Whānau socialisation through everyday talk: A pilot study

Whānau socialisation through everyday talk: A pilo…
01 Jan 2008

This pilot study that explores what māori whānau talk about in their everyday lives and how such talk contributes to whānau socialisation.



The major aim of this study was to test the viability of a research concept by way of a small ethnographic pilot project that explores what whānau/families talk about in their everyday lives and how talk contributes to whānau socialisation in Aotearoa New Zealand (Frey, Botan, Friedman, & Kreps, 1992). 


The second feature of the research concept was the trialling of a collaborative qualitative method. In order to gain access to talk that goes on in the private world of families, and minimise the effect of intrusive researchers imposing on family life (Tannen, 2004), four whānau were enlisted who agreed to tape-record their own interactions at home. Before the study began, examples of different types of events or settings (Hymes, 1988; Saville-Troike, 2003) such as mealtimes, before school, while watching television and so forth, were discussed with whänau. Whānau were briefed on how to use the recorders and instructed to keep, whenever possible, a log of the date, time and place of each taped interaction. Throughout the data collection period, control of the recording process was the responsibility of the whānau and their nominated recorder. The participants were free to edit and delete material as they wished (Holmes, 2000).

At no time was an observer present during the data collection process. In one sense this was a limitation of the study, since the presence of a participant-observer would have enabled the researchers “to enrich the information gathered in many ways (eg, researchers made notes to accompany each recording session, including lists of the menu at each dinner, and later helped with interpretation)”, (Blum-Kulka, 1997, p 17). However, as Blum-Kulka also acknowledges, the presence of outsiders obviously changes the participation structure, and this was an important consideration in this study. We considered the presence of a participant observer to be overtly intrusive and a potential disruption to the talk that families engage in as a natural part of their everyday lives. Furthermore, the nature of the research – studying in some detail what whänau talk about – meant that access to families might easily have been compromised by the inclusion of an observer. To compensate, our original plan was to video interviews with adult whānau members as they listened to the taped conversations and to collaborate with them in the analysis as if we had been present in the conversations, much as Blum Kukla describes (Blum-Kulka, 1997). However, time constraints in the implementation of this study led to our withdrawing this idea and instead having whänau make changes to or comment on our written interpretations. 

Our initial intention was to recruit five whānau, but this was reduced to four when one withdrew. A designated adult family member was assigned to tape-record episodes of whänau talk, using a portable digital tape recorder and microphone, as opportunities arose over a period of one week. The interviews were transcribed verbatim by a professional transcriber and checked for accuracy by the researchers. In the main, the conventions of sociolinguistics were not drawn upon; this is in spite of our interest in how whänau use talk as a means of bonding together and maintaining whänau relationships, or, framed in sociolinguistic terms “…uses of language to communicate meaning, but also used to establish and to maintain social relationships” (Spolsky, 1998, p 3). We decided that the conversation flow was too important to fragment by signalling ‘pauses’ or ‘hesitancies’. 

The computer software HyperRESEARCH, a qualitative tool for the coding and analysis of data, was employed for this study, which substantially reduced the labour involved in conventional methods (Tomlins Jahnke, 2005, p 28). Whānau members were involved in checking and modifying their verbatim quotes for accuracy in interpretation, and the modifications are detailed throughout this report. This collaborative process helped avoid the possibility of the researchers alienating the explanation of their experiences, thoughts and ideas through the körero from the cultural and social reality of their everyday lives. The ethical procedures approved by the Massey University Human Ethics Committee were followed in the process of consultation, information delivery and research methods.

Key Results

It is clear from our investigations that this pilot study has identified a significant gap in the research literature about communication within whānau generally and more specifically interaction in everyday talk, and how it contributes to whānau socialisation in Aotearoa New Zealand. In fact it was found that little is known about the nature of contemporary family communication in New Zealand, so in this respect the research makes an important contribution to our knowledge about New Zealand families.

The Whānau Talk study indicates, at least among the whānau who participated, the extent to which parents and grandparents expend their efforts on behalf of their whänau. Through their talk, the four whānau show that parents and grandparents are involved in supporting and engaging with their children. They are active in raising their children and demonstrating important whānau values through their actions and discussions. Significantly, core values of Māori society such as whänaungatanga, manaakitanga and tautoko were evident in the conversations we analysed and invariably underpinned the whānau talk.

A larger study would offer scope to investigate more fully whether such themes are found across a full range of whānau representing the diverse realities and constituted identities of contemporary Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand. The small sample and purposive sampling method employed in this pilot study means that families engaged in different socialisation interactions are not included. An in-depth investigation of whänau across varying economic and social fields, including whānau who have access to the Māori world and those whose access has been compromised through, for example, acculturation would offer further insights. This approach would then examine the extent to which socialisation patterns differ accordingly and are made apparent through talk.

The four case study whānau identify strongly as Māori and signal the continuity in values and parenting styles noted by European observers as early as 1868. William Colenso, for example, made the following observations of whānau life which illustrate some of the synergy between whänau 140 years ago and our four whānau today:

Their love and attachment to children was very great, and that not merely to their own immediate offspring. They very commonly adopted children; indeed no man having a large family was ever allowed to bring them all up himself – uncles, aunts and cousins claimed and took them, often whether the parents were willing or not. They certainly took every physical care of them; and as they rarely chastised (for many reasons) of course, petted and spoiled them. The father, or uncle, often carried or nursed his infant on his back for hours at a time, and might often be seen quietly at work with the little one there snugly ensconced. (Colenso, 1868, p 30).

There is no doubt that important information has emerged from this study on what whānau talk about in their everyday lives and how talk contributes to whānau socialisation into ways of being Māori in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand. For this reason, this pilot provides a very useful platform and basis for examining the role of everyday talk in socialisation processes, which will help us understand what makes not only whänau ‘tick’ but all New Zealand families. 

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018