Handling power-asymmetry in interactions with infants: A comparative socio-cultural perspective

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Interaction between adults and infants by nature constitutes a strong power-asymmetry relationship. Based on the assumption that communicative practices with infants are inseparably intertwined with broader cultural ideologies of good child care, this paper will contrast how parents in two distinct socio-cultural communities deal with power asymmetry in interactions with 3-months old infants. The study consists of a microanalysis of videotaped free play mother-infant interactions from 20 middle class families in Muenster, Germany and 20 traditional farming Nso families in Kikaikelaki,
Cameroon. Analysis followed a discursive psychology approach. The focus of analysis is on how mothers handle and negotiate power-distance in these interactions and what discursive strategies they draw on. Mothers in both groups used various forms of directives and control strategies. The Muenster mothers, however, mainly used mitigated directives that can be seen as strategies to reduce the competence gap between mother and child, while the Nso mothers mainly used upgraded directives to stress the hierarchical discrepancy between mother and child. The different strategies are discussed in light of the prevailing broader cultural ideologies and the normative orientations that they reflect. Finally, the findings are discussed with regard to possible developmental consequences of these distinct cultural practices for the child.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInteraction Studies
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)212–239
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • power-asymmetry
  • mother-infant interaction
  • discursive psychology
  • Culture
  • Nso farmers
  • Muenster middle class families


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