Activity contracts and directives in everyday family politics

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Activity contracts and directives in everyday family politics
Transcript  Discourse & Society online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/0957926510392124 2011 22: 137 Discourse Society  Karin Aronsson and Asta Cekaite Activity contracts and directives in everyday family politics  Published by:  can be found at: Discourse & Society  Additional services and information for Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions: Citations:  What is This? - Mar 11, 2011Version of Record >>  at HALSOUNIVERSITETS BIBLIOTEK on February 24, 2012das.sagepub.comDownloaded from    Article Corresponding author: Karin Aronsson, Department of Child and Youth Studies, Stockholm University, SE-106 91, Stockholm, Sweden. Email: Discourse & Society22(2) 137–154© The Author(s) 2011Reprints and permission: sagepub. 10.1177/0957926510392124 Activity contracts and directives in everyday family politics Karin Aronsson Stockholm University, Sweden Asta Cekaite Linköping University, Sweden Abstract In theorizing on family life, children’s agency is a feature of a modern type of family, marked by free choice and inter-generational negotiations rather than parental authority. A video ethnography of Swedish everyday family life documents directive sequences and inter-generational negotiations, including what is here called activity contracts : agreements that form a type of inter-generational account work around target activities (e.g. cleaning one’s room). Within local family politics, contracts and revised contracts emerge as parts of such account work. The analyses focus on how contracts emerge within successive downgradings and upgradings of parental directives. Activity contracts regulate mutual rights and obligations, invoking family rule statements and local moral order, drawing on an array of verbal and nonverbal resources, ranging from parents’ mitigated requests and children’s time bargaining to nonverbal escape strategies and gentle shepherding. Keywords activity contracts, agency, conversation analysis, directive trajectories, directives, downgradings, family discourse, language socialization, moral order, parent–child interaction, requests, self-regulation, social accounts, upgradings, video-ethnography In theories on modern family life (e.g. Bauman, 2003; Beck, 1997; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002; Giddens, 1995), agency and choice are key features. In contemporary Western contexts, welfare reforms, modern contraceptives, public schooling and internet society have widened the horizon of choices for the individual, who may now choose and at HALSOUNIVERSITETS BIBLIOTEK on February 24, 2012das.sagepub.comDownloaded from   138 Discourse & Society 22(2) re-fashion education, partners, jobs and friends, beyond the constraints of traditional family life. In a society, where even family relations are ‘chosen’, rather than pre-assigned, rights, obligations and mutual accountabilities are constantly open to scrutiny and rene-gotiation (see also Bauman, 2003; Giddens, 1995). Moreover, children’s agency is a key issue in modern theorizing on the sociology of childhood (James et al., 1998; Prout, 2005). Socialization into self-regulation can be seen as one of several aspects of a modern childhood where children are recurrently free to choose lines of action (Ochs and Izquierdo, 2009), as well as positions within the local moral order (Aronsson and Gottzén, 2011). In this process, parental directives can be seen as part of a continuous balancing act between  parental involvement and interference and children’s individual action.Yet there are relatively few detailed documentations of the distinct ways in which modern family members negotiate mutual rights and obligations, or how subjectivity and freedom of choice are interactionally established within situated everyday activities. This study therefore documents such choices in families’ ways of handling directives; through parents’ and children’s negotiations, and children’s compliance/resistance.Early work on family life directives has not analysed in detail the interactional design of directives, but has instead focused on the recipient’s compliance and understanding in relation to the target directive’s formal features, for instance whether the directive is downgraded or mitigated (cf. the pioneering facework analyses of Blum-Kulka, 1990; Brown and Levinson, 1987; Ervin-Tripp, 1976; Goffman, 1967). Reason-giving, along with tags, collaborative ‘we’-forms, endearment terms and other diminutives, are part and parcel of facework theories and have been discussed as types of mitigation, that is, downgradings of directives or requests (e.g. Brown and Levinson, 1987; Goffman, 1967). Similarly, indirectness as in modals and interrogative formats (e.g. ‘can you …’), hedges, vagueness and impersonal constructions are deployed for downgrading requests. These strategies are oriented to respect displays and to the recipient’s face in that s/he may choose not to take up the potential imposition involved. In fact, the recipient may not even acknowledge vague or indirect requests for action. From an interactional perspective, downgradings or upgradings of directives have to  be understood from the participants’ uptake. The speech act bias of such facework theo-rizing has therefore been criticized in that what is vague or off record is ultimately an empirical matter, as has been shown in pediatric encounters (Aronsson, 1998; Aronsson and Rundström, 1989; Stivers, 2001). Yet some of the basic observations of facework models may actually be deployed as descriptive resources for undertaking sequential analyses of up- and downgradings of requests, directives and other potential impositions on participants in a conversation (for related contemporary work, see also Craven and Potter, 2010; Goodwin, 2006; Stivers, 2001).In his analysis of a family reunion, Sacks (1995: 318–31) documented ways in which requests, threats, offers and warnings could be read across utterances as  sequen-tial versions  of inter-generational identity work, where family members mutually tried to influence each other. In line with a dialogical orientation, the focus in recent work on directives in family life has been broadened to encompass inter-subjectivity, children’s agency and co-participants’ uptake (Aronsson and Gottzén, 2011; Aronsson and Thorell, 1999; Cekaite, 2010; Fasulo et al., 2007; Goodwin, 2006; Grieshaber, 1997; Ochs and Izquierdo, 2009). at HALSOUNIVERSITETS BIBLIOTEK on February 24, 2012das.sagepub.comDownloaded from    Aronsson and Cekaite 139 Our study draws on work on family life accounts (e.g. Blum-Kulka, 1997; Sterponi, 2009) and it examines both parents’ and children’s account work for undertaking or not undertaking target activities, detailing sequential versions of directives and accounts. The present study explores issues concerning the sequential development of contracts in two ways: by analyzing their interactional basis in the family as a multiparty participa-tion framework, and by acknowledging the fragility of contracts in a temporal perspec-tive. In her recent interactional work on directives, Marjorie Goodwin (2006) has similarly focused on directive trajectories  in family life, that is, on the sequential development of directives through the recipients’ uptake/non-uptake and negotiations about what is to be accomplished and when. Our analyses extend prior work on family directives by specifically focusing on inter-actional features of directive trajectories, and more precisely through sequential analyses of negotiations of specific target activities across extended time spans (e.g. a day or a week). One of our major findings is that families, as parts of directive trajectories, recur-rently engage in formulating a distinct type of reason-giving or account – what will here  be called activity contracts  – that is,   spoken agreements about future compliance that make children morally accountable for their future actions (and for failed action). We will demonstrate how contracts involve multiparty design features in that they specify who is to do what, and who is accountable to whom (e.g. ‘you promised Dad’). Moreover, we will show how contracts specify various conditions, e.g. when, why or with whom the target activity is to be accomplished. Data and analytical procedure In line with language socialization theorizing, the present study combines ethnographic and interactional approaches, exploring how social relations are co-constructed sequen-tially across time (Goodwin, 2006; Ochs, 1996). The analyses draw on almost 300 hours of video recordings of family life routines in eight Swedish middle-class households, documenting the ways in which family mem- bers engage in the multifold tasks, activities and responsibilities of dual-earner families. In each family there is a target child of 8–10 years of age, and at least one sibling. In total, the present families include 25 children of 2–16 years of age. In the prototypical case in our data, parents and children engaged in protracted negotiations. Out of a corpus of 90 parent-initiated directive sequences, only a few parental directives (12 cases) were honoured without children’s initial non- compliance or negotiations of the terms of the target activity. Our data contain activity contracts and directive trajectories involving children of all ages. Within such direc-tive trajectories, activity contracts were important interactional accomplishments and resources.Several ethnographic procedures (e.g. video recordings, interviews and trackings) were used in order to document everyday routines and events. The families were recorded during one week, which has made it possible to document directive trajectories over time. On the basis of activity logs, trackings and repeated viewings of the videos, epi-sodes have been identified that involve activity contracts, embedded in extended directive trajectories. at HALSOUNIVERSITETS BIBLIOTEK on February 24, 2012das.sagepub.comDownloaded from   140 Discourse & Society 22(2) Transcription and translation The videotaped interactions were transcribed in Swedish, and all primary analyses have  been based on viewing the Swedish videos and on reading the srcinal Swedish tran-scriptions, including analyses of family members’ gaze patterns, body posture, locomo-tion and other types of embodied actions (cf. Appendix). The Swedish transcripts have later been translated into English, and for the sake of anonymity, all names of family members and other key names have been fictionalized. Also, we do not present examples that include unique information that might reveal the identity of any of the families or individual family members. Identification of activity contracts Obviously, much of family life depends on the local distribution of household and care duties: infants are initially fed, carried and washed by their parents. Gradually, chores are then delegated to the children themselves, as they grow into independence. In terms of target household activities, located within directive trajectories, that is, a series of consecutive related directives, these cover a day, some days or up to a week (the duration of our video recordings in each family). The present focus is on cleaning  practices, e.g. personal hygiene and house cleaning activities (see also Fasulo et al., 2007; Goodwin, 2006). Activity contracts constitute parts of directive trajectories and participants’ account work. The term is dialogical in that any contract involves at least two turns that require: (i) a formulation of the contract by one party, and (ii) a ratification by the other party.An important contribution of this article is that each emergent activity contract will be tracked from its early instigation to the actual execution of a target activity, including spe-cific moves such as drafts of contracts, ratifications, invocations and revisions. Directive trajectories are analyzed in sequential detail, with a focus on participation frameworks and affective indexing of interactional contributions (on affective stances; cf. Cekaite, 2009; Goodwin, 2006; Ochs et al., 1996).  Analyses of downgradings and upgradings of directives As discussed by Sacks (1995: 318–31), participants may down- or upgrade a target direc-tive, and it is possible to identify  sequential versions  of a given directive or request. Obviously, different versions are linked to different types of demands and social con-texts. Familiarity and social distance may play a role: an unfamiliar person is not likely to produce an unmitigated directive, whereas a family member may do so (Blum-Kulka, 1990; Brown and Gilman, 1989; Brown and Levinson, 1987; Ervin-Tripp et al., 1990). Listed below are some types of downgradings and upgradings that have been identified in the present data (Table 1).There were no set sequential patterns for exactly where and when activity contracts would be initiated. In most cases, though, activity contracts and revised contracts would appear after the adult had tried a series of other downgraded and upgraded options (see above on different revisions). Moreover, activity contracts generally did not mark the termination of a directive trajectory. When the child had agreed to a specific line of action, at HALSOUNIVERSITETS BIBLIOTEK on February 24, 2012das.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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