Mundane morality

Gender, categories and complaints in familial neighbour disputes


  • Elizabeth Stokoe Loughborough University
  • Derek Edwards Loughborough University



Conversation analysis, discursive psychology, gender, morality, neighbours


The paper introduces the concept of ‘mundane morality’, which refers to the practices of everyday life in which people mix moral evaluations, a sense of right and wrong, blame and culpability, etc., with ordinary accounts and descriptions of persons, actions, and events. Challenging traditional psychological work on moral development, including Gilligan’s work on the gendered nature of moral reasoning, we argue that ‘morality’ is best understood as a communicative practice. Rather than focus on identifying gendered styles of moral reasoning, we show how gender is invoked to do moral work in an episode of recorded neighbour dispute mediation. We analyse the way in which parties make complaints on the basis of gendered category memberships, and show how ‘the accountability of social conduct brings directly into focus moral dimensions of language use’ (Drew 1998: 295). Overall, we aim to show how to analyse ‘moral reasoning’ as it happens; as it is imbricated in the daily practices of everyday life.

Author Biographies

Elizabeth Stokoe, Loughborough University

Elizabeth H. Stokoe is Professor of Social Interaction in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, UK. She has written widely about gender and interaction and analysed social interaction in the contexts of education, mediation and police interrogations. She has developed the ‘Converstion Analytic Role-play Method’ (CARM) for training practitioners.

Derek Edwards, Loughborough University

Derek Edwards is Emeritus Professor of Psychology in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, UK. His research is in the analysis of language and social interaction in everyday and institutional settings. He specializes in discursive psychology, in which relations between psychological states and the external world are studied as discourse categories and practices.


Benwell, B. M. and Stokoe, E. (2006) Discourse and Identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Bohan, J. S. (1997) Regarding gender: Essentialism, constructionism and feminist psychology. In M. M. Gergen and S. N. Davis (eds) Toward a New Psychology of Gender: A Reader, 31–48. London: Routledge.

Brown, L. M., Gilligan, C. and Tappan, M. B. (1995) Listening to different voices. In W. M. Kurtines and J. L. Gewirtz (eds) Moral Development: An Introduction, 311–335. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Butler, J. (1990) Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory. In S. Case (ed.) Performing Feminisms, 270–282. Baltimore, MA: John Hopkins University Press.

Chodorow, N. (1978) The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Clement, G. (1996) Care, Autonomy and Justice: Feminism and the Ethic of Care. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Coates, J. (1996) Women Talk. Oxford: Blackwell. Crawford, M. (1995) Talking Difference: On Gender and Language. London: Sage. http://

Cuff, E. C. (1994) Problems of Versions in Everyday Situations: Studies in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Davis, K. (1992) Toward a feminist rhetoric: The Gilligan debate revisited. Women’s Studies International Forum 15 (2): 219–231.

Day, J. M. and Tappan, M. B. (1996) The narrative approach to moral development: From the epistemic subject to dialogical selves. Human Development 39 (2): 67–82.

Drew, P. (1998) Complaints about transgressions and misconduct. Research on Language and Social Interaction 31 (3–4): 295–325.

Edwards, D. (1995) Two to tango: Script formulations, dispositions and rhetorical symmetry in relationship troubles talk. Research on Language and Social Interaction 28 (4): 319–350.

Edwards, D. (1997) Discourse and Cognition. London: Sage. 9781446221785

Edwards, D. (1998) The relevant thing about her: Social identity categories in use. In C. Antaki and S. Widdicombe (eds) Identities in Talk, 15–33. London: Sage.

Edwards, D. (2005) Moaning, whinging and laughing: The subjective side of complaints. Discourse Studies 7 (1): 5–29.

Edwards, D. (2006) Facts, norms and dispositions: Practical uses of the modal would in police interrogations. Discourse Studies 8 (4): 475–501. 1461445606064830

Edwards, D. and Potter, J. (1992) Discursive Psychology. London: Sage.

Edwards, D. and Stokoe, E. (2007) Self-help in calls for help with problem neighbours. Research on Language and Social Interaction 40 (1): 9–32. 08351810701331208

Edwards, D. and Stokoe, E. (2011) ‘You don’t have to answer’: Lawyers’ contributions in police interrogations of suspects. Research on Language and Social Interaction 44 (1): 21–43.

Fivush, R. (2014) Gender and voice in emotional reminiscing. In K. H. Lagattuta (ed.) Children and Emotion: New Insights into Developmental Affective Science, 81–94. Basel: Karger.

Friedman, M. (1995) Beyond caring: The de-moralization of gender. In V. Held (ed.) Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics, 61–78. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Fulani, L. (1998) Moving beyond morality and identity. In E. Burman (ed.) Deconstructing Feminist Psychology, 140–158. London: Sage.

Garcia, A. (1996) Moral reasoning in interactional context: Strategic uses of care and justice arguments in mediation hearings. Sociological Inquiry 66 (2): 197–214. http://

Gilligan, C. (1993 [1982]) In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gilligan, C. (2011) Joining the Resistance. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Gilligan, C. (2014) Moral injury and the ethic of care: Reframing the conversation about differences. Journal of Social Philosophy 45 (1): 89–106.

Goodwin, M. H. (2002) Exclusion in girls’ peer groups: Ethnographic analysis of language practices on the playground. Human Development 45 (6): 392–415. 10.1159/000066260

Goodwin, M. H. (n.d.) Morality and Exclusion in Girls’ Social Organization. Plenary lecture at the Symposium on Language in Society, Austin, Texas, April 10, 1999.

Hare-Mustin, R. T. and Maracek, J. (eds) (1990) Making a Difference: Psychology and the Construction of Gender. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 10.1177/0959353594044007

Hare-Mustin, R. T. and Maracek, J. (1994) Asking the right questions: Feminist psychology and sex differences. Feminism and Psychology 4: 531–537.

Hekman, S. J. (1995) Moral Voices Moral Selves: Carol Gilligan and Feminist Moral Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Heritage, J. C. and Lindström, A. (1998) Motherhood, medicine and morality: Scenes from a medical encounter. Research on Language and Social Interaction 31: 397–438.

Hester, S. and Francis, D. (1997) Reality analysis in a classroom storytelling. British Journal of Sociology 48 (1): 95–112.

Holmes, J. (1995) Women, Men and Politeness. Harlow, UK: Longman. http://dx.doi. org/10.4324/9781315845722

Housley, W. (2002) Moral discrepancy and ‘fudging the issue’ in a radio news interview. Sociology 36 (1): 5–21.

Houston, B. (1987) Rescuing womanly virtues. In M. Hanen and K. Nielsen (eds) Science, Morality and Feminist Theory, 237–262. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.

Jayyusi, L. (1984) Categorization and the Moral Order. London: Routledge. http://dx.doi. org/10.4324/9781315794709

Jayyusi, L. (1991) Values and moral judgement: Communicative praxis as a moral order. In G. Button (ed.) Ethnomethodology and the Human Sciences, 227–251. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jefferson, G. (2004) Glossary of transcript symbols with an introduction. In G. Lerner (ed.) Conversation Analysis: Studies from the First Generation, 13–31. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Kohlberg, L. (1981) The Philosophy of Moral Development: Essays on Moral Development, Volume 1. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Kurri, K. and Wahlström, J. (2001) Dialogical management of morality in domestic violence counselling. Feminism and Psychology 11 (2): 187–208. 0959353501011002009

LeCouteur, A. and Oxlad, M. (2011) Managing accountability for domestic violence: Identities, membership categories and morality in perpetrators’ talk. Feminism and Psychology 21 (1): 5–28.

Matheison, K. and Banerjee, R. (2011) Peer play, emotion understanding, and socio-moral explanation: The role of gender. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 29 (2): 188–196.

Milanowicz, A. and Bokus, B. (2013) Gender and moral judgments: The role of who is speaking to whom. Journal of Gender Studies 22 (4): 423–443. 09589236.2012.719314

Moshman, D. (1999) Adolescent Psychological Development: Rationality, Morality and Identity. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Nikander, P. (2002) Age in Action: Membership Work and Stage of Life Categories in Talk. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica.

Noddings, N. (1984) Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Piaget, J. (1932) The Moral Judgment of the Child. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

Piaget, J. (1972) Principles of Genetic Epistemology. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Potter, J. (1996) Representing Reality : Discourse, Rhetoric and Social Construction. London: Sage.

Rautajoki, H. (2012) Membership categorization as a tool for moral casting in TV discussion: The dramaturgical consequentiality of guest introductions. Discourse Studies 14 (2): 243–260.

Sacks, H. (1972) On the analyzability of stories by children. In J. J. Gumperz and D. Hymes (eds) Directions in Sociolinguistics: The Ethnography of Communication, 325–345. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Sacks, H. (1992) Lectures on Conversation. Oxford: Blackwell. 9781444328301

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A. and Jefferson, G. (1974) A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language 50 (4): 696–735. 10.2307/412243

Schegloff, E. A. (1997) Whose text? Whose context? Discourse & Society 8 (2): 165–187.

Schegloff, E. A. (2007) Sequence Organization in Interaction: A Primer in Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sevenhuijsen, S. (1998) Citizenship and the Ethics of Care: Feminist Considerations on Justice, Morality and Politics. London: Routledge.

Smith, D. (1978) K is mentally ill: The anatomy of a factual account. Sociology 12 (1): 23–53.

Stokoe, E. (2003) Mothers, single women, and sluts: Gender, morality and membership categorization in neighbour disputes. Feminism and Psychology 13 (3): 317–344. http://

Stokoe, E. (2006) Public intimacy in neighbour relationships and complaints. Sociological Research Online 11. Available at

Stokoe, E. (2008) Categories and sequences: Formulating gender in talk-in-interaction. In L. Litosseliti, H. Saunston, K. Segall and J. Sunderland (eds) Language and Gender Research Methodologies, 139–157. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stokoe, E. (2009) Doing actions with identity categories: Complaints and denials in neighbour disputes. Text & Talk 29 (1): 75–97.

Stokoe, E. (2010) ‘I’m not gonna hit a lady’: Conversation analysis, membership categorization and men’s denials of violence towards women. Discourse & Society 21 (1): 1–24.

Stokoe, E. (2011) ‘Girl – woman – sorry!’: On the repair and non-repair of consecutive gender categories. In S. Speer and E. Stokoe (eds) Conversation and Gender, 85–111. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stokoe, E. (2012a) Moving forward with membership categorization analysis: Methods for systematic analysis. Discourse Studies 14 (3): 277–303. 1461445612441534

Stokoe, E. (2012b) ‘You know how men are’: Description, categorization and the anatomy of a categorical practice. Gender and Language 6 (1): 231–253. genl.v6i1.233

Stokoe, E. (2013a) Overcoming barriers to mediation in intake calls to services: Researchbased strategies for mediators. Negotiation Journal 29: 289–314. 10.1111/nejo.12026

Stokoe, E. (2013b) Applying findings and creating impact from conversation analytic studies of gender and communication. Economic and Industrial Democracy 34 (3): 537– 552.

Stokoe, E. and Attenborough, F. T. (2014) Gender and categorical systematics. In S. Ehrlich and M. Meyerhoff (eds) Handbook of Language and Gender, 169–179. Second edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Stokoe, E. and Edwards, D. (2006) Story formulations in talk-in-interaction. Narrative Inquiry 16 (1): 59–68.

Stokoe, E. and Edwards, D. (2007) ‘Black this, black that’: Racial insults and reported speech in neighbour complaints and police interrogations. Discourse & Society 18 (3): 337–372.

Stokoe, E. and Edwards, D. (2008) ‘Did you have permission to smash your neighbour’s door?’: Silly questions and their answers in police–suspect interrogations. Discourse Studies 10 (1): 89–111.

Stokoe, E. and Hepburn, A. (2005) ‘You can hear a lot through the walls’: Noise formulations in neighbour complaints. Discourse & Society 16 (5): 647–673. http://

Stokoe, E. and Wallwork, J. (2003) Space invaders: The moral-spatial order in neighbour dispute discourse. British Journal of Social Psychology 42 (4): 551–569. 10.1348/014466603322595275

Tannen, D. (1990) You Just Don’t Understand! Women and Men in Conversation. London: Virago.

Tong, R. (1993) Feminine and Feminist Ethics. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Watson, D. R. (1997) Some general reflections on ‘categorization’ and ‘sequence’ in the analysis of conversation. In S. Hester and P. Eglin (eds) Culture in Action: Studies in Membership Categorization Analysis, 49–75. Washington, DC: University Press of America.

Watson, R. and Weinberg, T. (1982) Interviews and the interactional construction of accounts of homosexual identity. Social Analysis 11: 56–78.

West, C. and Zimmerman, D. H. (1987) Doing gender. Gender and Society 1 (2): 125–151.

White, S. (2002) Accomplishing ‘the case’ in paediatrics and child health: Medicine and morality in inter-professional talk. Sociology of Health and Illness 24 (4): 409–435.

Widdicombe, S. and Wooffitt, R. (1995) The Language of Youth Subcultures. Hemel Hempstead, UK: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Wodak, R. (ed.) (1997) Gender and Discourse. London: Sage.

Wood, J. T. (1992) Gender and moral voice: Moving from woman’s nature to standpoint epistemology. Women’s Studies in Communication 15: 1–24.

Wowk, M. T. (1984) Blame allocation, sex and gender in a murder interrogation. Women’s Studies International Forum 7 (1): 75–82.



How to Cite

Stokoe, E., & Edwards, D. (2015). Mundane morality: Gender, categories and complaints in familial neighbour disputes. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 9(2), 165–192.