The social orders of family mealtime

Busch, Gillian Roslyn (2011) The social orders of family mealtime. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This study examined the everyday practices of families within the context of family mealtime to investigate how members accomplished mealtime interactions. Using an ethnomethodological approach, conversation analysis and membership categorization analysis, the study investigated the interactional resources that family members used to assemble their social orders moment by moment during family mealtimes. While there is interest in mealtimes within educational policy, health research and the media, there remain few studies that provide fine-grained detail about how members produce the social activity of having a family meal. Findings from this study contribute empirical understandings about families and family mealtime. Two families with children aged 2 to 10 years were observed as they accomplished their everyday mealtime activities. Data collection took place in the family homes where family members video recorded their naturally occurring mealtimes. Each family was provided with a video camera for a one-month period and they decided which mealtimes they recorded, a method that afforded participants greater agency in the data collection process and made available to the analyst a window into the unfolding of the everyday lives of the families. A total of 14 mealtimes across the two families were recorded, capturing 347 minutes of mealtime interactions. Selected episodes from the data corpus, which includes centralised breakfast and dinnertime episodes, were transcribed using the Jeffersonian system. Three data chapters examine extended sequences of family talk at mealtimes, to show the interactional resources used by members during mealtime interactions. The first data chapter explores multiparty talk to show how the uniqueness of the occasion of having a meal influences turn design. It investigates the ways in which members accomplish two-party talk within a multiparty setting, showing how one child "tells" a funny story to accomplish the drawing together of his brothers as an audience. As well, this chapter identifies the interactional resources used by the mother to cohort her children to accomplish the choralling of grace. The second data chapter draws on sequential and categorical analysis to show how members are mapped to a locally produced membership category. The chapter shows how the mapping of members into particular categories is consequential for social order; for example, aligning members who belong to the membership category "had haircuts" and keeping out those who "did not have haircuts". Additional interactional resources such as echoing, used here to refer to the use of exactly the same words, similar prosody and physical action, and increasing physical closeness, are identified as important to the unfolding talk particularly as a way of accomplishing alignment between the grandmother and grand-daughter. The third and final data analysis chapter examines topical talk during family mealtimes. It explicates how members introduce topics of talk with an orientation to their co-participant and the way in which the take up of a topic is influenced both by the sequential environment in which it is introduced and the sensitivity of the topic. Together, these three data chapters show aspects of how family members participated in family mealtimes. The study contributes four substantive themes that emerged during the analytic process and, as such, the themes reflect what the members were observed to be doing. The first theme identified how family knowledge was relevant and consequential for initiating and sustaining interaction during mealtime with, for example, members buying into the talk of other members or being requested to help out with knowledge about a shared experience. Knowledge about members and their activities was evident with the design of questions evidencing an orientation to coparticipant’s knowledge. The second theme found how members used topic as a resource for social interaction. The third theme concerned the way in which members utilised membership categories for producing and making sense of social action. The fourth theme, evident across all episodes selected for analysis, showed how children’s competence is an ongoing interactional accomplishment as they manipulated interactional resources to manage their participation in family mealtime. The way in which children initiated interactions challenges previous understandings about children’s restricted rights as conversationalists. As well as making a theoretical contribution, the study offers methodological insight by working with families as research participants. The study shows the procedures involved as the study moved from one where the researcher undertook the decisions about what to videorecord to offering this decision making to the families, who chose when and what to videorecord of their mealtime practices. Evident also are the ways in which participants orient both to the video-camera and to the absent researcher. For the duration of the mealtime the video-camera was positioned by the adults as out of bounds to the children; however, it was offered as a "treat" to view after the mealtime was recorded. While situated within family mealtimes and reporting on the experiences of two families, this study illuminates how mealtimes are not just about food and eating; they are social. The study showed the constant and complex work of establishing and maintaining social orders and the rich array of interactional resources that members draw on during family mealtimes. The family’s interactions involved members contributing to building the social orders of family mealtime. With mealtimes occurring in institutional settings involving young children, such as long day care centres and kindergartens, the findings of this study may help educators working with young children to see the rich interactional opportunities mealtimes afford children, the interactional competence that children demonstrate during mealtimes, and the important role/s that adults may assume as co-participants in interactions with children within institutional settings.

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ID Code: 48024
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Danby, Susan & Farrell, Ann
Keywords: mealtime, families, children, childhood, social order, early years, ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, membership categorization analysis, talk-in-interaction, topic, multiparty talk, cohorting, speaker selection, adult-child interaction, children’s restricted rights, arenas of action, sociology of children, competence
Divisions: Past > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 11 Jan 2012 05:58
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:45

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