'Child's time': Kinship carers' use of time reference to construct parental identities.

Julie Wilkes, Susan Speer

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Disputes about parenting, including investments of time, can arise when families break apart. One such context is that of kinship care, where relatives (typically grandparents or siblings) take over parenting responsibilities for a child. However, little is known about the discursive processes by which ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parental identities are constructed. From a corpus of video–recordings of kinship carer support groups, we examine how time references feature in carers' complaints about birth parents. Using Conversation Analysis, we identify two forms of reference: (i) reference to “child's time”, a shared cultural device concerning children's experience, and (ii) juxtaposing reported events on a timeline to infer consequentiality, thus attributing unparental motives to the birth parent. Both forms of time reference substantiate carers' inferences about birth parents' ineligibility for membership of the “good parent” category, and thus affirm their own entitlement as members, as key actions in the formulation of their complaints. We consider the implications of these findings for understanding co-constructed time-referenced devices such as “child's time”, and how Conversation Analytic studies could usefully investigate what other event-relative devices may be used to accomplish different social actions, and what identities might get constructed in the process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-26
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date27 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • Conversation analysis
  • Identity
  • Kinship care
  • Parenting
  • Peer groups
  • Time reference


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