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Dr Merran Toerien



  • PhD (York)
  • BA(Hons) (Psychology, KwaZulu-Natal)

Having grown up in South Africa, Merran Toerien completed her BA(Hons) in Psychology and Gender Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg. She was awarded the Emma Smith Overseas Scholarship to pursue her PhD studies in the UK. Additional funding was also provided by the Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust.

Merran began her PhD at Loughborough University and completed it at the University of York. Titled, Hair Removal and the Construction of Gender: A Multi-method Approach, the PhD was supervised by Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson. The thesis consists of a series of projects, including a study of interaction in the beauty salon using conversation analysis (CA). At York, Merran trained extensively in CA and this is now her methodology of choice.

On completing the PhD, Merran worked as a researcher in the Department of Social Medicine at the University of Bristol, focusing on health professional-patient interaction in recruitment to trials and neurology clinic appointments.

She then returned to York to work with   (Sociology), Roy Sainsbury (Social Policy Research Unit) and Annie Irvine (Social Policy Research Unit) on a two-year Department for Work and Pensions-funded project. This examined meetings between claimants of social security benefits and Personal Advisers (PAs) in Jobcentre Plus. During the course of this project, Merran was awarded an RCUK Research Fellowship at York in “Communication and Language Use in Interaction”. This allowed her to focus on developing her research portfolio for a period of five years, after which she transferred to a lectureship in Sociology (also at York).


Departmental roles

Merran is the schools’ liaison officer for the department. This role includes giving talks at schools and colleges about studying sociology at York.

She is the department’s sustainability champion, which includes leading the department’s involvement in Green Impact (see

University roles

Merran is also a member of:

  • The steering group for the Alcuin Research Resource Centre (ARRC).
  • The editorial board for the journal, Sociology of Health &  Illness.



Merran’s primary research interest is the application of conversation analysis (CA) to the study of talk in institutional settings.  This has included studies of:

  • Consultant-patient interaction during neurology clinic appointments, with a focus on how (and whether) neurologists offer patients choice about their treatment and/or further investigations.
  • Claimant-adviser interaction during ‘work-focused interviews’ in Jobcentre Plus, with a focus on what constitutes ‘effective practice’. 
  • Nurse-patient interaction during recruitment appointments, with a focus on how nurses ask if patients are willing to take part in a medical trial.
  • Client-beauty therapist interaction during salon hair removal sessions, with a particular interest in the emotional labour performed by beauty therapists.


Merran is currently working on a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)-funded project entitled: Delivering shared decision-making: strategies for facilitating patient involvement in making decisions in neurology clinics (NIHR project number: 10/2000/61).  This is a collaborative study involving two consultant neurologists – Markus Reuber and Rod Duncan – and two conversation analysts – Merran Toerien and Rebecca Shaw.  The study covers two NHS hospital sites (in Sheffield and Glasgow) and will run for two years (from October 2011 – September 2013).  For further details please see:


Selected publications

  • Toerien, M., Shaw, R. and Reuber, M. (2013). Initiating decision-making in neurology consultations: ‘recommending’ versus ‘option-listing’ and the implications for medical authority.  Sociology of Health & Illness 35(6).

  • Toerien, M., Irvine, A., Drew, P. and Sainsbury, R. (2011), ‘Should mandatory Jobseeker interviews be personalised? The politics of using conversation analysis to make effective practice recommendations’, in C. Antaki (ed.), Applied Conversation Analysis: Intervention and Change in Institutional Talk. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (pp. 140-160).

  • Toerien, M. (forthcoming). Conversations and conversation analysis. In U. Flick (ed.) SAGE Handbook of Analyzing Qualitative Data. London: Sage.

  • Toerien, M., Shaw, R., Duncan, R., and Reuber, M. (2011). Offering patients choices: A pilot study of interactions in the seizure clinic. Epilepsy & Behavior 20: 312–320
  • Drew, P., Toerien, M., Irvine, A., & Sainsbury, R. (2010). A study of language and communication between advisers and claimants in work focused interviews. Department for Work and Pensions, Research Report 633.
  • Irvine, A., Sainsbury, R., Drew, P., & Toerien, M. (2010). An exploratory comparison of the interactions between advisers and younger and older clients during work focused interviews. Department for Work and Pensions, Research Report 634.
  • Toerien, M., Brookes, S.T., Metcalfe, C., et al. (2009). A review of reporting of participant recruitment and retention in RCTs in six major journals. Trials 10:52
  • Kitzinger, C. & Toerien, M. (2009). The turn of talk. In Depth Paper.
  • Toerien, M. & Kitzinger, C. (2007). Emotional Labour in Action: Navigating Multiple Involvements in the Beauty Salon. Sociology, 41(4): pp645-662.
    Download video extract: Emotional Labour in Action: Navigating Multiple Involvements in the Beauty Salon ( 15,600kb download)
  • Whiting, P., Toerien, M., de Salis, I., Sterne, A.C., Dieppe, P., Egger, M., & Fahey, T. (2007). A Review Identifies and Classifies Reasons for Ordering Diagnostic Tests. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, pp981-989.
  • Toerien, M. & Kitzinger, C. (2007). Emotional Labour in Action: Turn Design of Task-directed Talk in the Beauty Salon. Feminism & Psychology, 17(2): 162-172.
  • Toerien, M., Wilkinson, S., & Choi, P.Y.L. (2005). Body Hair Removal: The ‘Mundane’ Production of Normative Femininity. Sex Roles, 52: 399-406
  • Toerien, M. & Wilkinson, S. (2004). Exploring the Depilation Norm: A Qualitative Questionnaire Study of Women’s Body Hair Removal. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 1: 69-92.
  • Toerien, M. & Wilkinson, S. (2003). Gender and Body Hair: Constructing the Feminine Woman. Women’s Studies International Forum, 26(4): 333-344.
  • Toerien, M. & Durrheim, K. (2001). Power Through Knowledge: Ignorance and the ‘Real Man.’ Feminism & Psychology, 11(1): 35-54.

Contact details

Dr Merran Toerien
Department of Sociology LMB/228
University of York
YO10 5GD

Tel: +44 (0)1904 32 3061