Ed.D. Student Rebekah Johnson to Present at AILA

| February 28, 2011

Name: Rebekah Johnson
Conference: AILA (Beijing, China; Aug. 23-28)
Presentation title Discursive Practices in the Family Context: Negotiating the Identity of the Adult Child


The context of the family is one of the most important environments for both individual identity development and the learning of social and cultural practices.

In the past decade, there has been a growing body of discourse analytic studies of family interaction, examining how socialization of morality, gender, political views, and general social practice is accomplished through family talk (e.g., Blum-Kulka, 1994; Gordon, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008; Kendall, 2008; Ochs & Taylor 1992, 2001; Paugh, 2005; Sterponi, 2003; Tannen, 2001, 2003, 2004).  There has, however, been a lack of studies of families comprised of older adults and their adult children.  Most studies have examined families with younger children who live at home.  This study examines the discourse among the members of one American family and the competing identities displayed in family talk among adult children and their parents.

Data was collected in the form of digital video recordings of conversations among family members during holiday mealtimes when family members who typically live far apart came together.  The recordings were transcribed and analyzed through the discourse analytic method of interactional sociolinguistics.

The analysis focuses on particular discussions within which we can see tensions between parental concerns and the identity construction of the adult children.  In the data, family members co-construct identities and employ particular discursive practices to accomplish identity work such as topic control, narration, critical argumentation and differentiation.  The results show interesting tensions between the expectations the parents have versus the identity work performed by the adult children as well as the negotiation of multiple simultaneous identities. In addition, generational and gender differences emerge.

The exploration of family discourse adds to the existing literature showing the structure of identity work. Additionally, the microanalysis of the pragmatic functions employed by family members is indicative of larger cultural practices.