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Family as Context

Johnson, Rebekah; Delprete, Donna

Within the last decade, discourse analysts have delved into the private sphere to examine the institution of the family. Analysts have noted how the family is a fertile research site and how investigation of family interaction gives, among other things, crucial insight into the intricate relational struggles between parents and their children (e.g., Dedaic, 2001; Sarangi, 2006; Tannen, Kendall, & Gordon, 2007). Considered a micro institution, the family provides the dayto-day context in which relations of power and connection are enacted, and human bonds are either severed or forged. In this respect, it is a key social institution, one “that mediates the individual and the social, with identifiable structures, functions, and hierarchies” (Sarangi, 2006, p. 403). Within this context, individuals also share a history, having been engaged with one another for a relatively long period of time. As a result of this long and extended contact, interaction among family members runs a gamut of emotions and behaviors. There are moments of tension and tenderness, assertions of autonomy and acts of resistance, and attempts by children to individuate from parents while still retaining some interpersonal attachment to the family as a whole. A discursive analysis of family interaction can provide insight into how family members negotiate these behaviors and attempt to maintain some familial harmony. Despite a concerted effort to “keep the peace,” any seemingly innocuous remark, request, or rumination by one family member (typically a parent) may evoke a past event or action that another family member (often a child) wishes to keep in the hinterland of his/her mind. The (re)linking of this prior interaction to the present context—known as intertextuality (c.f. Gordon, 2009)—also offers an opportunity to relive any feelings or tensions that may have accompanied it the first time. Hence, a family’s prior interaction clearly (re)shapes and (re)contextualizes their present interaction.

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Working Papers in Applied Linguistics & TESOL

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