Kirra’s Aboriginal epistemic talk: driving her bildungsroman

Roger Bourne

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

This research discovered a bildungsroman as a structural device for understanding the storytelling embedded in a long duration of talk. Bildungsroman refers to a literary genre that is a particular way of constructing a life story through talk about stages-of-life, moral agency, psychological troubles, identity, and responsibility, and ethnicity. The structural device of a bildungsroman was discovered through the application of the principles, policies, and analytical techniques of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis (EMCA). Aboriginal peoples often transmit their culture through storytelling.

A long duration of talk was recorded with a nineteen year old Aboriginal woman, here named Kirra. This phenomenon is reflected throughout the series of ten connected conversations that orient to significant stages in her life. Through the talk Kirra discloses stages-of-life that have characterised her progress from infancy to her coming-of-age as a young adult. Kirra’s talk encompasses episodes, phenomena, and obstacles that she has overcome to achieve a degree of maturity, dignity, and autonomy. Her construction of a bildungsroman is characteristic of Aboriginal discourse whereby their individual lives and their culture are constituted in storytelling. The conversational structures she employs, her moral agency, and her use of membership categorisation devices support the integrity of the choices she makes in her story. This achievement Kirra proposes to pass on to her community in the form of a book.

The findings of the study make a distinctive contribution to the scope of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis research, through discovery and analysis of the bildungsroman as a powerful organising conversational phenomenon, providing new ways of analysing storytelling structures in talk. Further, this research has the potential to contribute in distinctive ways to understanding the Aboriginal episteme as shown in day to day talk.

Supervisor: Dr Kelly Freebody