, the following sections will identify
three ways in which investigators made use of transcripts in
order to make, substantiate, and contest claims about what
took place.
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Holder et al. Transcription for Practical Governmental Purposes Three Uses of the Kiowa, Predator and mIRC
The rst and most straightforward manner in which transcripts
were used in the AR 15-6 investigation was as a means of
reconstructing the minutia of the incident. This usage of the
transcript is most straightforwardly evident in the response to the
request number 2 of the appointing letter, which asked that
McHale describe in specic detail the circumstances of how
the incident took place. In response to this question McHale
provides something akin to a timeline of eventsthough not a
straightforward one. It does not contain any explicitly normative
assessments of the activities it describes and makes extensive
reference to various documentary materials which were
associated with the incident, including both the Kiowa and the
Predator transcripts. In the following excerpt, McHale uses the
Kiowa transcript to provide a detailed account of the period
during which the strike took place:
The third missile struck immediately in front of the
middle vehicle, disabling it. After the occupants of the
second vehicle exited, the rockets were red at the
people running from the scene referred to as
squirters; however, the rockets did not hit any of
the targets. (Kiowa Radio Trafc, Book 2, Exhibit CC).
The females appeared to be waving a scarf or a part of
the burqas. (Kiowa Radio Trafc, Book 2. Exhibit CC).
The OH-58Ds immediately ceased engagement, and
reported the possible presence of females to the
JTAC. (Kiowa Radio Trafc, Book 2, Exhibit CC).
(United States Central Command, 2010: 24).
Passages such as this are a testament to the ability of the US
military to produce vast quantities of information regarding
events which only become signicant in retrospect. Though
the fact that every word spoken by the Kiowa and Predator
crews was recorded is a tiny feat in the context of the US militarys
colossal data management enterprise (Lindsay, 2020), McHales
ability to reconstruct the moment-by-moment unfolding of the
Uruzgan incident remains noteworthy. Where the task of
establishing the facts and circumstances of the incidentis
concerned, the transcripts provide McHale with a concrete
resource by which what happenedcan be well established,
FIGURE 1 | Excerpt from the Predator transcript.
FIGURE 2 | Excerpt from the Kiowa transcript.
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and the AR 15-6s status as a master narrativecan be secured.
As we shall see, however, in those parts of the report where
McHale proceeds beyond descriptive accounts of what took place,
and into causal assessments of why the Uruzgan incident
happened, allowing the transcript to speak for itselfis no
longer sufcient. As such, the second relevant reading of the
transcripts in the AR 15-6 report was as an evidentiary basis by
which causal claims could be substantiated.
Though McHales AR 15-6 report identied four major causes
for the incident, our focus here will be upon his assertion that
predator crew actionsplayed a critical role in the incidents
tragic outcome. The following excerpt is provided in response to
the appointing letters request that McHale establish the facts
and circumstances surrounding the incident (5 Ws):
The predator crew made or changed key assessments
to the ODA (commander) that inuenced the decision
to destroy the vehicles. The Predator crew has neither
the training nor the tactical expertise to make these
assessments. First, at 0517D, the Predator crew
described the actions of the passengers of the vehicles
as tactical maneuvering. At that point, the screeners
located in Hurlburt eld described the movement as
adult males, standing or sitting [(redacted) Log, book 5,
Exhibit X, page 2]. At the time of the strike tactical
maneuveris listed by the ODA Joint Tactical Air
Controller (JTAC), as one of the elements making
the vehicle a proper target [(Redacted) Logbook 5,
Exhibit T, page 57(United States Central
Command, 2010: 21-22).
In this section, the citation of [(redacted) Log, Book 5, Exhibit X,
page 2]is a reference to the mIRC transcript. As such, though it is
not explicitly stated, the communications at 0517D took the form of
typed messages between the Predator crew and the Florida-based
image analysts
. It should be immediately clear that this passage is of
a different character to our previous excerpt. Most notably, the
assertion of a causal relation between the Predator crews
assessments of the vehiclesmovements and the commanders
decision to authorize the strike is rooted in McHalesown
interpretation of events. In line with the appointing letters
requestthatMcHales assertion be based upon a preponderance
of the evidence,McHaleseekstousethemIRCtranscriptto
substantiate that claim as this section proceeds.
As a rst step towards doing so, McHale sets up a contrast
between the Predator crews assessment that the vehicles were
engaged in tactical maneuveringand the image analysts
apparently contradictory assessment that there were adult
males, standing or sitting. In establishing the incongruity
between these conicting assessments, McHale presents
tactical maneuvering as a contestable description that the
Predator crew put forward without the requisite training or
tactical expertise. As McHale proceeds, he proposes a link
between the Predator crews use of the term and its
appearance in the JTACs written justication for the strike. In
this way, McHale not only makes use of the transcript as a
mechanism by which assessments of the Predator crews
inadequate conduct could be made, but also as a means by
which a causal relationship between the Predator crews
actions and the incidents outcome could be empirically
established. As we shall see, however, assessments which are
secured by reference to the record of what took place ultimately
open to contestation, and McHales own analysis in this regard
would be open to criticism from elsewhere.
Following the completion of the AR 15-6 investigation,
McHale recommended that a Command Directed
Investigation be undertaken to further examine the role of the
Predator crew in the incident. This was undertaken by Brigadier
General Robert P. Otto. At that time Otto was the Director of
Surveillance and Reconnaissance in the US Air Force and, in
Ottos own words, the investigation took a clean sheet of paper
approachto the Predator crews involvement in the operation
(Department of the Air Force, 2010: 34). Despite McHales initial
ndings, Ottos commentary on the incident resulted in a
different assessment of the adequacy and operational
signicance of the Predator crews actions. One particularly
notable example concerns McHales criticism of the Predator
crews use of the term tactical maneuvering. Otto writes:
The ground force commander cited tactical
maneuvering with (intercepted communications)
chatter as one of the reasons he felt there was an
imminent threat ... Tactical maneuvering was
identied twice before Kirk 97 began tracking the
vehicles. Although not specically trained to identify
tactical maneuvering, Kirk 97 twice assessed it early in
the incident sequence. However, for 3 hours after Kirk
97s last mention of tactical maneuvering, the
(commander) got frequent reports on convoy
composition, disposition, and general posture (...)I
conclude that Kirk 97s improper assessment of tactical
maneuvering was only a minor factor in the nal
declaration.(Department of the Air Force, 2010: 36)
In this passage, McHales causal claim regarding the
signicance of the Predator crews reference to tactical
maneuvering is rejected, initially on the grounds that the
Predator crew were not responsible for introducing the
concept. As Otto observes, Tactical maneuvering was
identied twice before Kirk 97 began tracking the vehicles
(ibid.). Interestingly, this counter-analysis charges McHale
with having straightforwardly misread the record of what took
place. Recall that McHales analysis of the term tactical
maneuvering cited the mIRC transcript as evidence of the
Predator crews shortcomings without making any reference to
the Predator transcript. As Otto observes, analysis of the Predator
transcript reveals that the rst reference to tactical maneuvering
took place at 0,503, where the term was used by the JTAC himself.
With this being the case, McHales causal claim regarding the
For clarity, it is worth noting that the Predator crew made a radio call to the JTAC
identifying the vehiclestactical maneuvering at 0,512, just a couple of minutes
before the mIRC message to which McHale refers was sent.
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Predator crews characterization of the vehiclesmovements as
tactical maneuvering is problematic and signicantly weakened.
This is not the end of Ottos criticism, however. As the passage
goes on, Otto also rejects the McHale account as having
overstated the operational relevance of the Predator crews
reference to tactical maneuvering. Though Otto doesnt cite
the Predator transcript explicitly, he notes that in the hours
following the nal use of the term the crew routinely provided
detailed accounts of the composition, disposition, and general
posture(ibid.) of the vehicles. The proposal here is that by the
time the strike took place, so much had been said about the
vehicles and their movements that the reference to tactical
maneuvering hours previously was unlikely to have been a
crucial element in the strikes justication. Again, Ottos
criticism is rooted in an accusation that McHales account
misinterprets what the transcript reveals about the Uruzgan
incident. On this occasion, it was not a misreading which led
to error, rather it was a failure to appreciate the ways in which
transcripts warp the chronology of events. There is a lesson to be
learned here: though transcripts effectively preserve the details of
talk, they do not provide instructions for assessing their relevance.
The relevance of particular utterances within broader courses of
action depends upon a considerable amount of contextualizing
information, as well as the place of that utterance within an on-
going sequence of talk. Of course, Otto does not articulate
McHales error in these termshe has no reason tobut his
critical engagement with McHales analysis has clear corollaries
with conversation analytic considerations when working with
3.1.2 Investigations Without Transcripts: The
Collateral Murder Case
Not all military investigations seek to use transcripts as the
primary means by which the details of what took place can be
accessed. The Collateral Murdercaseso named following the
infamous Wikileaks publication of video footage from the
incident under that nametook place in 2007 and involved
the killing of 11 civilians, of whom two were Reuters
journalists, following a US strike conducted by a team of two
Apache helicopters (Reuters Staff, 2007;Rubin, 2007). It took
3 years for the incident to make its way to the public eye. On
April 5th, 2010, Wikileaks published a 39-min video depicting
the gunsight footage from one of the Apache helicopters
involved in the strike. As with the Uruzgan incident, the
collateral murder case had been the subject of an AR 15-6
investigation soon after the incident, but the investigations
resulting report was not made publicly available until the day
the WikiLeaks video was published. Once again, the
investigation declared that the strike had taken place in
compliance with the laws of war, though it was not nearly so
critical of the conduct of those involved as McHalesaccountof
the Uruzgan incident had been.
Based on the completed report, we are able to ascertain what
evidence was gathered in support of the investigation
(Investigating Ofcer 2nd Brigade Combat Team 2nd
Infantry Division, 2007). Fundamentally, the Investigating
Ofcer (IO) drew on two main forms of evidence: witness
testimony from the US personnel involved and the Apache
video footage, which was utilized by the IO to produce a timeline
of what happened on the day (Figure 3 below). No transcript
was produced in support of the investigation. As such, the
report displays the ways in which visual materials were used in
combination with after the fact interviews to establish how the
incident had unfolded.
Instead of making use of a transcript to reconstruct the details of
the incident, the IO decided that the combination of timestamps
(actual time, taken from the video recording), still images taken
from the video (displayed as exhibits in the appendices with IO
annotations) and visual descriptions of the action taken from the
video could be compiled into a sequence of eventsor timeline
covering those actions deemed to constitute the incident. This
offers a neat contrast with Sacksunderstanding of the analytic
value of transcription. For Sacks, in depth transcriptions allowed
interaction to be closely examined, forming as agood enough
record of what happenedin real-time interactions (Sacks 1984,
25-6). Transcription would become a consistent feature of CA but
FIGURE 3 | Redacted extract from the US military AR 15-16 investigation (Iraq, July 12, 2007).
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Holder et al. Transcription for Practical Governmental Purposes
not, as we see here, a consistent feature of US military
investigations which have various other ways of arriving at a
good enough recordfor their own analytic purposes.
An example of the alternative pairingof evidence and
reporting is provided in the extracts from the ofcial report
(Figure 4).
FIGURE 4 | (A) and (B) Paired extracts from the US military AR 15-16 investigation (Iraq, July 12, 2007). (C) Exhibit A Photofrom the US military AR 15-16
investigation (Iraq, 12 July 2007).
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The report itself was fairly brief (amounting to 43 pages), and
in its course the IO was able to identify the primary features of the
incident, all without a transcript. Using the kinds of materials
outlined above, the IO was able to provide an adequate account of
the mission objectives, who was killed and their status (as either
civilian or combatants), and how/why the Reuters journalists
were misidentied (i.e., their large cameras could/were
reasonably mistaken for RPGs, there were no known
journalists in the area, etc.). Within the understood scope of
the AR 15-6s administrative parameters and functions, a
transcript was not, therefore, required.
The evidence from the witness testimony and the video recording
was deemed sufcient to ascertain that the troops had come under
re from a company of armed insurgentsthe Reuters journalists
were said to be moving around with. The identities of the journalists
were later veried in the report (via the presence of their cameras,
the photographic evidence on the memory cards, and the recovered
press identication badges from the bodies). Despite this, the
conduct of the US military personnel (Apache crews and ground
forces) was given the all-clear by the report (see Figure 5 below):
Thus, whilst both the Uruzgan incident and the collateral
murder case were deemed legal by their respective
investigations, their conclusions differ signicantly insofar as
the AR 15-6 for the collateral murder case does not identify
shortcomings in the conduct of the US personnel involved. In
our analysis of the AR 15-6 investigation into the Uruzgan
incident, we have clearly demonstrated that McHales(and
subsequently Ottos) assessments of the incident were, to a large
extent, pre-occupied with the adequacy of the conduct of those
involved. We would here propose that the documentary materials
used to reconstruct the facts and circumstances of the incident are
reective of this pre-occupationwith transcripts of talk being
treated as a primary means of reconstructing what had taken place
in one case but deemed to be superuous in the latter case.
Even in relation to one of the most seemingly egregious aspects
of the incident, the injuries to the two young children, the report
concluded that their presence could not have been expected,
anticipated or known as they were not known to the Apache
crews and could not be identied on the videothe Apaches
means of accessing the scene below themprior to contact.
Beyond a short, redacted set of recommendations, these
conclusions meant the incident was not deemed sufciently
troublesome to require a more formal legal investigation of the
kind that would have generated a transcript.
Having presented two contrasting cases of the use of
transcripts with US military AR 15-6 investigations, we will
now turn to our other institutional setting, namely NASAs
Skylab Program.
3.2 NASAs Skylab Program
As noted previously in section 2.1.2, the transcription
machinery of NASA that was deployed in the service of
their Skylab program forms an extraordinarily large
collective effort to meet the needs of NASAsrst long-
duration missions. NASAs Skylab space station was
launched in May 1973, and was occupied on a near-
continuous basis for 171 days until February 1974,
producing (amongst its scientic achievements) 246,240 min
of audio, all of which was transcribed and archived as a legacy
of the program. Elaborating the justication for and purpose of
such vast collaborative labor inevitably involves tracing
NASAs transcription practices back to Skylabs
predecessors; NASAsmajorhumanspaceight programs
Mercury (19581963), Gemini (19611966) and Apollo
The Mercury program was NASAs early platform for
researching the initial possibility (technical and biological)
of human-crewed orbital spaceight, hosting a single pilot for
missions lasting from just over 15 min to approximately 18 h.
Once it was proven that a vessel could be successfully piloted
into low Earth orbit and sustain human life there, the Gemini
program extended NASAs reach by building craft for two-
person crews that could be used to develop human spaceight
capabilities furtherfor instance, Gemini oversaw the rst
EVA (extra-vehicular activity, i.e., a spacewalkoutside of a
craft) by an American, the rst successful rendezvous and
docking between two spacecraft, and testing if human bodies
could survive long duration zero gravity conditions for up to
14 days. Building on the successes of Gemini, Apollos
goalfamouslywas to transport three-person crews to
the Moon, orbit and land on the Moon, undertake various
EVA tasks and return safely to Earth, and Apollo mission
durations ranged from 6 to just over 12 days. For all three
programsdue to the relatively short duration of individual
missions and the experimental nature of the missions
themselvesnot only were spaceight technical systems
tested, so were auxiliary concerns such as food and water
provision, ease of use of equipment, various measures of crew
FIGURE 5 | ConclusionsExtract from the US military AR 15-16 investigation (Iraq, July 12, 2007).
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health and wellbeing, etc., and all possible communications
were tape-recorded and transcribed
communications with an astronaut crew ying a mission were
vital for monitoring health, vehicles and performance, the
transcriptions of talk between astronauts and mission control
has a different functionthey stand as a more or less full
record of signicant historical moments for journalistic
purposes, but also a record of source data for the various
experiments that were built into these missions.
The Skylab transcription machine of the 1970s might then be
seen as a direct continuation of a system that had already worked to
great effect for NASA since the late 1950s. Despite the obvious
differences between Skylab and its predecessor programsfar
longer duration missions (up to 84 days) and a different
substantive focus (laboratory-based scienticexperimentation)
Skylab sought to implement a tried-and-tested transcription
machinery without questioning its need or purpose in this
markedly new context. There are seemingly two interrelated
reasons for this: rst, NASAs achievements were iteratively
built on risk aversion (as the adage goes, if it aintbroke,dont
xit)(Newell, 1980;Hitt et al., 2008), and second, that in the
scientic terms under which Skylab was designed and managed
(Compton and Benson, 1983;Hitt et al., 2008) the matter becomes
one of merely scaling up a variable (e.g., mission duration) as a
technically-achievable and predictable phenomenon rather than
being seen as an opportunity or need to revisit the social
organization of NASA itself. To some degree, producing full
supplementary transcriptions did serve some purposes for
Skylab, where mission activities aligned with those of earlier
programsfor instance, in scientic work where crews could
verbally report such experimental metadata as camera settings
which could then be transcribed and linked to actual frames of lm
when a mission had returned its scientic cache to Earth upon re-
entry, or where various daily medical measurements could be read
down verbally from crew to ground to be transcribed and passed
along to the ight surgeon teams. For these kinds of activities,
having a timestamped transcript to recover such details post-
mission was useful. However, given the longer duration of
Skylab missions generally, and the intention for those missions
to help routinise the notion of Living and Working in Space(cf.
Brooker, forthcoming;Froehlich, 1971;Compton and Benson,
1983), much was also transcribed that seemingly serves very
little purposefor instance, regularly-occurring humdrum
procedural matters such as morning wake-up calls, and calls
with no dened objective other than keeping a line open
between ground and crew.
It is perhaps useful at this point to introduce excerpts of
transcriptions that illuminate the ends to which such an
enormous collaborative transcribing effort was put, and to
provide further detail on just what is recorded and how. The
transcripts that follow are selected to represent relevant aspects of
the Skylab 4 mission specically [as this forms the basis of
ongoing research covering various aspects of Skylab (Brooker
and Sharrock, forthcoming)], reecting 1) a moment of scientic
data capture (Figure 6), and 2) a moment where nothing
especially signicant happens (see Figure 7)
. Timestamps are
given in the format Day-of-Year: Hour: Minute: Second, and
speakers are denoted by their role prole: CDR is Commander
Gerald Carr, PLT is Pilot William Pogue, SPT is Science-Pilot Ed
Gibson, and the CCs are CapComs Henry HankHartseld Jr
and Franklin Story Musgrave
Figure 6 commences with a call at 333 16 01 56 with CC
announcing their presence, which communications relay they
are transmitting through, and the time they will be available
before the next loss of signal (LOS) (Skylab, Houston through
Ascension for 7 min), and closes at 333 16 08 11 with CC
announcing the imminent loss of signal and timings for the
next call. In the intervening 7 min, SPT and CDR take turns at
reporting the progress of their current, recent and future
experimental work in what proves to be a tightly-packed call
with several features to attend to here. Immediately, SPT takes
an opportunity to report on an ongoing experiment (e.g.,
Hello, hank. S054 has got their 256 exposure and now Im
sitting in their are wait mode of PICTURE RATE, HIGH, and
EXPOSURE, 64. I believe thatswhattheyre [the scientists in
charge of experiment S054] after.). This report delivers key
salient metadatathe experiment designation (S054), and
various details pertaining to camera settings. In the
transcript, these salient details are all the more visible for
being typed out in all-caps; strategically a useful visual
marker for science teams on the ground seeking to identify
their metadata from transcripts replete with all manner of
information. That it is SPT delivering this information is
also important, as it is he who was designated to perform
this particular experiment on this particular day (another clue
for transcript readers seeking to gather details of a particular
experiment post-hoc)this provides for specic timestamps to
be catalogued by ground-based science teams according to their
relevance to any given scientictask.
CC then (333 16 03 36) requests a report from CDR on a
recently-completed photography activity, and CDR and CC are
able to both talk about the live continuation of that activity (e.g.,
instruction to use a particular headset in future as opposed to
malfunctioning microphones) as well as record, for the benet
It was not necessarily the case that astronaut crews were in contact with ground
control for every minute of a Mercury, Gemini or Apollo mission, owing to the
nature of the radio communications used at the time and the network of relay
stations that NASA could use to facilitate transmissions. But missions could be
planned to maximise time in communication range even for Apollo where
astronauts ew almost 250,000 miles away from Earth, meaning that
acquisitions and losses of signal were a known and predictable occurrence
around which interactions between astronauts and ground control could be
organized, even in emergency scenarios (cf. Brooker and Sharrock, forthcoming).
As it is impossible to pick out a typicaltranscript from the vast expanse of
Skylabs timespan and range of tasks, these transcripts have been more or less
arbitrarily selected. However, they will nonetheless illuminate NASAs
transcription machine in different ways and are as such useful points of reference.
The CapCom (Capsule Communicator) is a ground-based role normally taken by
a member of the astronaut corps, such that mission control have a single designated
contact with an astronaut crew, through which communications can be relayed
(though the CapCom role rotates through personnel in 8-h shifts).
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of the eventual transcript, CDRsevaluationoftheperformance
of that activity to complement what will eventually be seen on
lm (e.g. I did not see the laser at all. I couldntnd it, so I just
took two 300-mm desperation shots on the general area, hoping
that itll show up on lm.). In this call, SPT also proposes a
suggestion on undertaking a continuation of his current
FIGURE 6 | NASA excerpt 1scientic reporting on skylab.
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experiment (333 16 04 48)again, this serves a live function in
terms of providing details that CC can pass on to relevant
ground teams (mission control and scientic investigators)
for consideration, but also records specic parameters that
SPT intends to use in that experiment for the transcript (e.g.
I think the persistent image scope, as long as you keep your eye
on it, will work real well. Imabletoseefourorve different
bright points in the active regions of 87, 80, 89 and 92 or may be
even an emerging ux region.). On this latter reporting,
SPT also notes an intention to putsomemoredetailson
this on the tape (which records ofinenotes that can be
reviewed and transcribed at a later point),agging for the
transcript that a future section of the transcribed tape
recordingsanother set of volumes capturing the talk of
astronauts, though not talk that is held on the air-to-ground
channelmay contain relevant details for the scienticteamson
the ground.
At moments such as these, where scientic work is in-train
and there is much to be reported, the transcripts reveal strategies
for making that work visible post-hoc, and in doing so, for
supporting the analysis of the data that astronauts are
gathering through agging the location and type of metadata
that it is known will be transcribed. At other moments however,
the between-times of experiments, or during longer-running
experiments where little changes minute-by-minute, there may
be less of a dened use for the transcripts, as we will see in the
following excerpt Figure 7.
This excerpt, in fact, features two successive calls with
seemingly little content which might be used to elaborate the
practical work the astronauts are undertaking at the time of the
call. CC announces the opening of a call (333 12 14 48), the
transmission relay in-use, and the expected duration of the
signal (Good morning, Skylab. Got you through Goldstone for
9min). Good-mornings are exchanged between CDR and CC,
but the call is brought to end 9 min later with no other
substantive content other than an announcement of loss of
signal and a pointer towards when and where the next call will
takeplace(CCat333122336:Skylab, were a minute to LOS
and 5 min to BerBermuda.).Thenextcall(333122800)opens
similarlyCC: Skylab, were back with you through Bermuda for
5min. In contrast to the previous call however, the astronauts
remain silent and the call closes shortly thereafter with a similar
announcement of the imminent loss of signal from CC, plus the
location of the relay for the next call and a note that the next call
will begin with the ground team retrieving audio data to be fed into
the transcription machine, without the astronaut crews having
spoken at all (333 12 32 58: Skylab, were a minute to LOS and
5 min to Canaries; be dumping the data/voice at Canaries).
Despite the seeming inaction on display here, the transcripts
might still be used to elicit an insight into various features of
the ways in which NASA is organized. For instance, we learn
that transcribing activity is comprehensive rather than
selectiveit is applied even when nothing overtly
interesting is taking place, to keep the fullest record
possible. Communication lines are accountably opened and
closed in the eventuality that there might be things worth
recording, even if that isnt always the case. There are
procedural regularities to conversations between ground
and astronauts that bookend periods of communications
(e.g., a sign-on and a sign-off), which do not necessarily
operate according to the general conventions of
conversation (e.g., it would be a noticeable breach for a
person not to respond to a greeting on the telephone, but
not here) (Schegloff, 1968). However, it is worth noting that
what we might learn from these episodes is of no consequence
to NASA or their scienticpartnersfor them, the purpose of
transcribing these episodes can only be to ensure their vast
transcription machine continues rolling; here, producing an
extraordinarily elaborate icing on what could at times be the
blandest of cakes.
FIGURE 7 | NASA excerpt 2amundanecall to skylab.
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This section will explore the ways in which materials we have
introduced up have been put to use for different ends post-hoc by
other institutions with differing sets of interests beginning with
the NASA case rst.
4.1 Post Hoc Uses of NASA Transcripts
Post-mission, various researchers have attempted to tap into the
insights contained in Skylabs volumes of transcripts, particularly
as part of computationally-oriented studies that process the data
captured therein (scientic results and talk alike) to elaborate on
the work of doing astronautics and propose algorithmic methods
for organising that work more efciently. Kurtzman et al. (1986),
for instance, draw on astronaut-recorded data to propose a
computer systemMFIVEfor absolving the need of having
insights recorded in transcript at all by mechanising the processes
of space station workload planning and inventory management.
The addition of a computerised organisational tool, which would
record and process information about workload planning and
inventory management issues, is envisaged as follows:
The utility and autonomy of space station operations
could be greatly enhanced by the incorporation of
computer systems utilizing expert decision making
capabilities and a relational database. An expert
decision making capability will capture the expertise
of many experts on various aspects of space station
operations for subsequent use by nonexperts
(i.e., spacecraft crewmembers).(Kurtzman et al.,
From their report then, we get a sense that what the computer
requires and provides is a xed variable-analytic codication of
the work of doing astronautics that can form the basis for
articially-intelligent decision-making and deliver robust
instructions on core tasks to astronaut crews. The crew
autonomy that is promised, then, is partial, inasmuch as
Kurtzman et al.s (1986) MFIVE system is premised on having
signicant components of the work operate mechanistically (e.g.,
with a computer providing decision-making on the optimum
ways to complete given core tasks, and astronauts then following
the computer-generated instructions). In this sense, we might
take their recommendations to be to de-emphasise the need
for transcriptions altogether, as they argue that much of the
decision-making might be taken off-comms altogether in the
rst place.
The notion of standardising and codifying the work of
astronautics for the benet of computerised methods
(especially in regard to work which has previously been
captured in and mediated through talk and its resultant
transcriptions) is developed further by DeChurch et al. (2019),
who leverage natural language processing techniques to analyze
the conversation transcripts produced by Skylab missions.
Chiey, the text corpus is treated with topic
modelling—“computational text analysis that discovers clusters
of words that appear together and can be roughly interpreted as
themes or topics of a document(DeChurch et al., 2019:1)to
demonstrate a standardised model of information transmission
(DeChurch et al., 2019: 1) which can be organised and managed
in ways that mitigate communicative troubles between astronaut
crews and mission control. As with the Kurtzman et al. (1986)
study, the notion embedded in DeChurch et al. (2019) use of the
transcripts is one of standardisation; that astronautstalk can be
construed as a topically-oriented, discoverable phenomenon, the
verbal content of which directly maps onto the work of doing
astronautics. This is problematic for conceptual as well as
practical reasons. Conceptually, the talk that is represented in
a transcript does not necessarily fully elaborate on the goings-on
of the settings and work within which that talk is contextually
situated (cf. Garnkel (1967) on good organisational reasons for
bad clinical records). Practically, it is important to recognise that
Skylab spent 40 minutes out of every hour out of radio contact
with mission control due to its orbital trajectory taking it out of
range of communications relay stations (and naturally, there is
more to the work of doing astronautics than talking about doing
astronautics; the astronauts were of course busy even during
periods of loss-of-signal).
An interesting question then might be, if using conversation
transcripts in the ways outlined above is problematic in terms of
how a transcript maps onto the practices that produce it, how
might we use them alternatively? An ethnomethodological
treatment might instead focus on how the audio-only
communications link is used to make the work of both
astronauts and mission control accountable, and where the
notion of lifeand workin space is dened and negotiated
in terms of how it is to be undertaken, achieved and evaluated.
The difference being pointed to here is between two positions.
First, the approach that follows or more-or-less direct
continuation of NASAs own staunchly scientic
characterisations of living and working in space:
conceptualising the work of astronauts and other spaceight
personnel as if it could be described in abstract universal
terms (i.e., as if it can be codied as a set of rules and logical
statements connecting them, such that a computer
technologyarticial intelligence, natural language
processingcan understandthis work as well as the human
astronauts designated to carry it out). Second, leveraging the
transcripts as some kind of (non-comprehensive, non-perfect)
record through which we might learn something of what
astronauts do and how they do it (which is often assumed a
priori rather than described).
4.2 WikiLeaksPost-Hoc Uses of the
Collateral Murder Footage
Earlier, we accounted for the absence of a military-produced
transcript documenting the talk of the individuals involved in the
Collateral Murder incident by reference to the fact that the IO for
the incidents AR 15-6 did not believe that the conduct of US
personnel had played a causal role in the deaths of the 11 civilians
killed in the strike. As we know, however, the US military were
not the only organization to take an interest in the Collateral
Murder case. As noted, Wikileaks published leaked gunsight
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Holder et al. Transcription for Practical Governmental Purposes
footage from one of the Apache helicopters which carried out the
strike in 2010. Alongside the video, Wikileaks released a
rudimentary transcript of talk (Figure 8 below) which was
produced using recordings from the cockpit of that same
Apache helicopter, the audio from which was included in the
leaked video (see Mair et al., 2016).
Inourpreviousdiscussionofthe Collateral Murder case,
we accounted for the absence of a military-produced
transcript by reference to the fact that, in contrast to the
Uruzgan incident, the AR 15-6 IO for the collateral murder
case did not believe that the conduct of US personnel had
played a causal role in the incidents outcome. Wikileaks
subsequent production of a transcript for the Collateral
Murder case can be accounted for by examining their
organization-specic practical purposes in taking up the
video. In approaching the materials surrounding the strike,
Wikileaksobjectives were radically different to that of the US
military. Most notably, the Wikileaks approach is
characterized by a signicantly different perspective on the
culpability of the US personnel involved in the operation.
Though it is noteworthy that Wikileaks had relatively little to
say about the incident itself, what little commentary does exist
surrounding the transcript and the video footage points
clearly towards a belief that the US personnel involved in
the incident had acted both immorally and illegally. The rst
piece of evidence regarding this belief can be found in the
incidents given name: Collateral Murder (Elsey et al., 2018).
Implicit in such a title is an accusation that the strike did not
constitute a legitimate killing in the context of an armed
conict. The brief commentary which surrounds the video
reinforces such a claim, describing the strike as an
unprovoked slayingof a wounded journalist (WikiLeaks,
FIGURE 8 | WikileaksCollateral Murder transcriptOpening sequence.
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Holder et al. Transcription for Practical Governmental Purposes
2010). Comparably to the Uruzgan incident, therefore, the
production of a transcript has emerged alongside accusations
regarding the failures of military personnel, wherein the
transcript provides record by which the conduct of those
personnel can be assessed in its details. As with the other cases
we have presented up to this point, the Wikileaks transcript
has several shortcomingsand in this nal section of the
paper it will be worth giving these apparent inadequacies
some serious consideration in light of the Jeffersonian
transcription system and Sacksown reections on the
nature of transcripts.
The rudimentary character of the transcripts we have presented
up to this point are particularly conspicuous when contrasted
with excerpts of transcripts produced using the Jeffersonian
transcription conventions. Consider the following transcript
excerpt (Table 2 below) taken from a study of a
United Kingdom memory clinic where dementia assessments
are conducted by neurologists (Elsey 2020: 201):
If we compare this transcript to the Wikileaks transcript of the
collateral murder case (Figure 8), we can see various similarities.
They both capture the talkrecorded; they both separate the talk
into distinct utteranceswhich appear in sequence; and they
both preserve the temporal aspects of the talk through the use of
time stamps or line numbers. Nevertheless, the Wikileaks
transcript differs from the memory clinic transcript insofar as
it does not include any reference to the pauses which appear in
natural conversation and, crucially, it does not include a distinct
column to record whois speaking. The audio recordings for
collateral murder case include the talk of two Apache helicopter
crews, who are communicating both with one another as well as
with numerous different parties on the ground, and without
speaker identiers, the action depicted in the Wikileaks
transcript is extremely difcult to follow when read on its
own. In comparison, the memory clinic interaction notes
whether the neurologist (Neu), patient (Pat) or accompanying
person (AP) is speaking, albeit the actual identities of the
participants are anonymized for ethical purposes in the
research ndings.
From a CA perspective, therefore, the way in which talk has
been presented in the Wikileaks transcript, and indeed in the
Uruzgan and Skylab transcripts, fails to preserve a sufcient level
of detail for serious ne-grained analysis of the action and
interaction to be possible. In rendering speakers
indistinguishable from one another, many of CAs central
phenomenamost prominently sequentiality and turn-
takingare obscured (Sacks et al., 1978;Heritage, 1984;
Jefferson, 2004;Schegloff, 2007;Elsey et al., 2016). This relates
to how individual utterances in interaction both rely on and re-
produce the immediate context of the on-going interaction. As
such the intelligibility and sense of any utterances is tied to what
was previously said and who it was addressed to. In military and
space settings this is a critical issue given the number of
communication channels and speakers involved.
Now, the lesson to be learned here is not that the transcripts
presented over the course of this paper are, in any objective
sense, inadequate. It might well be said that they are
inadequate for the stated objectives of CA, but if this paper
has demonstrated anything it is that conversation analysts are
by no means the only ones interested in transcripts. The lesson,
therefore, is that questions regarding what constitutes an
adequate record of what happenedare asked and
answered within a eld of organisationally specic
relevancies. Over the course of this paper, we have
demonstrated that a diversity of transcriptsmany of which
bear little resemblance to one anothercan be adequately put
to use towards a variety of ends depending upon the
requirements of the organisation in question. Naturally, this
same point applies in the context of transcripts produced using
the Jeffersonian transcription conventions, which are,
ultimately, just one benchmark for adequate transcription
amongst countless others (e.g., Gibson et al., 2014 for a
discussion). Towards that end, it is worth returning to an
earlier quoted passage from Sacks, this time given more fully,
in which he outlines his methodological position regarding
audio-recordings in research.
I started to work with tape-recorded conversations.
Such materials had a single virtue, that I could replay
them. I could transcribe them somewhat and study
them extendedlyhowever long it might take. The
tape-recorded materials constituted a good enough
record of what happened. Other things, to be sure,
happened, but at least what was on the tape had
From the founder of conversation analysis this could be read
as a deationary account of how recordings of talk can be
TABLE 2 | Head-turning sign (Last time memory let you down).
033 (dementia, accompanied)
1 Neu And could you, give me an example of the last time your memory, let you down?
3 Pat Um: [(turns to AP1)]
5 AP1 In the car youve lost your sense of direction (.) does that count?
6 Pat Right [(nods head)]
7[(Pat and AP1 laugh)]
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Holder et al. Transcription for Practical Governmental Purposes
analyzed. However, Sacksexplanation clearly speaks towards
precisely the thing that transcripts make possible. In preserving
talk and making it available for assessment, transcripts afford
analysts the opportunity to make empirical assessments regarding
what happened. Thus, the distinctive move that this paper has
proposed to make has been to treat the production and use of
transcripts as a phenomenon in and of itself, topicalizing their
contingent and institutionally produced character in order to gain
an insight into the motives and objectives behind the
transcription practices of the US Military and NASA. What
we are recommending, then, based on our research, is that
transcripts be seen as contextually embedded artifacts-in-use.
Understanding them, therefore, means understanding the
embedding context, how the transcript achieves its specic
work of transcription and, crucially, what it allows relevant
personnel to subsequently do.
The wide range of different transcripts (re)-presented in this
paper indicate that we are dealing with huge organizations, with
staff and technology to match. What also becomes apparent from
our research is the huge amounts of datathat NASA and the US
military collect as part of their routine work activities. However,
for various reasons (i.e., secrecy, sensitivity and so on) military
organizations can be characterised as somewhat reluctant actors
in terms of the transparency of their routine operations and
procedures or the intelligibility of the materials released. As a
result, public access to existing data(e.g., mission recordings,
transcripts, documents) is severely restricted or difcult to make
sense of. NASAs transcription machinery, on the other hand, is
more oriented to issues of transparency, although the sheer
volume of transcription materials conceivably counteracts
that aim.
While a lot of the literature has pointed out the political
signicance of omitted contentconversational details that
had not been included in the transcriptour comparison of
NASA and US military transcription work adds a new
perspective to that: transcripts can document too little or
too muchboth creating distinct problems for people
relying on/using the transcripts. While in military contexts
there is typically too little material, NASAs transcription
machinery produced what might in latter-day social science,
based on NASAs treatment of them, be construed as Big Data
(Kitchin, 2014): large corpus interactional datasets that by
virtue of their volume must necessarily rely on
computational processing for their analyze (cf. DeChurch
et al. (2019) and Kurtzman et al. (1986) discussed elsewhere
in this paper), which itself embeds the assumption that talk is
their analytic disposal. However, these scientistic efforts appear
to deepen, rather than diminish, the representational gapin
NASAs understanding of the work of astronautics, inasmuch
as completionist all-in-one one-size-ts-all approaches do not
seem to acknowledge the various mismatches between
transcript and transcribed interaction. This is an area that
EM and CA have a long-standing tradition in drawing
attention to, which compounds their relevance here. In
contrast to our previous published work (Mair et al., 2012,
Mair et al., 2013,Mair et al., 2016,Mair et al., 2018;Elsey et al.,
2016;Elsey et al., 2018;Kolanoski, 2017;Kolanoski, 2018),
which focused on using the available datato describe and
explicate military methods and procedures (e.g.,
communication practices and target identication methods),
this study has used the available dataand, specically the
transcripts produced internally, to demonstrate aspects of how
these organizations work. For instance, the available transcripts
we have examined here can provide an open door into the
accounting practices of these specic organizations. One key
use of transcripts in the military examples relates to the insights
we gain about how the transcripts are treated as evidentiary
documents during investigations following deadly incidents.
Though this may also be the case in how NASA leverages their
transcriptions (c.f. Vaughan (1996) on usages of various data
including conversation transcripts as diagnostic telemetry for
forensically and legally examining disasters such as the 1986
Space Shuttle Challenger explosion), it is more typical that
transcripts stand as a record of achievements of various kinds.
Thatsaid,aswehaveseen,thetranscripts that NASA produces
are designed to feed into a broad range of activities (e.g. doing
spaceight,doing research,doing public relations,etc),
which dually resists attempts to treat them as standardisable
documentation as NASA often conceive of them (cf. DeChurch
et al. (2019) and Kurtzman et al. (1986)) and point towards the
value of an EM/CA approach which can more carefully attune
to the interactional nuance that NASAsownvariousteams
draw on to extract useful information for their specicand
discrete purposes (e.g. doing spaceight,doing research,
doing public relations,etc).
One interesting observation that the paper makes plain is the
fact that transcripts are rarely, if ever, read and used on their
own in any of the examples included in this paper. The
transcripts do not offer objectiveaccounts that can speak
for themselves in the way that videos are occasionally treated
(Lynch, 2020). To read and make sense of a transcript requires
context and background obtained from supplementary sources
(e.g., interviews with participants, other documents). This is
strongly linked to the veracity of the original recordings
A key question that this paper has returned to continually
relates to the reasons why transcripts are produced by the different
organizations. The military-based examples reveal that the
transcription of the audio-video recordings is not a routine part
of military action. Instead, it is seen as a required step in formal
and/or legal investigations of incidents involving possible civilians
or friendly re. The analysis presented here unpacks the
relationship between the audio/video and the transcript
produced and raises questions about which (re)presentation of a
mission takes primacy. In stark contrast, NASAstranscription
machinerydisplays a systematic and completist approach to
transcript production, ranging from scientic experiments,
mundane greeting exchanges and all daily press conferences
with mission updates (or lack thereof).
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Holder et al. Transcription for Practical Governmental Purposes
The whats and whys of transcription practices in these
contexts are relatively easy to ascertain and describe. In
contrast, the transcription methods themselves remain
obscured and only recoverable from the documents produced.
This applies to both the military and NASA where transcription
practices and methods employed are rarely explicitly described or
articulated in comparison to the Jeffersonian transcription
techniques in CA. As such we do not learn who actually
produced the transcripts and there is no account of the
conventionsused to format the transcripts. Arriving at
answers to those questions thus requires additional investigative
work. In the military cases, we can use the military logsto
ascertain when they were produced in relation to the original events
and the investigations. These logs and timelines document when
transcription occurred (including when it was corrected and
approved) and what was transcribed (e.g., witness testimony,
gunsight camera/comms audio-video).
Transcription has a particular place within
ethnomethodological and conversation analytic research
traditions. It forms a central methodological tool and part of
the analytical process. The techniques and conventions can be
taught and can be applied to a wide range of recorded data.
Therefore, a researcher who can readCA transcripts can
effectively read any paper ethnomethodological and/or CA
study that uses Jeffersons notations, whilst still being reliant
upon the description of the context of the interaction and social
setting. In stark contrast, readingthe transcripts of NASA and
the US military requires an ethnographic understanding of the
working practices of these organizations. This raises important
questions about how an artifact or document, such as the
transcripts exhibited here, can be said to re-present the
embodied and visual work that the soldiers or astronauts are
undertaking through their interactions recorded during their
respective missions. As Heritage 1995: 395fn, emphasis added)
states in EM and CA:
The transcript is valuable as a support for memory and
as a means for the quick recovery of data segments ...
However, transcription is at best an approximation to
the recorded data.
By contrast, and as this paper has demonstrated, the
transcripts produced by the US military and NASA re-
present an approximationof the original recorded data
for all practical organizational purposes, no more but also
no less.
The original contributions presented in the study are included in the
article/Supplementary Material, further inquiries can be directed to
the corresponding author.
AHData collection (equal), Analysis (equal),
WritingOriginal draft (equal), WritingReview and editing
(equal) CEConceptualization (Equal), Data collection (equal),
Analysis, WritingOriginal draft, WritingReview and editing
MKConceptualization (equal), WritingReview and editing
(equal) PBData collection (equal), Analysis (equal),
WritingOriginal draft (equal), WritingReview and editing
MMData collection (equal), WritingReview and editing
Alexander Holders work on this paper was supported by the
Economic and Social Research Council via the North West Social
Science Doctoral Training Partnership, Grant number: ES/
P000665/1. Open Access publication fees provided by Goethe
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Conict of Interest: The authors declare that the research was conducted in the
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This paper seeks to provide a set of ethnomethodological ‘reminders’ (Sharrock, 2001) concerning what can reasonably said about the apparatus of the militarised drone using the documents that have been made available surrounding the ‘Uruzgan incident’ – a civilian casualty which took place on the 21st of February, 2010. Drawing extensively from the work of Egon Bittner (1965) and Harold Garfinkel (1967, 2002), as well as the canon of ethnomethodological studies into complex organisational environments that work initiated (see Suchman, 1985; Sharrock and Anderson, 1993; Sharrock, Anderson and Hughes, 1993), I will identify the dangers associated with using sociological data to shift from analyses of the specialised work of individuals embedded in large, distributed organisational assemblies to claims about those assemblies in toto. In this capacity, drone operations and their accountabilities will be taken to provide what Garfinkel (2002) described as a ‘perspicuous setting’.
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As the global population increases and ages the number of people developing dementia worldwide also increases (Brayne and Miller 2017). The everyday pressures placed upon the person with dementia and those around them can prove to be overwhelming without appropriate healthcare, support and treatment. Early and accurate diagnosis is an important part of improving such provisions (Santacruz and Swagerty 2001).
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Drawing on and providing a synthesis of recent social, political and legal research including our own, in this article we argue that the armed drone should be seen as both a socio-technical and socio-legal system. Focusing on the United States (US) as one of the pioneers of drone warfare, the world’s primary state user of drones and the country whose drone programmes we know most about, after an introduction setting out our argument in overview, we begin by outlining the growth in drone operations since their first combat use. Noting that it has proven difficult to characterise the exact nature of the armed drone, we outline why we believe they should be viewed as a particular kind of socio-technical system based on an examination of the social and technical networks that make drone strikes possible. As these are networks in which operational legal advisors play a significant role, we suggest the law needs to be seen as internal to the system rather than an external constraint upon it, something which complicates attempts to regulate drone warfare through legal means. We conclude by arguing that the problem of the armed drone demands new analytical and political responses, potential lines of which we sketch in the article’s final sections. Linking research into the socio-technical and socio-legal system of drone warfare, we argue, represents a particularly effective way of grappling with the specific challenges the armed drone poses as well as suggesting how collaborations between researchers might work to support international political processes focused on restricting their use.
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Objective: The objective of this article is to outline an ethnomethodological approach to the study of professionalized violence or violence as work. It focuses primarily on violence in the context of military combat operations and the “situational” analyses and assessments military personnel themselves undertake when engaging in violent action. Method: We use a video from one incident (WikiLeaks’ Collateral Murder release) as a demonstration case to set out the methodological bases of ethnomethodological studies of combat violence. As part of this study, we show how transcripts can be used to document the interactions in which situational analyses feature as part of coordinating and executing linked attacks. Results: Based on the video and our transcripts, we explicate how the military personnel involved collaboratively identified, assessed, and engaged a group of combatants. We show that the incident consisted of 2 attacks or engagements, a first and a follow-up, treated as connected rather than distinct by those involved on situational grounds. Conclusion: Moving beyond controversy, causal explanations, and remedies, the article describes how structures of practical military action can be investigated situationally from an ethnomethodological perspective using video data. By treating collaborative military methods and practices as a focus for inquiry, this article contributes to our understanding of violence as work more broadly.
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Through the ongoing work of leak sites, public inquiries, criminal investigations, journalists, whistleblowers, researchers and others, the public has gained access to a growing number of videos of live military operations in recent years. Capturing such things as friendly fire attacks, civilian deaths and extrajudicial or illegal killings, these videos have attracted public and academic attention due to their ‘revelatory’ qualities. Through an analysis of two particular instances, WikiLeaks’ Collateral Murder and footage of a targeted assassination by the Israeli Defence Force, we argue it is important to analyse exactly how such deaths are digitally re-presented if we are to make use of videos as data in the study of episodes of military violence and the evidential politics they give rise to.
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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.
International law dictates that actors in armed conflicts must distinguish between combatants and civilians. But how do legal actors assess the legality of a military operation after the fact? I analyze a civil proceeding for compensation by victims of a German-led airstrike in Afghanistan. The court treated military video as key evidence. I show how lawyers, judges, and expert witnesses categorized those involved by asking what a “military viewer” would make of the pictures. During the hearing, they avoided the categories of combatants/civilians; the military object resisted legal coding. I examine the decision in its procedural context, using ethnographic field notes and legal documents. I combine two ethnomethodological analytics: a trans-sequential approach and membership categorization analysis. I show the value of this combination for the sociological analysis of legal practice. I also propose that legal practitioners should use this approach to assess military viewing as a concerted, situated activity.
Turn taking is used for the ordering of moves in games, for allocating political office, for regulating traffic at intersections, for the servicing of customers at business establishments, and for talking in interviews, meetings, debates, ceremonies, conversations. This chapter discusses the turn-taking system for conversation. On the basis of research using audio recordings of naturally occurring conversations, the chapter highlights the organization of turn taking for conversation and extracts some of the interest that organization has. The turn-taking system for conversation can be described in terms of two components and a set of rules. These two components are turn-constructional component and turn-constructional component. Turn-allocational techniques are distributed into two groups: (1) those in which next turn is allocated by current speaker selecting a next speaker and (2) those in which next turn is allocated by self-selection. The turn-taking rule-set provides for the localization of gap and overlap possibilities at transition-relevance places and their immediate environment, cleansing the rest of a turn's space of systematic bases for their possibility.