Doctoral thesis

Argumentation between parents and children : A study of family discussions at mealtime


243 p.

Thèse de doctorat: Università della Svizzera italiana, 2013 (jury note: Magna cum laude)

English In recent years, the family context has emerged as one of the most important contexts for the study of argumentation. The activity of mealtime, in particular, represents a privileged moment for studying how parents and children interact with each other, because it is one of the few moments during the day in which all family members come together and engage in intensive verbal interaction. During family mealtime discussions can frequently be observed in which parents and children hold different opinions about a certain issue, e.g. the proper way to be seated at the meal-table, the amount or quality of food, and so on. In such cases, parents could easily avoid engaging in a discussion by advancing arguments in support of their standpoint, and yet resolve the difference of opinion in their own favor due to the difference in age, role, and skills with respect to their children. However, frequently during mealtime we can observe argumentative discussions, in which parents and children put forward arguments to convince the other party that their standpoint is more valid, and therefore deserves to be accepted. Why does this happen? This study is indeed aimed at identifying the function of argumentation between parents and young children during mealtime. To attain this purpose, the present dissertation assumes as its empirical base a corpus constituted of 30 video-recordings (and related transcriptions) of mealtime conversations in 5 Italian and 5 Swiss-Italian (Ticinese) families. Families were selected by adopting the following criteria: the presence of both parents and at least two children, of whom the younger is of preschool age (three to six years) and the second is older. All participants are Italian-speaking. The results of this research indicate that the function of argumentative interactions between parents and children is fundamentally educational. In particular, by means of argumentation, two distinct, but strictly related, educational targets are achieved. First, argumentation is an instrument that enables parents to transmit and children to learn values and models about how to behave in a culturally appropriate way. Interestingly, while the parents play the role of educators during argumentative discussions, the children play the not less important role of active learners. The second educational function is that of promoting in children the inclination to justify their desires in a reasonable manner. This second target is somehow present in all argumentative discussions. While the first target is behavioral in nature, because parents want to teach their children how to behave in a culturally appropriate way, the second target is cognitive in nature, because it is through argumentative interactions with their parents that children first learn a reasonable (i.e. argumentative) way of thinking.These outcomes represent real advances in the theoretical understanding of family discourse and in the investigation of the role played in this practice by argumentative processes. They also provide a basis for further investigations in this field.
  • English
Language, linguistics
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