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Bracketing Co-presence: Interactive Rituals in Departure and Reunion Sequences Between Parents and Children at the Boundaries of Extra-Curricular Activities

Kristine Anne Van Hamersveld


Marjorie Harness Goodwin

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 68


As extra-curricular activities constitute a major factor in the lives of children, communication regarding them constitutes an important site for investigating the socialization of ritual behavior. With increasingly busy schedules for middle class children, we ask what types of mundane supportive rituals (Goffman 1971) are maintained in the course of daily family life. This paper investigates practices for bracketing off spates of talk between parents and children in the midst of extra-curricular activities. We argue that what makes a difference for the bracketing of interaction is how participants position themselves as participating either within or outside of a state of incipient talk. When parents take leave of their children for some considerable period of time, departure sequences may be elaborated, and can include making arrangements for future meetings. Adjacency pairs between both participants affirm that both parties have agreed to a future plan of action, in much the same way that parents and children reciprocate goodnight exchanges (Sirota 2006) to agree to the child going to sleep. By way of contrast, in cases where parents and children occupy the same spatial-temporal region (a playing field, for example), but are not engaged in the same activity, closings and openings are attenuated, or even curtailed. Unilaterally delivered utterances such as “Okay!” and “Go!” initiated by a parent terminate a conversation, and release both participants from the immediate interaction, while projecting a next upcoming activity. By way of contrast, with respect to re-entering copresence, the particular terms of engagement among participants (whether or not they have been together or not in the same spatio-temporal arrangement) does not appear to have an impact on the formulation of salutations. Many of the features of greetings Duranti (1997) found in his cross-cultural study of greetings are absent from interactions where parents and children reunite after an extra-curricular activity. Our study shows that with respect to departures and greetings during extra-curricular activities, norms among co-present interlocutors (such as parents and children, who frequently are engaged in maintaining a state of incipient talk) appear to differ from those that govern more bounded forms of interactions, such as phone calls, which have typically been described for co-equal adult interlocutors.

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