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Prof William Gibson
Prof William Gibson profile picture
  • Professor of Interactional Sociology and Qualitative Research Methodology
  • IOE - Culture, Communication & Media
  • UCL Institute of Education

Languages spoken/written
  • Spanish

Research Summary

My work explores social interaction and the organisation of communication in everyday life. 

I undertook my PhD at the University of Manchester where I was heavily influenced by the perspectives of Ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis and Symbolic Interactionism. My PhD thesis looked at how improvised musical interaction in the performance of jazz music could be studied as a communicative practice. 

After completing my PhD, my interest in social action and communication expanded into other areas, particularly in the fields of healthcare and education. The thread running through this work is the detailed empirical exploration of the interactional resources that people use to achieve their actions: how they talk, gesture, look at each other, and how they use objects and physical/digital resources. A key focus here has been with the impact of technologies on communication, particularly in relation to online interaction. This work explores questions such as ‘when teachers and students interact in an online asynchronous forum/synchronous platform, how does the technology impact on their mutual construction of knowledge?’ or ‘How do the structures of conversations change when people use emoji instead of types words?’. A recent strand looks at how people communicate sensorial experiences such as smelling, hearing, seeing, touching - how an embodied experience is made available to others through communication, particularly when interacting through technology. 

Selected publications related to the above themes:

Social order and interaction:
Gibson, W. and vom Lehn, D. (2017) Institutions, Interaction and Social Theory. Palgrave McMillan.

Academic writing:
Gibson, W. (forthcoming) ‘Aesthetics, verisimilitude and user-engagement: reporting findings through fictional accounts in qualitative inquiry’, Qualitative Research

Sensory communication:
Gibson, W. vom Lehn. (2019) ‘Seeing as accountable action: the interactional accomplishment of sensorial work' Current sociology, 68(1): 77-89.

Technology and communication:
Gibson, W. Huang, P, Yun, Q. (2018) ‘Emoji and Communicative Action: the sequence, semiotics and gestural actions of ‘Face Covering Hand’, Discourse, Context and Media, 26: 91-99.

Communication and education:
Gibson, W. (2014) ‘Sequential order in multimodal online educational discourse’, Discourse and Communication, 8(1): 1-21.

Communication and healthcare:
Webb, H. Heath, C. vom Lehn, D. and Gibson, W. (2013) ‘Engendering Responses: Professional gesture and the assessment of eyesight in optometry consultations’, Symbolic Interaction 36(2): 137-158.

Music and improvisation:
Gibson, W. (2006) ‘Material Culture and Embodied Action: Sociological Notes on the Examination of Musical Instruments’, Sociological Review, 54(1): 171-187.

Teaching Summary

I have a strong interest in the practices of qualitative inquiry, including issues such as ethics, transcription, epistemology, grounded theory, and the analysis of qualitative data. I have worked closely with doctoral and Master’s students since joining the IOE in 2005, and am keenly interested in the practices of writing in academia and in writing for other audiences. I teach courses in the Centre for Doctoral Education on various areas of qualitative research.

In Spring 2020, I became the director of Academic Writing Centre.

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