5.12 Gestures and facial expressions

As we have noted already, gestures are not like sign language, we have to analyse them in relation to the ongoing talk, the objects they are made in, on and around and then also the environment that is both picked out by them even as it also is a resource for those gestures. Not only might we (and the participants in the original setting) wish to take all these into consideration, gestures are made ongoing in relations to the gestures of others. If we wave at a friend in the street we expect a wave (or similar greeting) back in return.

Let us return to the first two lines from the recording of the family in the car and their failed search for a right turn off the road they are on.

What we noticed earlier was that S was able to be 'pretty sure' because the fence had appeared in the middle of the road blocking turns to the right:
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Let us shift now to look at the gestures and the expressions that were being made:
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S: up

S: ((looking))
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S: ere ((quick nod
toward road))

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S: ((looks towards

The driver is looking at the road. It’s harder to discern, but the passenger is staring into the middle distance while chewing on her fingers as a display of her growing anxiety.

Let’s track more closely the timing between what S is doing with his body and speech.

Q: What gestures does S make and what are these gestures doing in relation to his talk?

S has been looking ahead at the road, as we would expect of the driver, and what he does, as he comes to the completion of his supposition about the improbability of there being able to turn right, is produce a rapid nod toward the road ahead. The nod is timed with ‘ere thus securing a sense for J of what ‘ere refers to.

While what he is saying appears like a knowledge claim, a central concern for us, is to consider what it is doing, not only what it is. The inference that J might be expected to make from it, is that there is a problem surrounding the absence of a right hand turn.

With his knowledge claim and problem delivered S then turns toward J to check on what she has made of what he has said.

Q: What has J has been doing meantime? Again, concentrate on her gestures and facial expressions. Think also here about what S sees of J’s expressions.

J has maintained, ongoingly, the appearances of anxiety about the fact that they cannot find the right turn, that she had earlier claimed was there. As post hoc researchers we have seen that has been biting her fingers and not changing her expression of worry the whole time. Because J maintains this stance upon the unfolding problem, S sees exactly that each time he glances across to J. What he will see then is that she does not change her stance upon their failure to find the right hand turn. All she does by way of response is a disappointed ‘tch’ and then an audible sigh.

We can use our counter-factuals to consider an alternative response. What if J had returned S’s gaze and held it? Looking back to him like that could then be taken as turning toward him for a solution to the problem he has raised? (Or if framed by a quizzical facial expression as her showing she does not understand him). Given that she does not look back, then one thing we might see her doing by her minimal response is retaining the role of giving directions to S. She remains the navigator to his driver even if that points she is a navigator failing to offer further directions and looking dismayed.

This might seem like mere conjecture on our part. The benefit with recordings though is, as we noted earlier, that we can compare our conjectures against what then does happen next:

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S: ((looking)) So
we’ve got a problem
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J: ((J leans across
to look))
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J: ((returns to
previous position))
(silence 3.0 secs)

Q: Looking at S’s gestures in connection with his talk again, what does S do here?

Having not had any further directions from J, S now becomes more frank, moreover he adds that the lack of the right turn is relevant ‘now’. He is thus beginning to exert greater pressure on J as navigator to provide a solution (which is the response that ‘problem’ make relevant).

Q: Looking at J’s gestures this time and her talk, what is she doing in response to S?

J makes her involvement in the scrutiny of the right hand side of the road apprehensible by leaning across. J is scrutinising the right hand side of the road for the missing right turn. We can note also that her down-turned and stretched mouth continues to display her dismay and worry.

Unsurprisingly J's search does not turn up a right hand exit that the driver has not seen. Instead the car moves further forward up the road, as we can also see if we look at the video recording:

What is useful here is again to consider the counterfactual possibilities: if J said ‘stay in this lane and we’ll see if we can cut through at the top of the road somehow’, then she would have both provided a response that S appears to be seeking, moreover she would have sustained her role as navigator. Instead, as we have witnessed, J remains silent for three seconds (e.g. the (3.0) on the original transcript). If we then also consider this silence falling after her having visibly scrutinised the road we can think about how S is likely to understand it.