Michelle H. Mamberg, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Department of Psychology

Bridgewater State University


508. 531.2515


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Dissertation Abstract

Clark University, 2002

Talking "responsibility": A developmental-discursive study of relational accounts.

This study examined the effect of conversational interventions on talk about responsibility for problems in intimate relationships.  A developmental-discursive framework joined developmental psychology’s orthogenetic principles with discursive psychology’s emphasis on language use.  Forty adults (20 men, 20 women) discussed responsibility for issues in their intimate relationships during a semi-structured interview.  Having previously chosen two issues, participants were asked to describe one in terms of responsibility before and the other after, one of four conversational interventions (active listening, responsibility-focused listening, eliciting perspective-taking and specifying agency).  The resulting accounts were assessed for changes in the portrayal of responsibility.  Transcripts were analyzed using a novel unit of analysis, a Responsibility Statement, coded along a developmental continuum from Non-Relational (No Agent, External Agent, Individual Agent) to Relational (Shared Agents, Differentiated, Integrated, Relational-Contextual).  The developmental level of accounts (degree of differentiation and integration of agency) was more relational after than before intervention.  However, there were no significant differences between interview conditions.  Discursive analyses demonstrated various modes of establishing Non-relational agency (constituting Passive or Isolated agents) and Relational agency (constituting Equal, Differentiated or Integrated Agents).  Applicability of the developmental-discursive model to future study of agency constitution was discussed.