Skype appearances, multiple greetings and ‘coucou’: The sequential organization of video-mediated conversation openings

Christian Licoppe
Telecom ParisTech, Paris


This paper analyses the organization of ‘openings’ in Skype video-mediated conversation. It uncovers order in their apparent complexity by showing the relevance of a particular sequential adjacent pair organization, the appearing/noticing sequence, and its particular instantiation as an appearance-for-the-first-time greeting. The paper shows how this is a crucial resource in establishing a joint video interactional frame for the parties involved. This accounts for the occurrence of some specific phenomena in Skype openings, such as multiple greetings, and for the use of greetings which reflexively index their being occasioned by an appearance and related greeting, such as the French ‘coucou’, even when these do not occur at the start of Skype calls. When analysed this way, Skype openings, though complex, can be seen as an accomplished ‘dance of appearances and multiple greetings’.

Table of contents

Pragmatics  27:3 (2017), pp. 351–386. ISSN 1018-2101 | E-ISSN 2406-4238

© John Benjamins Publishing Company

This paper deals with the way people manage Skype video calls. Video-mediated interactions have been studied before, either briefly in the context of early experimental systems (De Fornel 1994) or more recently (and systematically) in the case of professional systems in organisational settings (Relieu 2007; Mondada 2010). However, video-mediated communication (VMC), exemplified by the Skype product, is a technology primarily intended for interpersonal communication, for contact between family, friends, lovers, and is much less well studied. It is already known that VMC offers a resource for ‘performing intimacy and closeness at a distance’ (Kirk et al. 2010; Neustaedter and Greenberg 2011; Brubaker et al. 2012) and for helping constitute ‘distant love’ in a globalized world (Madianou and Miller 2012; Beck and Beck 2014), but the actual organization of Skype-like calls, of VMC conversations themselves, for the doing of private lives, is much less well understood.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Beck, U., and E. Beck-Gersheim
2014Distant Love. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Brubaker, J., G. Venolia, and J. Tang
2012 “Focusing on Shared Experiences: Moving Beyond the Camera in Video Communication.” Proceedings of the Designing Interactive Systems Conference (June 11–15, Newcastle, UK), 96–105. New York: ACM Press. doi: 10.1145/2317956.2317973
Button, G., and W. Sharrock
1998 “The Organizational Accountability of Technological Work.”. Social Studies of Science28: 73–102. doi: 10.1177/030631298028001003
De Fornel, M.
1994 “Le cadre interactionnel de l’échange visiophonique.” Réseaux64: 07–132.
Duranti, A.
1997 “Universal and Culture-Specific Properties of Greetings.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology7 (1): 63–97. doi: 10.1525/jlin.1997.7.1.63
Enfield, N. J.
2011 “Sources of Asymmetry in Human Interaction: Enchrony, Status, Knowledge and Agency.” In The Morality of Knowledge in Conversation, ed. by L. Mondada, J. Steenswig, and T. Stivers, 285–312. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511921674.013
Goodwin, C.
2000 “Action and Embodiment within Situated Human Interaction.” Journal of Pragmatics32: 1489–1522. doi: 10.1016/S0378‑2166(99)00096‑X
Heritage, J.
1984 “A Change-of-State Token and Aspects of its Sequential Placement.” In Structures of Social Action, ed. by J. M. Atkinson, and J. Heritage, 299–345. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kendon, A.
1990Conducting Interaction: Patterns of Behavior in Focussed Encounters. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kirk, D. S., A. Sellen, and X. Cao
2010 “Home Video Communication: Mediating ‘Closeness’.” Proceedings of the 2010 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. New York: ACM Press. doi: 10.1145/1718918.1718945
Licoppe, C., and J. Morel
2012 “Video-in-Interaction: “Talking Heads” and the Multimodal Organization of Mobile and Skype Video Calls.” Research in Language and Social Interaction45 (4): 399–429. doi: 10.1080/08351813.2012.724996
Madianou, M., and D. Miller
2012Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia. London: Routledge.
Mondada, L.
2010 “Eröffnung und Vor-Eröffnung in technisch vermittelter interaktion: Videokonferenzen.” In Situationeröffnungen: Zur multimodalen Herstellung fokussierter Interaktion, ed. by L. Mondada, and R. Schmitt, 277–334. Narr: Tubingen.
Mortensen, K., and S. Hazel
2014 “Moving into Interaction. Social Practices for Initiating Encounters at a Help Desk.” Journal of Pragmatics62: 46–67. doi: 10.1016/j.pragma.2013.11.009
Neustaedter, C., and S. Greenberg
2011 “Intimacy in Long Distance Relationships over Video Chat.” Proceedings of CHI2012 ACM Press.
Piaget, J.
1954The Construction of Reality in the Child. New York: Basic Books. doi: 10.1037/11168‑000
Pomerantz, A.
1984 “Agreeing and Disagreeing with Assessments: Some Features of Preferred / Dispreferred Turn Shapes.” In Structures of Social Action, ed. by J. M. Atkinson, and J. Heritage, 57–102. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Relieu, M.
2007 “La téléprésence, ou l’autre visiophonie.” Réseaux144: 183–223. doi: 10.3917/res.144.0183
Sacks, H.
1992Lectures on Conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schegloff, E.
1972 “Sequencing in Conversational Openings.” In Directions in Sociolinguistics. The Ethnography of Communication, ed. by D. Hymes, and J. Gumperz, 346–380. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
1998 “Body Torque.” Conversation65(3):535–596.
1986 “The Routine as Achievement.” Human Studies9: 111–151. doi: 10.1007/BF00148124
2007Sequence Organization in Interaction: A Primer in Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511791208
Searle, J.
1969Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9781139173438
Sunakawa, C.
2012 “Japanese Family via Webcam: An Ethnographic Study of Cross-Spatial Interactions”. In Lecture Notes in Computer Science Volume 7258, ed. by M. Okumura, D. Bekki, and K. Satoh, 264–276. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.