"I'm a bit concerned" - early actions and psychological constructions in a child protection helpline

2012-03-20T09:49:34Z (GMT) by Jonathan Potter Alexa Hepburn
This article analyzes early actions in 50 calls reporting cases of abuse to a national child protection helpline in the UK (the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Helpline, NSPCC). It focuses on the early turns in the caller's reason for call, in particular, a class of constructions in which the caller describes himself or herself as "concerned about x" (or similar). Analysis of the corpus of calls suggests concern constructions are canonical early elements of the reason-for-call sequence. Concern constructions (a) are oriented to a pre-move in the caller's reason for call, (b) project the unpacking of concerns in a way oriented to the NSPCCs institutional role, (c) attend to epistemological asymmetries between caller and call taker and remove the requirement for disaffiliative next actions such as asking for the basis of claims, (d) provide a way for the Child Protection Officer to take abuse claims seriously while not presupposing their truth, and (e) display an appropriate caller stance. These observations are supported by an analysis of deviant cases. The broader implications of this study for the relation between psychology, interaction, and institutions are discussed.