Heteronormativity in action: Reproducing the heterosexual nuclear family in 'after hours' medical calls

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Heterosexism has become a recognized social problem since the rise of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) activism in the 1970s. One of its manifestations is heteronormativity: the mundane production of heterosexuality as the normal, natural, taken-for-granted sexuality. My research uses conversation analysis to explore heteronormativity as an ongoing, situated, practical accomplishment by people oriented to other actions entirely. I show that family reference terms—across a dataset of 59 after-hours calls to the doctor—are deployed so as to construct a normative version of the heterosexual nuclear family: a married couple, co-resident with their biological, dependent children. I examine the inferences normatively attached to family reference terms, consider how these inferences are used interactionally, and document how this everyday talk-in-interaction both reflects and reconstitutes the culturally normative definition of the family. This research advances our understanding of normativity by showing how a social problem can exist even when there is no orientation to “trouble” in interaction. Here, the persistent and untroubled reproduction of a taken-for-granted heteronormative world both reflects heterosexual privilege and (by extrapolation) perpetuates the oppression of non-heterosexual people, denied access to key social institutions such as marriage and unable to take for granted access to their culture's family reference terms. The article shows how the heteronormative social order is reproduced at the level of mundane social interaction, through the everyday conversational practices of ordinary folk.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-498
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2005



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