Discursive practices in talking problems during a school–family meeting

Richard Buttny, Sandra Kellogg Rath

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter


This chapter examines a meeting between family members and a high-school co-director. The meeting was called for a returning student who was newly a mother. What is interesting about this is how the talk extends into the personal matters of the family, such as: interpersonal relationships with the father of the baby, accountability for the pregnancy and birth control. We look at the discursive practices in formulating problems and in accounting for such versions. In particular, we focus on how participants, at times, orient to and manage these problems as delicate matters. In talking problems, persons are invariably positioned through their own or other's accounts (Davies and Harré, 1999). How one is positioned can be especially important in institutional contexts, such as a school. Institutional representatives typically have far greater knowledge of institutional norms and practices than lay clients (Gumperz, 1982). We need to examine how this asymmetry of knowledge, access and power plays out in communication events such as meetings or interviews. For instance, a recent study of a high school–family meeting for a teenage mother's return to school found that this student was positioned in contradictory ways, by conflicting category predicates – as being a mother, a fifteen-year-old with friends, needing to do homework (see also Buttny, 2004: ch. 2). Such conflicting positionings were oriented to by participants as a possible problem: for the family as something that could be resolved through the grandmother's help, while for the school as something that may make graduating difficult and may necessitate her transferring schools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDiscursive Research in Practice
Subtitle of host publicationNew Approaches to Psychology and Interaction
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780511611216
ISBN (Print)9780521849296
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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