5.3 Seeing (and hearing) with sequences


Our natural attitude to the world relies on the feature that when anyone does X then, usually, they get Y in response. When we ask a [question] we usually get an [answer]. When we hold the door for someone walking behind us we get a thankyou. When we wave at a friend in the street they wave back. Our actions are built in sequential relation to one another. Their sequencing providing a profound set of methods for keeping the world orderly, predictable and allowing us to build, ongoingly a shared sense of ‘what next’ or, equally, 'why that now'

This requires us, once again, to rethink that happens when we someone doing X and then Y happens. It is not that we see X and Y without an apparatus for connecting the two. We see with, and through, sequential relationships between visible (and audible) actions. When we see X happening then the routine, moralised and grammatical relations between them mean that we already expect that we will see Y happen next. If Z happens we might be a little surprised, might make some other judgements about the person that did Z instead of Y. As it was with talk, there are thus preferred response to any action and dis-preferred responses (more details). However if G happens then we may be bewildered, or, ask whether there is in fact any connection between X and G. One way we have of dealing with the occurrence of G is to recover it as random, accidental, funny and thus outside of the expected connection between sequences of actions.

Let us look again at Video 1 this time paying attention to the sequencing of what see and hear:


Video 1

In this case the 'customers' have arrived at the counter as part of leaving the cafe, next, they (and we) are expecting that 'paying their bill' is likely to be next in the order of service. Should the 'staff' ask them to return their cricket bats to the shed, then, we might begin to make judgements about those staff as being random, funny or crazy. Setting aside those extremes it might be something common and much more subtle that happens instead like the staff all walking away from the counter as the customers approach. Where, again then, we would make judgements about the staff as, for instance, inattentive.

Like the features used for analysing the sequencing of turns of talk, visual actions also are analysable by members of societies through their adjacency and through their pairing (see also 'adjacency pairs' in talk). We see a wave getting a wave back. This is something we can recognise because we expect a wave to be one half of a pair of greetings so we then look for and find its other half. Also though we expect them to be adjacent in time-space. When one person waves at another, if the wave back arrives half an hour later, we do not see it as related to the first wave. In fact a delay of a few seconds is treated as analysable for other things occurring. Did they not want to wave back? Did they not recognise me?

In Video 1, the customers by approaching the counter, and doing things like handling their purses and handbags, make available that they have come to pay, and the they expect the staff to recognise this be ready to accept their payments as the next part of this sequence of the actions of finishing a cafe visit.