'I'll hover until I'm needed': Strategies for solving interactional problems in three-party exchanges including someone with an intellectual disability.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


    Patterns of talk with people with intellectual disabilities (ID) have provided the focus for CA studies by Antaki and his colleagues (for example, Antaki et al., 2007), as well as by the author (Williams, 2011) and by others concerned with how practitioners manage ‘person-centred’ talk in the context of planning meetings (Pilnick et al., 2011). Variously, these studies have enlarged our understanding of the interplay of identity issues with particular interactional strategies adopted by practitioners, including direct questioning about future plans, foregrounding shared knowledge (Williams et al., 2009) and persuasion techniques routinely adopted by support staff. The current paper focuses on the problems introduced when a third party, typically a family member, is also present during an encounter with someone with ID. The practitioner faces the interactional problem of engaging directly with the person with ID, while simultaneously dealing with interventions on the part of a third party.
    The audio data from which extracts are drawn are from two main sources: a) a UK study of support planning, in which some naturally occurring audio data were collected of planning meetings involving three parties; b) audio-recorded semi-structured interviews, as sites of ‘live’ CA data. In relation to the latter, it is argued that in conventional qualitative interviews, the researcher often faces a similar interactional problem to that faced by practitioners. They have to enable a person with ID to respond, while relating to a family member who is present. Although family members may have the best of intentions, to ‘hover until needed’, their turns can have unintended consequences in the sequential structure of the talk.
    This paper focuses on moments of trouble, when the smooth flow of the turn sequence is interrupted. For instance, in one extract from a support planning meeting, a social worker (SW) is heard introducing the purpose of the meeting to a person with ID, Khalil:
    1. SW thats- means we're going to get together and write down
    2. (.) ho:w your needs are going to met↓ and what activities
    3. you're going to do such as going to college↑ (.) ye:ah↑
    4. and going to the new place (.) in Anford↓ (0.5) what do
    5. you think about that↑
    6. Khalil I want the same place (as) Shirley before↑
    7. SW shirley↑
    8. Mum °no shirleys not going to the same place Khalil↓°
    The analysis particularly focuses on how epistemic privilege is played out in the exchanges between family member and person with ID, both of whom demonstrably orient to the shared knowledge they have of each other’s concerns. Khalil’s turn at line 6 is heard not just as a dispreferred response, but as a strong intervention, designed to counter the very presumption on which the meeting is based, which is that Khalil is ‘going to the new place (.) in Anford↓’. There are immediately two candidate 2nd PPs here, one from the SW who asks for clarification about Shirley’s identity; his mother however, comes in quietly at line 8 with a 2nd PP that foregrounds their shared knowledge that a) both she and Khalil know who Shirley is; b) they both have agreed that Shirley is not going to the new centre with Khalil. The extract continues with Khalil making a bid to establish Shirley as his girlfriend, while the SW is faced with the task of moving the talk back to the plans for the day centre placement. To some extent, these extracts can be seen as two parties conducting joint work (in this case, the SW and mother), albeit based on very different positions of epistemic privilege.
    Alternative turn structure options open to the practitioner in such situations include: a) continuing to select the person with ID as next speaker; b) responding directly to the self-selection of the third party; c) adopting a somewhat mixed approach, where the person with ID continues to be selected, while the third party’s intervention is used as a script. The interactional consequences for the talk are analysed in this paper, showing how the shared knowledge within a family can impose a trap, in effect an epistemic trap, for the person with ID.
    The discussion will include some reflection from the point of view of people with ID themselves, who have been involved in previous CA analysis with the author. On listening to the data, they suggest ways in which the person with ID himself could have shaped their own turn, in order to re-direct the conversation in ways that enable them to have greater autonomy and interactional rights.
    Antaki, C., Walton, C. & Finlay, W. (2007) How proposing an activity to a person with an intellectual disability can imply a limited identity. Discourse and Society, 18(4): 393–410.

    Pilnick, A., Clegg, J., Murphy, E. and ALmack, K. (2011) ‘Just being selfish for my own sake…’: balancing the views of young adults with intellectual disabilities and their carers in transition planning. The Sociological Review, 59 (2): 303-323
    Williams, V. (2011) Disability and Discourse: analysing inclusive conversation with people with intellectual disabilities. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
    Williams, V., Ponting, L., Ford, K. & Rudge, P. (2009) ‘A bit of common ground’: personalisation and the use of shared knowledge in interactions between people with learning disabilities and their personal assistants. Discourse Studies, 11(5): 607–624.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationInternational Society for Conversation Analysis
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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