“Our hands must be connected”: visible gestures, tactile gestures and objects in interactions featuring a deafblind customer in Mumbai

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Abstract

This article is based on the analysis of customer interactions of Pradip, a deafblind man, with street sellers and shopkeepers in Mumbai. Pradip made use of visible and tactile gesturing including pointing at and tapping on objects (to indicate them), using emblematic gestures, and tracing the shape of objects on the hand. The fact that the sensory ecology is not reciprocal for the interlocutors is crucial for our understanding of what interaction means in these contexts. The material contexts themselves exert pressure on practices because of the constraints they pose for Pradip and his interlocutors; and routine/patterned ways of interacting in those contexts also exert pressure on practice: conventionalised schemes for customer interactions do not necessarily work in interactions between a deafblind and hearing sighted person. Pradip, as an experienced customer, negotiated the lack of shared conventional mechanisms for coordinating and signalling attention by abundant repetitions and by establishing tactile contact either immediately prior to, or during the utterance, including the production of signs on the interlocutor’s hand. The study thus shows that an experienced customer can successfully initiate new participant frameworks, without naturalising the constraints that are negotiated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-410
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Semiotics
Volume27
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2017

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