Talking about thingsImage-based topical talk and intimacy in video-mediated family communication

Moustafa Zouinar and Julia Velkovska
Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, and Orange Labs Paris | Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and Orange Labs, Paris


This paper focuses on how conversation and a shared participation frame are maintained in video-mediated family conversations which ordinarily do not have a particular agenda. In order to examine this question, how conversations are maintained whilst being sometimes improvised, the paper analyses a particular interactional phenomenon, namely, the image-based topic management accomplished via two methods: showings and noticings. Through a detailed multimodal analysis of family video mediated conversations, it shows how these methods are used for introducing or changing topics and hence sustaining talk. Moreover, by describing the practical actions that involve technological and social dimensions, the paper highlights the link between interaction, personal relationships and technology. The analysis of showings and noticings, enabled by the technical features of the systems used by the participants, reveals how video-communication technology is mobilized by family members as a resource for maintaining intimacy in distant relationships.

Table of contents

Throughout the 20th century, video communication has been thought of as one of the symbols of cutting edge technological development, associated with values of modernity and innovation. Cinematic history offers fascinating insights to these visions starting with the famous first video call appearing as far back as 1927 when Fritz Lang showed one in his Metropolis; these have continued, in the following decades, with a variety of imagined technological representations, interactional situations as well as ambiguous and even contradictory social consequences that follow on from video mediated communication. On the one hand, in movies criticizing industrial capitalism, video communication is represented as a tool for surveillance and control of the working class that, along with other technologies (like assembly line work), is used by the rulers to guarantee their power and domination over the ruled. This was shown in the already mentioned Metropolis and in Chaplin’s Modern times (1936). This is especially apparent in Modern Times where the manager makes video calls and opens video screens in a sudden and unexpected manner for his subordinates. But on the other hand, in later futuristic visions, video communication also prefigures cutting edge scientific and technological achievements with positive social fallouts: for example, allowing a video call between a space station and the Earth as in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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