VILA in practice: A use case with Tobias Boelt Back, PhD, AAU

"VILA opens up to a new world of qualitative data"

Tobias Boelt Back, PhD and external lecturer at the Department of Culture and Learning at Aalborg University, recently defended his PhD thesis which explores  resemiotisation and question designs in Danish talkshows and comic transcription. During the project, he has consulted VILA who have provided crucial expertise for his video data collection. And now, according to himself, he cannot imagine a qualitative study without VILA.

Tobias Boelt Back’s PhD project deals with Danish talkshow interviews, more specifically with how talkshow hosts evoke feelings in their talkshow guests on live TV through various question designs.

“My PhD project is about talkshow interviews and how the editorial staff at a Danish talk show plan and pre-produce interviews with the aim of evoking emotions – and how they finally conduct the live show.  For example, a lot of consideration goes into posing questions that make the guests feel something and by extension the viewers.”  

Tobias works with mass media production as a process, not just the final show on the screen. He has collected data through the process of planning the interview questions, from morning meetings to the final interview interaction. For this, he employs the concept of “resemiotisation”  the translation of discourse from one modality (e.g. conversation) to another (e.g. writing):

“When the talkshow hosts gather at their morning meetings, they discuss which guests to invite, how to form their questions, how to choose where to be in the studio, how to design what is on the back screen. And the discussions also need to be boiled down to questions on cue cards that the talkshow host can bring to the studio. I’ve recorded their meetings, collected their manuscripts, cue cards and more to explore the ‘semiotic ecology’ of the talkshow interview in order to really hone in on the planning process. The point is to see that what we see on live TV – the actions, discourses, materialities etc. – are rendered possible by prior actions, discourses, materialities, etc.” Tobias explains. 



One more time with feeling. Resemiotising boundary affects for doing ’emotional talk show’ interaction for another next first time


  • How is the joint accomplishment of resemiotising semiotic ecologies for doing ‘affective talk show’ interaction sequentially organised and materially structured across series of work-relevant activities?
  • What emanates from these resemiotisations that set up the relevance for certain immediate and remote future (inter)actions?
  • How are these semiotic resources reworked in order to render displays of affect intelligible as sequentiably relevant nexts on different time-scales?
  • How can we claim an adjacent relationship between non-contiguous (inter)actions separated in time and space?


  • Ethnomethodological field work
  • Charles Goodwin approach 
  • Conversation analysis
  • Mediated discourse analysis and resemiotisation. 


  • A variety of data from a Danish talkshow: video recordings of morning meetings, manuscripts, cue cards, images, personal notes, text (sms) correspondences, phone callss, and more.

Comic transcriptions as a new methodological contribution – bringing the visual to the forefront of conversation analysis

Seeing as some of Tobias’ video data contains sensitive personal data, he has had to find a way to anonymize it. The result? Comic transcriptions.

“In my thesis, I render my video data as comic transcriptions. We seem to have decided that comics are for kids, not for serious conversation analysis researchers. But comic transcriptions are really easily accessible and intelligible to everyone. And thus, a great way to render video data. Actually, this methodological choice is a break with the dominating tradition for coding movement in transcriptions. Instead of describing what informants are doing, as is done traditionally, then how about showing it through comics?Tobias explains.

“For many of the pages in my thesis, it is like reading a comic. And it really made me excited about doing transcriptions again,” Tobias adds jokingly. “And I was only able to do comic transcriptions because I was introduced to VILA and the gear that they grant researchers like me access to.” 

Findings: 'The local interaction' is an illusion

One of the main findings of the thesis is that any final question posed on a talkshow is made only through several steps of collaboration. Asking interview questions on a talkshow is not a one-man army effort: 

“Although it seems like a natural conversation between two people, the host and the guest, my thesis claims it’s a conversation between 27 people. And in a sense, the questions never stop being negotiated. Whatever happens on the screen is not an isolated event: The questions that are being posed has been discussed, down to their wording and syntax, and there is a sense of intertextuality between the morning meeting discussions on question designs and the final questions during the show,” Tobias explains.

One of the major points of Tobias’ PhD thesis  is a criticism of the conversation analytical notion of “the local interaction”.  One interaction is often looked at as an isolated event when really it is embedded in a larger network of interactions. This analytical look at process and planning provides interesting insights into the human ability to “anticipate and project relevant ‘nexts'” or to “cultivate a specific sequential outcome”. It tells something about the human ability to predict how people will react to what we are planning now – an ability that is crucial for our social lives according to Tobias. 

What have you used VILA for?

“When I wrote my MA thesis on interview techniques and presuppositions in the question design of journalist and editor Martin Krasnik, I used zero image or video data. Then I came to Aalborg University and met the people at VILA, and I was introduced to a whole new world. If I hadn’t talked to VILA, I wouldn’t know how to use or set up cameras in the best possible way, and now, I couldn’t imagine doing a qualitative study without consulting VILA Tobias tells. 

“Digital humanities at Aalborg University, for me, is summed up in VILA. They have so much expertise that once I got to know them, I realised how little I knew about it myself. I’d never used a camera for research before, so I just thought ‘I’ll go out and put up a camera’. But it’s not that straightforward, and luckily, there are no stupid questions with VILA. When you explain to them what you want to accomplish with your video data, they’ll easily give you five suggestions for solutions,” says Tobias. 

Three advantages with VILA

Refocus your video data

With 360 degree video cameras from VILA, you’re able to look in all directions in your video data – also the angles you didn’t expect to be relevant when you set up the camera. 

Broad range of tech gear

VILA lends out a broad range of gear for recording sound and video: 360 degree cameras, spatial audio recorders, 2-in-1 cameras and much more. 

Expertise and guidance

Tobias had never collected video data before, so to get a thorough and practical run-through of the dos and donts of video data collection from VILA has been valuable.

Can you recommend VILA to others?

“Yes, I would recommend VILA to researchers who work with interaction analysis one way or the other. But it’s also relevant for researchers who record all kinds of interviews or meetings. I think for the next generation of researchers, this will be the standard way to collect video data, and I think we owe it to for instance our PhD students to engage with this new technology. And for that, VILA is an excellent entry point,” Tobias explains.

Tobias talks about what tasks and projects lie ahead: 

“At the moment, I am an external lecturer at Discourse Studies at Aalborg University, but I’m looking forward continuing to work on exciting research projects. I’m excited to collect video data with cameras that are more than 4K, which was state-of-the-art when I collected data, but which now already is becoming outdated,” Tobias finishes with a laugh.  

Behind the researcher

Tobias Boelt Back, PhD and external lecturer at the Department of Culture and Learning at Aalborg University, defended his PhD thesis in August, 2020.

Tobias holds a BA in Danish from Roskilde University and an MA in Psychology of Language from Copenhagen University.

His research interests include ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, multimodality, discourse analysis and mass media production.