Berlin Gesture Center | Interdisziplinäres BGC-Kolloquium


Vortrag von Paul Bouissac (University of Toronto):

The Optic, Haptic, and Acoustic Dimensions of Gestures: Evolutionary Significance and Methodological Implications


Freitag, 10. November 2006, 19 Uhr, Boltzmannstr. 3 (Raum 1105), 14195 Berlin (U-Bahnhof Thielplatz)


Gestures have been studied almost exclusively from the point of view of the visual medium and researchers have been mostly concerned with their morphological description, and their regularity and systematicity within particular cultural contexts. They have usually been construed either as micro-temporal events in social dynamics or as habitus in historical perspectives to the extent in which they have been documented in texts and iconography. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to expanding the scope of these studies – with respect both to perceptual modalities and to time frame – in order to deepen our understanding of this important aspect of human behavior.

The first part will focus on the inherent multimodality of gestures. Obvious examples are handshakes and clapping, which are culture-dependent social behaviors and involve touch and sounds. But all gestures can be assessed with respect to a progressive haptic and acoustic scale in addition to their visual dimension. These phenomenological variations are relevant to the semantic of gestures and should be fully conceptualized. They are also important for understanding the relations between the different modalities and the reasons for which the visual medium has been foregrounded in gesture studies.

The second part will endeavor to show that the time frame of gesture research must include an evolutionary perspective if all aspects of the object of study – including its inherent multimodality – are to be accounted for. The paper will then present and discuss arguments for the evolutionary pressures that may account for the poly-functionality of the upper limbs (including of course the hands) in primates and particularly in Homo sapiens.  

In conclusion, the paper will develop some theoretical and methodological proposals toward a research agenda that would take into account both the intrinsic multimodality of gestures and their evolutionary significance.