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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Multimodal themes 

Do we all have undeveloped areas of interest? I suspect we do, and sometimes I think it's the case that the interest is latent - we might take some time to connect the dots, to realise the interest is there in the first place! That's what it feels like reading the literature on gesture and pointing. With a long-standing hobbyish fascination with the role that hands play in literacy events, the iPads work brings this into the daylight at last. Margaret Mackey introduced me to Frank Wilson's book The Hand (watch him here), and later I read Raymond Tallis's book with the same title. An interest I never followed up. Now I'm reading Herbert Clark's chapter 'Pointing and Placing' which is in this collection which is a carefully-constructed scholarly exploration of the ways in which communicative attention incorporates gesture in 'directing to' and 'placing for'. At first it seemed to be very culturally specific, but as the chapter progresses Clark acknowledges that these are cultural conventions - his data being North American (presumably Caucasian). His use of the idea of vectors in nodding,  sweeping hand movements, general and specific pointing to objects and sites is fascinating. One dimension that needs more exploration is how this articulates with social relationships. Is it an accident that the majority of Clark's examples are of men pointing things out to women? To extend this to toddlers on iPads it raises the question of adults' attempts to direct to and place for young children - and, of course, because toddlers are so delightfully agentive, the reverse. How do they manipulate adult attention through gesture? So all this folds into the ways in which the hands are also controlling, opening apps, turning pages and the rest. More to follow!

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