Managing power relations in interaction: Negotiations of (relational) entitlements and the ‘(in)appropriateness’ in Chinese-Australian families

31 May 2024
Room H1

Managing power relations in interaction: Negotiations of (relational) entitlements and the ‘(in)appropriateness’ in Chinese-Australian families

Relationships between family members are continually shaped through language use during various family activities. The interactionally achieved meanings and actions convey implicit and explicit messages of their ongoing categorisations of who-they-are-in-relation-to-others and understanding of how-they-are-expected-to-behave-at-home (Pomerantz & Mandelbaum, 2005). Types of relationships emerge in the process of (co-)constructing and negotiating what is perceived as appropriate here and now. Yet, limited research has been done to explore this in Chinese-Australian family discourse. This study aims to contribute to the underexplored area by focusing on the power dimension of relationships between family members. It examines how power relations are managed moment-by-moment by family members through the ongoing orientation to (relational) entitlements and (behavioural) norms.

Drawing on interactional pragmatics and membership categorisation analysis, the study pays attention to the emergence and situatedness of power practices in interaction and tracks the in-situ categorisation and (cultural) knowledge invoked by family members. The data come from dyadic and multi-party interactions between two or three generations in Chinese-Australian families. Preliminary results demonstrate the dynamic and negotiable nature of power relations between family members. Through achieving certain actions with linguistic practices (e.g., using imperatives, code-switching) and prosodic modulation (e.g., a child voice), participants make various categorises relevant to the locally situated interaction to index the rights and responsibilities that they orient to have. An asymmetric relation of power is then established in situ. Interestingly, family members, particularly children, might sometimes ‘borrow’ entitlements from the categories that dis-aligns with the taken-for-granted expectation of their self-positionings at home. By doing this, they attempt to constitute a localised order and make their culturally or family-inappropriate behaviours valid. The analysis shows that the interactionally achieved power relation in these families is not always consistent with the Chinese-culture-expected hierarchical order (Pan, 2000).


Pomerantz, A. & Mandelbaum, J. (2005). Conversation analytic approaches to the relevance and uses of relationship categories in interaction. In K. L. Fitch, & R. E. Sanders (Eds.), Handbook of language and social interaction (pp. 332-379). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pan, Y. (2000). “You don’t know what you want”: Conflicting factors in a family setting. In Politeness in Chinese face-to-face interaction (pp. 105-142). Stamford: Ablex Publishing Corporation.