Coordinating care: a microethnographic investigation into the interactional practices of childcare workers

Access full-text files




Mehus, Siri Elizabeth

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This project is an investigation of the interactional practices of childcare workers. It is based on approximately 25 hours of videotaped interaction among caregivers and young children (2-24 months) at a childcare center, supported by observation and interviews. I approach the childcare environment as a place of work, grounding my analysis in the growing tradition of microanalytic studies of collaboration in the workplace. I focus on caregivers’ utilization of cultural and local resources in accomplishing their jobs, including specialized lexical items, verbal and gestural routines, and aspects of the material surround. In particular, I find that culturally available ways of interacting with children can serve the purpose of collaboration among caregivers in this site. By addressing utterances to preverbal children, caregivers act in conformance with professional and organizational ideologies of language socialization. Through these same practices, caregivers give voice to their understandings of “what’s going on” with the children, allowing for the coordination of caregiver actions. These practices moreover provide a space for the construction and negotiation of shared interpretations of children’s conduct. I provide a comprehensive description of the ways in which collaboration is achieved through such practices of communicating through children, and then discuss this phenomenon as an instantiation of “collective minding,” considering what it suggests about possibilities for participation in systems of coordinated action. In addition, I examine a particular strategy for managing children’s behavior in which caregivers create interactional and physical contexts for children's actions. I explore this phenomenon using the analogy of “child-proofing,” which refers to modifications made to a physical environment in order to constrain or enable certain actions on the part of children, or to create a context in which the actions children are likely to take become unproblematic. The environments created through “interactional child-proofing” may be situations brought into being through words, but they can also be material environments. This is an ongoing process in which caregivers continually attend to and anticipate children's movements in order to avoid resorting to direct forms of coercion. I consider this practice in terms of the focused attention and situated planning that it requires of caregivers.