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Sally Wiggins Young


Talk and social interaction is a powerful thing: it can shape our identities, behaviours and understandings of the world. My work examines the mechanics of social interaction in everyday life, lighting up the features that we often take for granted.

The details of social interaction

The central feature of my research and teaching is a focus on the details of social interaction in everyday life – the mundane issues that are often overlooked – and I aim to offer a different perspective on familiar concepts. I have a particular interest in food and eating, and learning in groups.              

Discursive psychology

I specialise in discursive psychology, an analytical approach that examines how psychological states are constructed within discourse, and the consequences of these for social interaction. This approach enables me to understand the detail of everyday talk and interaction, from the small words (mmm!, eugh!) to the descriptions of people and behaviours that shape our identities and expectations of each other. I have recently written a methods book to explain discursive psychology from its theoretical underpinnings to a step-by-step guide on how to use it in practice. My research to date has focused primarily on two main areas: family mealtimes and PBL tutorial interaction, different in topic area but connected through a focus on social interaction and psychological states.

Mealtimes and eating practices

A seemingly mundane and trivial aspect of life, mealtimes at home with our families or lunchtimes in preschools’ offer an important glimpse into how we understand eating practices, psychological states and social habits. My research aims to capture life as it happens, using video-recordings of family meals and preschool lunches to examine those things we often take for granted. The findings from this work have to date focused on issues such as gustatory pleasure and disgust (and how these seemingly individual experiences are socially managed), food preferences and satiety (and different rights to be able to claim an authority over what we like or when we have had enough to eat).  I focus on how psychological states are made real in discourse, and the social implications of discursive practices.    

Problem-based learning tutorial interaction

Problem-based learning (or PBL) is a student-centred approach to learning that relies heavily on group interaction and on how students create knowledge through talking through problems together. My research focuses specifically on what happens in PBL tutorial interaction, again using video footage to capture the detail of talk and gesture in the tutorial setting. In these settings we can examine how students manage social issues (e.g. being a ‘good’ group member) alongside academic ones (e.g. what can be claimed as knowledge?). Here, psychology and social life interact, as students grapple with their identities as students and group members while also learning the skills and knowledge required for their course.