Social Interaction. Video-Based Studies of Human Sociality.

2021 Vol. 4, Issue

ISBN: 2446-3620

DOI: 10.7146/si.v4i3.128160

Social Interaction

Video-Based Studies of Human Sociality

The local and filmed accountability of sensorial practices:
The intersubjectivity of touch as an interactional achievement

Lorenza Mondada, Sofian A. Bouaouina, Laurent Camus, Guillaume Gauthier, Hanna Svensson & Burak S. Tekin

University of Basel


This paper contributes to a multimodal EMCA approach to sensoriality and to a reflection about how video can support it. First, it discusses how the intersubjectivity and accountability of sensorial practices are locally and endogenously achieved by and for the participants. This accountability is implemented through various multimodal resources, which make sensorial practices accessible for the co-participants. Second, it shows how the visual, verbal and sometimes co-tactile orientations of the participants are also the very basis on which researchers and other professionals build the videographability of the activity. The paper articulates these two aspects by studying activities dealing with food, in which the participants engage in touching food as a relevant sensorial practice within their ongoing course of action.

Keywords: social interaction, EMCA, video, sensoriality, intersubjectivity, accountability, videographability

1. Introduction

This paper addresses two different but related issues: how to develop a multimodal ethnomethodological and conversation analytic (EMCA) approach to sensoriality, and how to use a video-based methodology to provide for empirical evidence for the study of sensoriality. The paper articulates these two aspects by focusing on the analysis of tactile practices engaging with food in a diversity of social contexts, and the material qualities that these engagements reveal.

2. Multimodality and sensoriality

The last decades have witnessed a vigorous development of video-based multimodal studies of social interaction in EMCA (Deppermann, 2013; Nevile, 2015; Streeck et al., 2011) as well as in other disciplines. Multimodality, as we use it here, refers to a complex array of resources mobilized by the participants for the accountable formatting of action, which include language (from grammar to prosody) and the body (gaze, facial expressions, gesture, postures, movements, mobilization of objects and tools, etc.) (Mondada, 2014). The expansion of multimodal studies has enabled: a) a conceptualization of social interaction and human communication in general that is not only based on language/talk but also on the body, b) a deeper understanding of how the body features in social interaction, beyond well-known resources such as gestures and gaze, c) a diversification of the embodied aspects considered, including postures and movements, upper as well as lower parts of the body, d) a complexification of the types of activities and contexts that crucially involve bodies in interaction, such as mobile activities in complex spatial environments, multiactivity, activities dealing with objects, tools and technologies (Haddington et al., 2013; Nevile et al., 2014; Mondada, 2016).

More recently, multimodal analyses have also developed an interest in multisensoriality; that is, the embodied practices through which participants feel the materiality of the world or the corporeality of others. Multisensoriality is not a synonym of multimodality. Multimodality refers to the multiplicity of linguistic and embodied resources that participants mobilize for interacting together, as well as for coordinating joint actions. Multisensoriality refers to the multiplicity of sensorial experiences of participants. These experiences have often been treated as inner and private states, and so, as individual. Within an EMCA perspective, we rather consider multisensoriality as socially ordered practices making sensorial access to objects or to others, and their sensorial qualities interactionally relevant, as well as accountable for other participants, and thus available for analysts. The intersubjective and public character of sensorial engagements is achieved through multimodally formatted interactional practices (Mondada, 2019).

Furthermore, sensing materiality and sensing the other are fundamentally distinct practices. Sensing materiality is an activity of humans engaging with objects, which can be transformed through the sensing but are not responding in a way that can be interpreted in terms of agentivity, intentionality, and interactivity proper to human responses. Sensing the other often implies not only “self” sensing “other” but also “other” responding to “self” (e.g., in haptic sociality, M.H. Goodwin, 2017)—although this is not systematically the case (e.g., I can voluptuously sense the voice of other, without other noticing it).

Sensoriality has been increasingly discussed in the social and human sciences (Howes & Classen, 2014), but its interactivity and intersubjectivity have begun to be the object of systematic scrutiny only recently (see a recent special issue edited by vom Lehn & Gibson, in press). Studies of sensing the other have mainly dealt with touch and insisted on the fundamental aspect of intersubjectivity in haptic sociality (Cekaite, 2016; Cekaite & Mondada, 2020; M.H. Goodwin, 2017; Nishizaka, 2016), although this has much less been explored for senses like tasting and smelling. Practices of sensing objects have been less explored from an interactional perspective, although studies of specific senses like touch (Goodwin & Smith, 2020; Mondada, 2020b; Mondémé & Kreplak, 2014; Mortensen & Wagner, 2019), taste (Fele, 2016; Liberman, 2013; Mondada, 2018a), and to a lesser extent smell (Fele, 2019; Mondada, 2020a) have been developing, also within a holistic perspective on multisensoriality (Mondada, 2021).

In the context of interactional studies, seeing and hearing are sensory practices that have a specific relevance. On the one hand, they can be mobilized as sensorial practices per se (e.g., by geologists examining rocks, archeologists scrutinizing the soil, or lawyers watching a video for evidence in a trial, C. Goodwin, 2017). On the other hand, they are generically involved in the production of the intersubjectivity of social interaction, which crucially relies on the interpretation of embodied resources as having a visible and audible accountability. This sensorial aspect is often underestimated: The visible and audible characteristics of embodied resources have often been taken for granted, and the relevance of seeing and hearing as essential conditions for social interaction has been neglected (exceptions concern studies of visually-impaired people; see Avital & Streeck, 2011; Iwasaki et al., 2019; Kreplak & Mondémé, 2014; vom Lehn, 2010; and hearing-impaired people, see Egbert & Deppermann, 2013; for as well as studies of repair as concerning hearing problems, see Jefferson, 2017). This double relevance of seeing and hearing makes them specific with respect to other sensorial practices, such as touching, smelling and tasting; it also grounds the relevance of using audio-video recordings.

Thus, multimodal EMCA study of multisensoriality treats sensorial practices as intersubjectively achieved through their public display, thanks to multimodal resources. So, for instance, tasting can be formatted as an individual experience, but can also be achieved in a public way, for example, by visibly chewing (Mondada, 2018b); smelling can be done individually, silently and be unnoticed in social interaction, but can also be made public by audibly sniffing (Mondada, 2020a); touching can be done discretely, but can be exhibited by visibly displaying how the hand and fingers approach, grasp and explore an object (Mondada, 2020b; Mondada & Tekin, 2020). In this way, sensorial practices can be seen and more or less noticed by the participants, and by the analysts on the basis of video records (see also Merlino, 2021/this issue).

In this sense, sensoriality is both a very specific phenomenon and a very generic one. In a very generic way, one can say that we always feel the world or the other in some ways (e.g., we constantly smell while breathing). But this is almost unnoticed, unless a particular activity requires a particular sensorial practice to be carried out (e.g., tasting while cooking), inviting to a more “active” sensing (in the sense of Gibson’s “active touch”, 1962), which is praxeologically, multimodally, and sensorially formatted in an accountable way (for example by withdrawing from other activities, Mondada, 2018b). Thus, an EMCA approach to sensoriality focuses on sensorial practices that are achieved in an intersubjective and interactional way by several participants, making their sensorial engagement witnessable, accountable, and publicly available for others thanks to multimodal resources. In this latter case, they are also made observable on video records (see also LaBonte et al, 2021/this issue).

3. Video and sensoriality

EMCA studies of both multimodality and multisensoriality rely centrally on video-based approaches. The characteristics of video recordings in EMCA have been discussed in relation to the analytical requirements of EMCA (Broth et al., 2014; Heath et al., 2010; Mondada, 2006, 2012). Among them, there is the preservation of relevant organizational features of the activity, the multimodal resources mobilized by the participants, the participation framework, and the local ecology (objects, tools, relevant aspects of the environment, etc.). More specifically, this implies tracking relevant multimodal resources of each participant continuously through time and capturing the relevant details of the ecology mobilized in and for the ongoing activity. This continuous documentation motivates the use of multiple cameras, as well as different camera frames, some being very large (including the entire participation framework) and others very focused (capturing some rather “small” details).

The same principles apply to multisensoriality. Sensorial practices are achieved through constitutive details—of the body in relation with material surroundings (like a hand caressing a surface)—that are part of the global view on the activity but imply a precise focus on some of its detailed parts. Sensory practices can be mobilized and made relevant at any point and in a fleeting way, and as such they are often not anticipable (e.g., smelling the sauce in a pot, a spice in the cupboard, an ingredient taken out of the fridge, etc.). As a consequence, they easily escape camera views of the entire participation framework and might be contingently hidden by somebody passing by or another object obstructing the view, or by the participant turning away from the camera(s) at that moment. Sometimes, sensorial detailed practices and their material targets are documented in a small portion of the global view on the activity—although this view might not always warrant a continuous access to them. Sometimes, specific zoomed in views have to be dedicated to particular details—although these are often contingent on what happens here-and-now and cannot be foreseen as such, generating problems of camera placement and anticipatory movements.

Reflecting on the interplay between sensoriality and video enables us to revisit the notion of accountability (Garfinkel, 1967; Robinson, 2016). On the one hand, when it is relevant, participants engage in making their sensorial practices accountable to others, thereby constituting them as publicly available and sharable intersubjective achievements. On the other hand, the analysts try to document this accountability, typically by using video. Video does not capture the sensorial feeling per se but captures the publicly accountable character of a sensorial practice within the interactional context that makes it relevant. So, there is a convergence between the co-participants witnessing the sensorial practice of somebody engaged with them in interaction and the camerapersons witnessing it and trying to make sense of it.

In this paper, we explore these issues by discussing a series of video-recorded instances in which participants touch food and orient towards its texture and other tactile features of its materiality.

4. Data

The videos analyzed here come from the corpus int-senses, collected within the project From multimodality to multisensoriality: Language, Body, and Sensoriality in Social Interaction. The project explores a diversity of sensorial practices with activities involving food, from truffle hunting to gastronomic cooks at work, from foraging in waste containers to fine dining in high-end restaurants. All activities are video recorded with various cameras, depending on the setting, documented as they happen without being orchestrated by the researchers. All participants are asked for their informed consent. For this paper, we use data in French, English, Swiss German, and Turkish, from food shops (a butcher in Alsace, a cheese shop in Paris), a food-hackathon in Sweden in which different teams compete to design new food, an artisanal tomato sauce production in Turkey, a scout camp in the Swiss mountains, and a TV show featuring a food competition in French-speaking Switzerland.

Interested in reflecting about the methodic order (Garfinkel, 1967) of tactile practices in dealing with food across a diversity of settings, the analyses examine how participants touch food, how they sensorially explore its material qualities, the sequential environment in which this happens, their precise temporal position within other verbal and embodied practices, as well as the actions that touch accomplishes (such as checking, showing, examining, exploring haptic qualities). Moreover, the analyses demonstrate the visual accountability of these touching moments, and how they are made visible, as they are witnessed, observed, and glanced at by the co-participants. This visible accountability of touch for the participants is also the basis on which its video accountability is built for and by the researcher. The analysis shows how it is possible and relevant to video record tactile practices by connecting their intersubjectivity as it is established by the participants, with their visibility for the participants and the analysts, and, ultimately, their videographability. The latter is reflected on the basis of the researchers’ views in all but the last extract, which shows how a professional cameraman’s view is orchestrated and instructed in a TV studio, further revealing how touch and haptic qualities are made visible through and by camerawork.

5. Analyses

The analyses show different ways in which the intersubjectivity of touch and the sense of shared haptic features are locally achieved by the participants in the course of social interaction and are documented by the video recording. We begin with the discussion of cases in which participants are asymmetrrically positioned within space (as sellers vs. customers in a shop encounter) and have an asymmetric access to the products. Further cases show how people engage not only with available food products, but also with their production. We show how teams engage in touching food within the course of their ongoing action, and how they make haptic food characteristics relevant for its preparation, involving not only touch but also sight and hearing. In the last cases, co-participants are preparing food together: haptic qualities are crucial for assessing the current state and goodness of food, and tactile practices are part of the process of fabrication. Moreover, they are also closely monitored in order to coordinate the relevant subsequent actions in a collective and collaborative manner. In all cases, we demonstrate that the participants’ gaze is crucial to build the public intelligibility of touch. In turn, the video recordings of touch and haptic qualities build precisely on this visibility.

5.1 The visibility of touch in asymmetric interactions

Sellers’ touch in food shops, mostly in the form of “palpating”, constitutes both a professional practice through which they check the maturity of a product, and a demonstrative practice through which they display for the customer the texture of the product to be possibly bought (Mondada, 2020b). As we can see in the first extract, these two practices are very distinct, in their sequential placement as well as their accountability, but they can conflate in other cases, as in the second extract.

The first extract features a customer requesting half a halal salami from an Algerian butcher at a market in eastern France. After advising the customer to get a whole one, because the actual piece is too fresh to be cut, the seller walks towards salamis hung-up in the background (line 1), while the customer explicates that she wants it cut (line 1-3; see the gesture, Figure 1).

Extract 1.

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In response to the request to cut the salami (lines 1, 4-5), the seller turns to the salamis suspended on the wall. Just after “if possible?” (line 4) and before the increment that follows (“in slices” line 5), he shortly palpates the first salami (Figures 2A=B), and then reaches for another one. The palpation is understandable as a professional check of the material quality of the salami. This check is visible to the customer: although not verbally accounted for, it accountably orients to the salami’s quality at that moment in response to the request; it is consequential for the seller’s not choosing this one (lines 4-8).

The customer requests slices (lines 4-5), but the seller rejects it (lines 8-10) and explains how this kind of salami has to be kept and consumed, treating these issues as normatively related to the best maturation of the product. This is commented on later on: the seller refers to the best salami as “sec”/“dry” (line 27), while clenching his left hand into a fist (Figure 3), iconically referring to firmness as relevant quality.

Orienting to the customer’s minimal response (line 29), the seller pursues his explanation in the form of a demonstration: he rearranges the salami, and while asking the customer to look, he presses it in a visible way (lines 31-37). The way the seller holds the salami at this point (Figures 4A=B, as compared to Figure 3), the sequential-temporal placement of the pressing and the instruction to look clearly make this pressing a demonstration designed for the customer, who shortly displays her understanding (line 32). The demonstrative pressing also operates a shift from generic descriptions of the salami to a specific characterization of the salami-at-hand. The visually exhibited quality of the salami is also verbalized as “mou”/“soft” (line 33). The material quality of the product is hence sensed, displayed, and formulated. The customer ratifies the description with “ouais”/“yes” (line 35) and decides to buy the product (line 37). Thus, relevant distinctions, for that type of salami, of being dry vs. soft, are established and negotiated in situ.

Another instance of palpating and demonstrably pressing the product is observable in a second instance, recorded in another food shop. In this case, the exhibited character of pressing and the professional character of palpating are less clearly separated.

We join the action in a cheese shop in Paris, where a customer requests some goat cheese (line 1, Figure 5), specifying that she wants it “pas crémeux”/“not creamy” (line 3). This occasions a request for confirmation and the pursuit of further information by the seller, searching for a positive equivalent (“sec?”/“dry?” line 4) of the customer’s initial negative description. This produces an in-between characterization (line 5). As the seller is about to propose some cheese (projected in line 8), the customer indicates a possible candidate (“ça”/“this” line 9), pointing at a piece in the window case:

Extract 2.

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The customer not only points at a possible cheese but continues to search for a more precise verbal characterization, in an unfinished turn co-occurring with an iconic rubbing gesture (line 9) ending in a question (line 12). In absence of a verbal descriptor, the customer, by rubbing her fingers, describes the tactile texture of the product, evoking a touching movement even in the absence of actual touching.

The question (a request for confirmation in the form of a yes/no interrogative, Raymond 2003) prompts the seller to confirm the description of the requested item (as “ferme”/“firm” line 13). She does so first with a “ah”/“oh”-prefaced “oui”/“yes”, verbally expressing her knowledge of that cheese. Second, she moves her hand towards the piece and palpates it (Figures 6A=B), also lifting it up, continuing to palpate it in a visible way (line 15, Figures 7A=B). The palpation is done while suspending the progression of the turn: after the verb (“ils sont:”/“they are:” line 13), which projects an adjective, there is a suspension (lines 14, 16). The seller explicitly asks the customer to wait (line 15) before the initial description is confirmed (line 17) (cf. Mondada, 2020b for other instances of this phenomenon).

After a silence, the suspension of the turn is not followed by a resumption syntactically fitted with the suspended projective construction. Rather, a new syntactic unit, with a left dislocated element, is initiated. While the prior projective turn is using a plural pronoun (“ils”/“they” line 13), the continuation uses a singular demonstrative (“celui-ci là”/“this one there” line 17), said while extracting the piece from the refrigerated window case and presenting it to the customer (Figures 8A=B). In this way, the palpation operates a shift from a generic quality of this type of cheese, to the specific quality of one particular item, in similar ways as in the previous extract. The description, warranted by the palpating movement, converges with the feature mentioned by the customer before (“un peu ferme”/“a bit firm” lines 12 and 17), confirming the adequacy of the product. The relevance of the selection is accountably established by reaching a conclusion that corresponds with the terms of the request as initially established.

In this case, the palpation of the cheese achieves two very different tasks: it enables the seller to check the maturation of the cheese, and it exhibits this palpation and the quality it reveals for the customer, visually warranting what is verbally predicated about the product. In this way, the seller organizes the convergence of talk, touch and sight.

Food products in shops are not standardized stable objects but maturing and evolving ones. Responding to the customer’s request, the seller searches for an item corresponding to their description and the qualities mentioned. This correspondence is provided by a local interpretation of the request and a tactile check of the characteristics of the possible product. This can occasion some negotiations concerning the descriptors used and/or the actual or expected qualities of the object. Palpating the product is the professional touch enabling the seller to sensorially access its qualities. Visually exhibiting this palpation or pressing in a visible way constitutes a recipient-designed way to display these characteristics for the customer, who consequentially decides to buy (or not) on the basis of this visual access to the tangible features.

By contrast with products available to be sold, which evolve organically within time in a way that is witnessable only by the expert seller within the asymmetric context of the seller/buyer exchange, the evolving nature of food products, in constant transformation, is even clearer as they are being fabricated, typically in the kitchen, or in the lab. We now turn to this latter type of context: the focus is on how the processing of food makes relevant monitoring and inspecting these material transformations, mobilizing different senses, including touch.

5.2 Inspecting materiality together, by touching, looking, and hearing

The mechanical progressive transformation of ingredients—in the oven (extract 3), or in the pasta machine (extract 6)—is a process that is monitored by the participants not only looking at the ingredients but also touching them, for the purpose of calibrating that transformation for getting the right texture, and securing the next step within the activity.

The following case is drawn from recordings of a food-hackathon about waste and food design. One of the groups involved explores ways to make banana peels edible. Some of the participants are drying peels in order to grind them into flour. As Deepak and Elin are on their way to the storage room, Elin stops by the oven to check if the banana peels are dry (enough). There are five plates in the oven, with five different cuts of banana peels. While Deepak and Elin share access to the tactility of the evolving food ingredient, converging in their evaluation of the drying product, Elin has initiated the experiment and is in charge of the process, whereas Deepak is just witnessing it.

Extract 3.

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After opening the oven, Deepak picks up pieces of peel from plate 4, while inquiring about it (line 2, Figure 9). As Elin answers (line 4), Deepak visually inspects the pieces of peel and rubs them, orienting to the texture as relevant for evaluating whether they are ready (Figures 10-12). Elin’s explanation evokes a comparative aspect, which Deepak manifestly also orients to, as he continues by approaching plate 3 (line 7, Figure 13). As Elin completes the comparative adjective referring to the relevance of time, Deepak changes trajectory and picks up a peel from plate 2 (line 10, Figure 14), proposing it as a candidate for “quickest” (line 12, Figure 15). Elin refutes this (line 14) and presents the “quickest” candidate as belonging to plate 3, demonstrating it by engaging in a publicly visible visual and haptic inspection of the banana peel, turning it around and rubbing it (lines 14-16, Figures 16-17). This inspection results in an evaluation of the peel as “almost dry” (line 16), and is treated by Deepak as an invitation to share access to the assessed materiality, as he takes the peel from Elin, presses it and rubs it so that it cracks (17-18, Figure 18). His proper subsequent evaluation retrospectively establishes the multisensorial practice as adequate for evaluating the peel's dryness and claims sharing Elin’s understanding of the state of the peels. Elin, in turn, moves on to touching the peels in plate 5 (lines 18-24, Figure 19) and pursues the evaluative activity by claiming that they are not dry enough (line 23), which prompts Deepak to again take after her procedure by also proceeding with touching the peels in plate 5 (lines 24-33, Figures 20-21). Meanwhile, Elin continues her explanatory course of action, enacting “dryness” with a rubbing gesture (line 28, Figures 20-21) and estimating a prospective time frame for when they will be ready (lines 31, 33).

In this way, the repeated and shared multisensorial experience of assessing the state of the peel―including visual, haptic, and audible inspection―is mobilized to locally establish intersubjectivity with regard to the relevant features of the materiality for the task at hand. More importantly, this is procedurally consequential for what to do next; that is, leaving the peels in the oven until they are “completely dry”. In this extract, shared tactile sensoriality is what enables the participants to assist one another in the joint assessment of the right texture―dryness―of a processed ingredient. This shared touch orients to what they see, as one instructs the other in the inspection of different cooking layers.

5.3 Visually monitoring haptic features for coordinating activities

The collective preparation of food constitutes a further setting we examine, in which touch is both used and monitored in the fabrication of dishes. In this case, monitoring orients and responds to organizational concerns: the coordination of all the participants within the ongoing food fabrication. The next two extracts show how this coordination among participants crucially relies on monitoring of some sensorial aspects of the food being prepared and cooked.

The following extract is taken from an artisanal tomato sauce production in Turkey. Participants have bought some tomatoes in the morning and are now boiling them in a large pot in their garden. We join the action as Asım is pushing more wood into the fire and Harun is watching at a distance:

Extract 4.

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Harun walks towards the pot with the tomato sauce and produces a question about whether it boiled (line 2). Producing this turn while approaching the pot possibly projects its inspection. When reaching he reaches the pot, he bends down and touches it with his two hands (line 3, Figure 22). Touching the pot makes it possible for him to check its temperature and answer his own question whether it boiled. Through his tactile feeling of the pot, he formulates that it has not boiled (line 4). Asım, visually monitoring this, initiates a repair (line 6). Meanwhile, Harun sticks out his little finger and puts it into the pot (lines 6-7, Figure 23). As Harun does so, Asım puts the stick aside (line 7), and approaches the wood on the ground, projecting some action. While straightening up his body and moving up his arm, Harun produces an assessment of the pot (“buz gibi”/“like ice” line 8). Harun, then, tastes the sauce by putting his finger into his mouth (line 9, Figure 24), and begins to walk away (10). As Harun walks away, Asım requests confirmation about whether it is the pot that is like ice, while adding more wood to the fire (line 10). Harun responds that both the pot and the tomato sauce are ice cold (line 16). Asım confirms the not-yet-warmed state of the food in progress (line 18).

By holding the pot, and touching and tasting the sauce inside it, Harun checks their temperature. This is visually observed and witnessed by Asım, who treats Harun’s actions as relevant for his own work of dealing with the fire and engages in adding more fresh wood to the hearth. Though Asım’s repair and requests for confirmation exhibit the inaccessibility of Harun’s haptic experiences for him, Asım’s own engagement with the wood on the ground displays his anticipation and understanding of the consequences of the coldness of the food.

Touching the pot in which food is cooked and the food itself, as well as tasting it, are practices orchestrated and monitored by participants as part of their collaborative and coordinated involvements in the situated activity of producing tomato sauce. Through asking for and explicating the tactile qualities related to temperature, participants orient to their sensorial experiences as relevant for their respective subsequent actions.

In the next extract, recorded in a scout camp’s outdoor kitchen in the mountains (Figure 25), three cooks, Martin, Eva, and Tim, assisted by Ron, a scout leader, are finalizing the preparation of a typical Swiss German dish, Älplermagronen. All ingredients were evenly added to three pots (p1-p3), which are now being stirred by one of the cooks, Tim.

Extract 5.

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As the flames warm up the pots, the large amount of cheese contained in the meal starts to melt, rendering the food thicker and increasingly hard to stir. Tim, who is stirring p2 (line 1), produces an evaluation of the dish’s texture by suggesting to add more liquid; that is, milk (line 2). Tim mobilizes the mediated haptic access provided by his wooden spatula to assess the dish’s texture. His physical stirring effort is also visibly accessible to another cook, Martin, gazing at him as well as to the pot’s top layer (lines 1-2). The accountability of Tim’s sensorial access to the dish is built through the resulting joint actions produced by the other participants, orienting to the fact that Tim has a direct sensorial access to it. As Tim suspends his stirring, the two other cooks, Martin and Eva, proceed to pour more milk into the pots in a closely coordinated fashion. Martin attends to the even addition of liquid across all three pots as he requests Eva to add more milk in p2 (line 14), a pot in which he just poured the last drops of the milk carton he is holding (line 12). However, Tim is also monitoring Eva (line 12), as she is visibly projecting to pour milk in p2 (lines 14-15): he tells her not to add too much and provides an account for that request (line 15), simultaneously resuming to stir. The nature of this account can be attributed to Tim’s monitoring of the dish’s texture, and his haptic access to it. Indeed, the prolongation of the reheating process induced by the addition of “too much” cold milk could render the dish soggy. Tim puts his spatula back into p2 (line 15) just before Eva starts pouring in more milk: the resumption of his stirring is used to negotiate with Eva, in a strictly embodied fashion, when she can stop pouring.

The dish’s texture is addressed by all participants, within their coordinated management of the cooking. While Tim can feel the texture with the spatula, his movements and the effort they make visible are observable for Eva and Martin, making the texture’s quality also visible for them. On the basis of this intersubjective multisensoriality, all the participants coordinate their complementary actions, pouring and stirring, in a perfectly timed manner.

5.4 Filming materiality and sensoriality

The previous sections have revealed how touch can be made intersubjectively accessible amongst co-participants: its tactility, as well as the haptic characteristics of the touched objects, are made visible for the co-participants, and sometimes commented on. This visual accountability can be achieved either by visibly exhibiting the touching, for example by doing touching while others gaze at the practice of touching or at the touched object. In both cases, vision is crucial for the participants to establish intersubjectivity concerning sensorial aspects of the activity they are engaged in.

Demonstrations of this visual accountability crucially rely on the possibility of observing it many times again, “for another first time” (Garfinkel, 1967, p. 9), and transcribing its relevant details (Mondada, 2018b), which in turn depends on having a video record of it. The cameraperson builds on the same visual resources as members for the video documentation of touch. The camera not only adopts the position of a coparticipant’s gaze on the ongoing touching action, but also records actual participants gazing at that action.

In the extracts studied so far, the video camera captures touch through capturing what the participants are tactilely exhibiting (the seller exhibiting palpating and pressing, extracts 1-2, in order for the customer to decide to buy or not), what they touch together when examining it together (the food designers, extract 3, to decide the appropriate next step), and what they gaze at when co-participants engage in touch within a collective activity (the cooks in extracts 4-5, for coordinating together).

In all extracts, the camera view offers a perspective on the participation framework, in a more global way in extracts 4-5, in a mobile way behind their shoulders in extract 3, and in a way that includes both participants in extract 1-2. In all cases, it integrates the objects being touched. On the basis of this view, the details of touch and the touched objects, can be focused on by zooming in on them, as in extracts 1-2-3. In extracts 4-5, the large camera view preserves the local ecology of the organizational features within the ongoing collaborative cooking and baking activity. This makes it possible for the analysts (and the readers, too) to follow, understand, and reflect on the relevance and organization of participants’ conduct. As such, participants’ production and recognition of the accountability of material transformations of the prepared food, in relation to their coordinated work, is made available for close and repeated analytical scrutiny. In all the cases, the availability of these details allows for their fine-grained transcription.

The issue of producing a filmed account of the accountability of touch not only concerns the researcher assembling video-recorded data for analysis. The same issue is also faced by other professionals video-documenting ongoing haptic activities (Broth et al., 2014). In order to reflect about how this problem is locally and endogenously solved by them, we turn to the way a TV director secures the broadcastability of haptic moments during cooking and instructs their videographability through the way s/he directs the camerawork. While we have described the camera views of the previous extracts in general ways, this last extract enables us to analyze the moment-by-moment selection and movement of the camera views.

The extract comes from a video recording of the production of a televised cooking competition at the Swiss French television, made in the control room during the realization. Players prepare fresh pasta and make the dough themselves. A chef gives advice and will later evaluate the dish. We join one of the teams encountering a problem in rolling out the dough with a robot: too thick, the dough cannot fit into the pasta machine (Figure 27). Overhearing the formulation of the problem as a request for help, the chef joins them. Our analysis adopts the perspective of the members of the control room who film and edit this TV show in real-time (Figure 26).

Figure 26.

The director (DIR) instructs the activity of the cameramen in the studio for the production of the shots by using microphones and headphones (Broth, 2009). Three TV cameramen (ca2, ca3 and BRC2) capture the activity we are interested in. Interactions between participants in the control room are transcribed in black, and interactions between participants filmed on set are in grey.

Extract 6.

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Just before this extract, the chef draws the participants' attention to the problematic nature of the texture of the dough. Following his instructions, Brigitte restarts rolling out the dough (lines 3-12). Camera BRC2 displays a high-angle close-up, showing Brigitte inserting the dough in the robot with her right hand, while the chef carefully retrieves it with his left hand (lines 5-12, Figures 28-30). He does so while instructing Brigitte to insert the dough delicately (line 5) in order to preserve its integrity, then he retrieves it (line 7). Brigitte puts her left hand under the pasta machine in order to take the dough. The fineness of the paste is something that is assessed by the expert (“see the dough, it’s already much better” 9) at the moment when both participants can feel by touching (lines 9-10). In this sense, Brigitte’s reply ”je vois”/“I see” (line 10) refers both to a perceptual vision and a haptic experience.

The texture of the dough is also perceived as relevant by the video professionals around the set and in the control room. During this scene, CA3 operator spontaneously pans (line 4) then zooms (line 10) to the hands of Brigitte passing the dough through the pasta machine. Through his camera movements, CA3 operator makes visible his orientation to the texture of the dough as a central issue relevant for all participants. The director selects CA3’s shot and assesses it positively (line 14) as the chef is precisely describing the expected texture (“you can always roll it out more finely” lines 12-13). The lateral shot thus provides a new perspective on the instructed action (Figures 31-32), focusing the attention of TV-viewers to the textural quality (and in particular the fineness) of the dough in-the-making.

The dough is an evolving object whose properties are changing at different points in the process and the control room members’ perspective reveals a filmic reflexivity (Jayyusi, 1988; Mondada, 2006; Camus, in press) between the trajectory of the actions filmed and the shots produced. Here, close shots make the aspectual details of the dough visible and document the meticulous practical actions the participants implement for its transformation.

6. Conclusion

The paper contributes to a multimodal EMCA approach to sensoriality by focusing on how the intersubjectivity and accountability of sensorial practices are locally and endogenously achieved by and for the participants. This accountability is implemented through various multimodal resources, which make sensorial practices visible for the co-participants. In turn, researchers and other professionals build the videographability of the activity on the basis of the visual, verbal and sometimes co-tactile orientations of the participants.

Our aim is neither to study nor to capture sensoriality per se. EMCA video-based studies rather focus on what the participants are engaged in doing—here touching—and how they do it. That means that the focus is on touch, its relevance and intelligibility, as well as the texture, and tactility of objects as participants treat them within courses of action in relation to the accomplishment of that activity. In this context, vision and language are fundamental for achieving the local accountability of these touching practices. As we have demonstrated, they are also relevant to and consequential for the cameraperson filming them.

In this sense, the video methodology used to document these practices appears to be adequate for analytical purposes centered on the intersubjectivity of sensorial practices. Sensoriality per se is not always intersubjectively achieved, and the complexity of touch cannot be reduced to its video documentation. But when participants intersubjectively organize their sensorial practices, their intersubjectivity, as we have seen, is achieved through various means and in particular through visual practices, which make the sensorial engagements of the participants publicly observable. In particular, touch often characterizes the asymmetric access of one participant to the sensorial features of an object: this can be more or less exhibited, displayed, demonstrated or shown, to the co-participants looking, glancing, observing, or monitoring it: depending on their expertise, they can recognize it at a glance or through guidance. The accountability of sensorial practices and sensorial qualities is reflexively built through the actions of touching and their visibility. This, in turn, enables the production of accounts by the video camera, which reflexively builds on the accountability achieved by the participants.

Transcription conventions

Talk was transcribed using Jefferson’s (2004) conventions. Multimodal annotations follow Mondada’s (2018a) conventions ( Transcription of the TV broadcasting follows Broth (2009) conventions.


This paper reports findings generated within the project From multimodality to multisensoriality: Language, Body, and Sensoriality in Social Interaction (intSenses) funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Switzerland) (project number 100012_175969) (2018-2022) (PI LMondada, researchers SBouaouina, LCamus, GGauthier, HSvensson, BTekin).


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