Kids, counsellors and troubles-telling

Morality-in-action in talk on an Australian children’s helpline


  • Susan Danby Queensland University of Technology
  • Michael Emmison University of Queensland



Ethnomethodology, children, counselling, helplines, morality


This article begins with the premise that morality is an intrinsic, although often invisible, aspect of everyday social action. Drawn from a corpus of fifty audio-recorded telephone calls to Kids Helpline, an Australian helpline for children and young people, we examine one call to show how the young caller and counsellor co-construct ‘morality-in-action’. Ethnomethodological understandings and, in particular, Sacks’ (1992) description of ‘Class 2’ rules and infractions show how an adolescent caller and counsellor collaboratively assemble moral versions of the caller. In puzzling out possible motives, the caller and counsellor can be seen to be attending to the implications of different moral versions of the caller. This attribution of motives is moral work in action, with motives contingently assembled, displayed and evaluated, with such work understood as displays of moral reasoning. The counselling call makes visible the counsellor’s interactional work to support and empower the client. Analysis such as this offers counsellors ways of understanding and making visible their interactional and moral work within helpline call interactions.

Author Biographies

Susan Danby, Queensland University of Technology

Susan Danby is Professor in the School of Early Childhood at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Her research applies ethnomethodological perspectives to investigating social interaction in children’s peer groups as well as between children and adults in institutional settings such as classrooms and helplines.

Michael Emmison, University of Queensland

Michael Emmison is an Honorary Research Fellow and formerly Reader in Sociology in the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland, Australia. His research is largely in the analysis of conversational interaction in institutional settings targeting activities such as help-seeking and advice-giving on various helplines.


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How to Cite

Danby, S., & Emmison, M. (2015). Kids, counsellors and troubles-telling: Morality-in-action in talk on an Australian children’s helpline. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 9(2), 263–285.