Conversation Analysis and Ethnomethodology: Identity at Stake in a Kinship Carers' Support Group

Julie Wilkes, Susan Speer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Conversation analysis (CA) is an empirical approach to the study of social life that takes interaction in context as its primary focus. It is fundamentally ethnomethodological in its concern to discover the methods people use to collectively organise and navigate the everyday social world. For CA, identity is something that people actively use, make reference to, and put to work, in order to bring about a social action or outcome, such as to establish or resist membership of a category or social group. CA has been used in the study of gender identities, race, family roles, youth subgroups, and chatrooms; in mainstream media interaction, in studies of institutional exchanges such as in education, healthcare, advice and legal settings, and in sales environments, both online and face to face. To see what and how identities are achieved, CA explores sequences of embodied interaction, the primary source of data, carefully recorded and transcribed, so that we can identify patterns, including in how people bring off and attribute certain characteristics to their own and others’ membership of particular identity categories. Detailed analyses of real interaction enable us to grasp how matters relevant to identity are raised, made relevant and dealt with in real time. In applying this approach we can observe and report on the kinds of identity problems that members are solving in the here and now. In this chapter we provide a brief survey of the development of an ethnomethodological and conversation analytic approach to identity and describe how it offers verifiable insights into the inventive capacity of people to make attributions and inferences of identity consequential to social actions. We offer an example of a conversation-analytic procedure, looking at how kinship carers handle matters of family identity in a support group environment. Kinship carers’ parental status is poorly understood and at times overtly challenged by others. In our analyses we demonstrate how kinship carers interactively establish recognisable attributes and features of a common and valid identity in their complaints about the actions and dispositions of absent third parties. We end by considering how an ethnomethodological CA approach contributes to identity research, its limitations and its future directions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCambridge Handbook of Identity
EditorsM Bamberg, C Demuth, M Watzlawik
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • conversation analysis
  • ethnomethodology: identity
  • kinship care
  • support groups


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