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ECON 220
Nov 11, 2023
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DISCOTRSE CONERENCE, PARTICIPATION STRUCTURE, AND PERSONAL DISPLAY IN A FAMILY DINNER TABLE CONVERSATION! Fredorick Erickson Introduction. This is an analysis of 4 family conversation at the dinner table. It hasa twofold emphasis: (1) on discourse coherence strategies apparent in the conversation and, (2) on such conversations as a learning environment for family members. Emphasis is on both the medium and the message in the conversation--the processes by which things were being said in connected fashion and the content of what was being said. The first part of the discussion will address relationships between content and process in the conversation, considering the sequence of topics across the round of stories, the behavioral interaction systems (verbal and nonverbal) by which the stories were produced in talk and listening behavior, and the group participation structures (enacied role sets) by which discourse coherence and interactional coherence through reciprocal and complementary role relationships was accomplished by the interlocutors. The second part of the discussion will focus mainly on issues of content in the conversation, reviewing major themes that were apparent in the talk. Throughout the paper, and with special emphasis in the final section, the family's conversation is considered as a learning enviroament. This focus is guided by twe questions about learning: "How and what do children learn about the ways of speaking that were employed in the conversation?" and, "How do they learn what they seem to be believing about family roles and about life outside the family?" Because this is a study of only one event in the interactional life ef this family, answers to those questions about learning are necessarily tentative and incomplete. They and will only be treated explicitly in passing. Yet the guiding questions, which point to th2 educational significance of routine interaction in conversation, do frame the approach to analysis that [ have taken in the paper. Let me introduce the family and the researchers who studied them. I will call the family the Pastores, using the pseudonym that was also used by Shultz and Theophano (nd.) in a separate report which compares this conversation with that of another family. The Pastore family was studied in 1974 in an investigation of how children learn the social interactional conventions of schooling in the early grades, and how those cultural conventions regarding ways of speaking differ from those that obtained in the children's homes. In that study my research group videotaped children both at home and at school. The group consisted of Jeffrey Shultz, Susan Florio, Donald Bremme, and myself. Florio and I videoiaped two complete dinner conversations among the Pastores, one at the evening mea! on the third work day after Labor Day in early September, and the other at dinner a week later. In the portion of the dinner conversation that is analyzed here, Florio was the guest at the dinner table. The Pastore family had seven members: two parsnis and five children. There were four brothers and a sister. The youngest child was a boy who had just begun first grade. He is
"Bro. 4" in the transcripl. The next older sibling was his sister Maria, who is in third grade. Then there were two boys in late grade school, one in fifth grade (Bro. 3) and cane in sixth grade (Bro. 2). The oidest boy (Bro. 1) was in his early teens--in eighth or ninth grade. Here is the way the Pastores were seatad at the dinner table: Bro. Bro. Bro. 4 3 2z Ta. Mo. Bro. Sister Guest 1 The Pastores were Italian-American. They lived in a working class neighborhood in 3 suburb of Boston. The local elementary school received what now would be called "Chapter 1" funds because a significant number of families in the neighborhood had incomes below the poverty line. This particular family lived near relatives on both the father's and the mother's sides. (Many people immigrated to this neighborhood from a few geographically contiguous villages in Calabria, which is the scuthernmost province of the Italian peninsula.) The father of the family was an industrial aris teacher in a neighboring suburb that had a predominantly working class pepulation of Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans. The mother had been an elem=antary school teacher before she was married. The reader will notice that the family, collectively and as iandividuals, liked to play around with talk. They participated in talk actively and had fun with it. Moregver, they seem to have valued verbal art as a means of personal dispiay. A portion of conversation from this dinner (a portion that differs from the portion analyzed here) was discussed in a previously published paper that mainly considered turn- taking patterns and role differentiation in conversation. That paper (Shultz, Florio, and Erickson, 1982) was titled "Where's the fleor? A portion from the second dinner that was videotaped with this family was discussed in a paper on topical cohesion and on the rhythmic organization of talk. That paper (Erickson, 1982) was titled "Money Tree, Lasagna Bush, Salt and Pepper." I. INTERACTION SYSTEMS, TOPIC, AND COHERENCE STRATEGIES The conversation is a set of story rounds (Polanyi, 1979). Coherence in discourse, within and across the successive stories, was maintained by a number of aspects of organization that operated simultaneously. Some of these aspects will be discussed here in turn: (1) continuity of topic and protagonist, (2) continuity of keying, (3) group participation in maintaining discourse coherence, and (4) relative prominence of an individual story in the whole conversation. The third and fourth aspects of organization to be discussed involve mutually constitutive relationships between the conversationa! roles taken by primary speakers and audience members, and their statuses and roles within the family unit. Thus the conversation as enacted can be seen to be situated in the social organization of the family; an organization that is reflexively manifested in the doing of the talk. The meanings of a given story and the strategic position of the parrater in relation to the story and its audience are considered here as situational; a matter of social practice that is locally accomplished. The i
Srivksvn Family Conversation social identities and roles of the speakers and the contents of asir talk can alse be seen as less locally defined, according to cultural definiticas that obtain act only within this family s microculiure but alse within lower middle class lialian-Amarican subcultures more generally The stories we will consider here were about riding bikes. They recounted wipeouts (accidents) and near misses as experienced by various members of the family (see Figure 1, "Sequence of Storv Contents and Protagonists" and the fuil transcript of the conversation. both of which appear at the end of this paper). The sequence 1o be analyzed here began with an account of a wipeout by the youngest male in the family, Bro 4. 1t concluded with a story of a near-miss by the oldest male, the father. Afier the npening siory the major protagonists and narrators were the two oidest brethers and the father. The sister seems w have initiated one story {in one conversational turn) but did not complete it The stories, told almost entirely by males with some narrative assistance by the mother, portrayed a stereotypically male world in which danger was confronted and (usually) was averted by bravery and skill. The women in the coaversation--mother, daughter, guest-- assisted the men mainly by being an attentive sudience. The stories were addressed primarily to the guest. Shs was an especially attractive audience for stories such as bike stories that portrayed the proiagonist in a positive light, and self narrated bike stories are an especially effective medium for such a presentation of seif. The graduate student had a number of desirable features as a primary audience. First, she was a guest. and as such could be expected to treat the stories as nove! and interesting. She was also ayoung, pretty woman. Asan Italian-American she was a feliow ethnic. Asa former teacher and graduate student she could be considersd a pesr of the parents. Yet she was relatively young and seemed to be very intsresting to the cldest son. At the time of the videotaping we speculated that the oidest son's prominence in the story round, both as protagonist and as nacrator, may have besen partly due (o his desire to display himself as masculine aad competent in the eyes of the female guest. So the presence of the guest and the availability of bike stories as a geary can be seen as valuable conversational resources that were capitalized upon effectively and with relish by the primary speakers. Contipuity of Protagonist and Narrator. The transcribed portion of the conversation that is analyzed here shows fourteen stories and one accouxnt that is a detailed description rather than a narrative (see turns 173-192). In each of the storiss there was a protagonist, who was usually also the narrator. Sometimes other members of the family co-narrated, but within a single story the protagonist always stayed the same. Coasequently the continuity of protagonist within a parrative seems to be one of the moest basic of the devices for discourse coherence that was employed in the conversation. ' Danger was & narrative thems that as a Jedaetsv. provided discourse coherence. Usually the stories involved danger and the use of skill in an attempt to confront it. Thus a resolution phase in which the danger was successfully or unsuccesfully overcome was a possible component of the narrative (the terms for phases here are those of Labov, 1972). 'Sometimes, however, the story of danger was left without resciution. In most instances the stories began with the danger, iz medias res Sometimes the story concluded with the narrative phase that Labov terms an evaluation. The most fully develcped narrative was the story told by the father at 193-242. That -story began before the danger was sncountersd. In succession the narrative then recounted - confrontation with the danger, a resolution phase, and a concluding evaluation. The father's story is analytically interesting for many reasons and 1 will return to it repeatedly in the subsequent discussion. Here its significancs is that it was (as most complete narrative in the story round. 1n the less fully developed narratives in the reund. coherence within a story was ii
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