Exploring infants' cooperative participation in early social routines

  • Valentina Fantasia

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Cooperation and joint actions are often investigated in terms of how individuals explicitly coordinate their plans and intentions to achieve a shared goal. However, goals may also be achieved without prior arrangements, when, for instance, an individual takes part in someone else’s action without an explicit agreement, helping that action to be performed. Participating in social interaction may be considered as a basic form of cooperation that
does not always require verbal communication or the ability to predict the other’s intentions. Rather, it is based on daily experiences of interacting and coordinating with others in many, different situations.
Framed in this way, cooperative participation can be explored even in those who do not possess high mental abilities, such as infants. Indeed, infants seem to have a natural motive to engage in social interactions (Trevarthen, 1979). How does this participation develop from early forms of social interactions in infancy, to more complex types of interactions later on? Are there early forms of interactive participation in infancy that can be described as supportive for the caregivers’ action? The aim of the present Ph.D. work is to explore the way in which infants participate in daily routines, through the observation of 3-months-old infants’ behaviour in familiar interactions and their response to violations of these routines.
Chapter two presents a critical reflection, developed with Hanne de Jaegher, on inferential, representational accounts of cooperation by analytical philosophy and experimental psychology. A theoretical reconceptualization of cooperative interactions as social encounters is proposed, framed within the theoretical tenets of enactivism.
Chapter three investigates the structure and function of early social games, considered as early contexts for participation in distributed actions. Through behavioural observations, this study suggested that changes in the multimodal format of the play routines affected the infant’s behaviour and participation in the play interaction.
Chapter four extends the exploration of infants’ cooperative participation in joint routines, observing infants’ behaviour when being picked up. Infants showed specific cooperative adjustments of the body to complement the mother’s action when being picked up, as opposed to un-supportive loss of bodily tension and head strength when the pick-up action was delayed. Participation in this joint routine thus appeared to be conditional to aspects of timing and recognition of the mothers’ movements in the sequence, without relying on inferential knowledge.
Chapter five focuses on intrusiveness, a maternal behaviour that has been described as strongly affecting the infant’s participation in early interactions. In a joint work with Laura Galbusera, a qualitative microanalysis was applied to explore the sequential organisation of mother-infant exchanges to investigate 1) the consistency of current behavioural descriptions of intrusiveness and 2) their efficacy in analysing the interactional dynamics which may restrict the infant’s participation in interaction. A microanalysis inspired by Conversation Analysis methods revealed that interactional dimensions such as persistency, alignment, sequential structuring and timing appeared to be essential elements
for the interactional organisation and the shaping the possibility for the infant’s
The sixth and final chapter summarises the findings emerged throughout the thesis and discusses some key features of infants’ cooperative participation.
By integrating different approaches investigating intersubjective encounters, such as
Enactivism, Conversation Analysis and Infant Research, this dissertation has explored cooperation as an aspect of social participation that evolves within human interactions, but is also already grounded in infants’ interactional competencies. This comprehensive approach has provided much needed insight into the importance of widening the concept of cooperation and its development, considering joint routines as multimodal contexts in everyday life where infants (but also adults) learn to understand, make sense of, and align with the other’s actions and affects, without relying on inferential processes.
Date of AwardJan 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorAlessandra Fasulo (Supervisor), Alan Costall (Supervisor) & Beatriz Lopez (Supervisor)

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