George Blanchard BSc

George Blanchard BSc

Managing accountability. The joint construction of disruptive behaviour in family interviews.


Background: Disruptive behaviour problems are common reasons for referral to family therapy services. Prior research has suggested that an important task for such families is maintaining a balance between discipline and attachment (comforting) responses towards young people by parents/carers. Central to this task are family members’ understandings of their problems. Conversations between family members can be seen as developing and maintaining these understandings.

Conversation analysis is a specific approach to studying conversations, which looks for patterns in talk. The aim of conversation analysis is to identify how talk is organised, how people coordinate talk, and the role of talk within wider social processes. Previous research using this approach has found that accountability is a key concern for families with disruptive behaviour problems.

Aims of Research: To use conversation analysis to examine how family members co-construct accounts of a young person’s disruptive behaviour, this involved addressing these specific aims:

• How are accounts of disruptive behaviour rhetorically organized?
• How do accounts manage blame and accountability?
• How are issues of stake and interest managed by family members?

Method: Two families were recruited who were experiencing disruptive behaviour problems. Each family participated in a family interview where family members were encouraged to talk about their explanations for the problems they were experiencing and their impact on the family. The recording was transcribed and analysed according to the conventions of conversation analysis.

Findings: Accounts of disruptive behaviour were found to have a specific structure, this consisted of three parts:• Statement of causality- proposing a cause for the problems
• Warrant- supporting that cause with a form of evidence
• Formulation- further developing the account to manage potential inferencesThis structure allowed family members to utilize strategies for managing accountability during the interview. Three strategies were identified:
• Objectifying- constructing the problem as a physical object
• Normalising- constructing one’s actions as a normal response to exceptional circumstances
• Systematic vagueness- establishing a frame of confusion to manage blame

Implications: This study demonstrated the importance of accountability and blame to families’ experiences of disruptive behaviour, and it supports the idea that these issues should be discussed during family therapy. The specific strategies described could also be identified by family therapists to help build a picture of relational processes within the family.

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