The Role of Talk in Culturally Situated Engagement Practices

Project: Research project

Project Details


The principal investigator seeks funding to support observational work that documents the discursive and problem-solving practices that occur in organized, routine episodes of engagement. Our one-year (2017-2018) pilot study examines features of adult, socially organized play (non-physical) activities that position African-American (AA), elder/aged participants (> 55) as knowledge producers, meaning makers, and creative problem solvers through culturally situated, community discourses. If approved, funding will support time-sensitive observational work (drawing on qualitative and ethnographic research methods) that involves elder/aged participants, some who are currently under non-residential, community care. The nature of this work, coupled with the varying physiological statuses and advanced ages of some of the participants, necessitates immediate site-entry and retrieval of data sources (observational and interview) for the purposes of our investigation. Driving Questions: How does socially organized, routine play position elder/aged adults as engaged teachers and learners? What is the nature of the engagement amongst participants who take up roles in socially organized group-play activities? • How is engagement demonstrated? • How do particular patterns of discourse influence participant engagement in activities? • How do particular activities, institutional and cultural technologies, and social relationships in each setting influence participant engagement? What are the accomplishments of participant engagement in each setting? This one-year (2017-2018) pilot study examines the complex features of adult engaged in organized play events. We will focus on three sites of play (formal and informal) in two mid-western cities–a state-run beauty school, a women’s bridge club, and an assisted living- based vocational workshop. Within each site (3) we focus on three distinct activity settings: a women’s Bridge game, a men’s Bid-Whist game, and a community led, family game day event. We’ve chosen to focus on these settings because these are the primary settings with clear boundaries where study participants have shared opportunities for social engagement and play. Such play events position elder/aged adult participants (> 55), as knowledge producers, meaning makers, and creative problem solvers through culturally situated, community discourses. Participants across all case sites will include elder / aged adults (> 55) and social facilitators at each site. All participants will be recruited for participation in the study. Criterion sampling (Patton, 2001) will be used to identify case sites in two of our three setting categories. Archival video documentation will be used to represent our third case (women’s bridge club). In order to select culturally shared and situated sites of engagement, we turned to criteria that are grounded in both practice and theory. These theory and practice driven criteria guide our inclusion and selection of research sites: • Activity is organized around shared goals; • Participants sit together in sustained activity around some set of goals; • Verbal style and humor are aspects of communication; • Alternative points of view are shared and exchanged; • Structures of argumentation are culturally informed. We employ a qualitative and ethnographic design that includes measures of participant engagement and discourse in routine, socially organized activity. Observations are our primary data source and will provide insights into the features of the activity system in eac
Effective start/end date10/1/179/30/19


  • Spencer Foundation (Grant #201800066)


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