An academic dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Roman Languages at Stockholm University by Franco Pauletto was publicly defended on Friday 24 March 2017 at 10:00 in Högbomsalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 12, Campus Frescati.

Download the thesis from DiVA (Academic Archive On-line)

English title: The social order at the dinner table: The interaction between parents and children in Italian and Swedish families


This dissertation examines mealtime conversations between parents and children in eight Swedish and eight Italian middle class, dual-earner households, exploring the ways in which children are engaged in the cooperative construction of social order. The study is part of an international project (cf. Aronsson & Pontecorvo, 2002), coordinated with prior work in the US (cf. Ochs & Kremer-Sadlik, 2013).

Study I explores how children’s accounts work during family dinner conversations. So called proto-accounts (laments, multiple repeats, want-statements) and varied verbal accounts are analyzed in relation to age class or prior language socialization experiences.

Study II focuses on the use of endearment terms in directive sequences between parents and children. The findings show an asymmetrical distribution of endearment terms, in that only parents make use of them when interactional problems – children’s non-compliance with parental requests in particular – arise.  

Study III examines the ways in which Italian parents deploy the discourse marker dai (‘come on’) in directive sequences. This is a flexible linguistic resource that is employed by parents as a cajoling token when children fail to comply with parental requests, hindering the advancement of the in-progress activity.

This thesis describes family mealtimes as parent-directed activities where sociality, morality and local understandings of the world (Ochs & Shohet, 2006) are collaboratively re-created and enacted. This confirms the crucial role of everyday family meals as rich cultural sites (Ochs & Shohet, 2006) for reasserting moral attitudes of the family: participants learn moment by moment how to be competent actors that are able to choose between alternative courses of action and that can therefore be held accountable for their actions (Bergmann, 1998: 284). From this point of view, a dinner is paradigmatic of the deep moral sense that permeates the making of a family.

Opponent: Laura Sterponi, Associate professor at Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley, USA.

Supervisors: Karin Aronsson, Camilla Bardel, Fanny Forsberg-Lundell, and Lars Fant