Teacher compassionate touch in a Japanese preschool

  • Matthew Burdelski
Keywords: Affect, Children, Conversation analysis, Compassion, Japan, Preschool, Touch


This paper examines the discursive, embodied, and sequential organization of preschool teachers’ compassionate touch in interaction: physically touching a child so as to soothe and relieve the child’s distress. Utilizing multimodal conversation analysis, episodes of compassionate touch were identified and transcribed from a corpus of 48 hours of audio-visual recordings in a Japanese preschool. The analysis focuses on such touch within situations of peer conflict and accidents during play. It shows how compassionate touch was used with verbal resources and communicative practices, examines their positioning within sequences of interaction, and discusses children’s responses. The findings attempt to further our understanding of affective touch in children’s sociality and preschool childcare.


Ben-Ari, E. (1997). From mothering to othering: Organization, culture, and nap time in a Japanese day-care center. Ethos, 24(1), 136-164.
Bergnehr, D. & Cekaite, A. (2017). The forms and functions of touch in a Swedish preschool. International Journal of Early Education, 26(3), 312-331.
Björk-Willén, P. (2018). Learning to apologize: Moral socialization as an interactional practice in school. Research on Children and Social Interaction, 2(2), 177-194.
Burdelski, M. (2010). Socializing politeness routines: Action, other-orientation, and embodiment in a Japanese preschool. Journal of Pragmatics, 42(6), 1606-1621.
Burdelski, M. (2013). “I’m sorry, flower”: Socializing apology, empathy, and relationships in Japan. Pragmatics and Society, 4(1), 54-81.
Burdelski, M. (2015). Reported speech as cultural gloss and directive: Socializing norms of speaking and acting in Japanese caregiver-child triadic interaction. Text & Talk, 35(5), 575-595.
Burdelski, M. (in press). ‘Say can I borrow it’: Teachers and children managing peer conflict in a Japanese preschool. Linguistics and Education.
Burdelski, M. & Cekaite, A. (forthcoming). Control touch in caregiver-child interaction: Embodied organization in triadic mediation of peer conflict. In A. Cekaite & L. Mondada (eds.), Touch in social interaction: Touching moments. Routledge.
Burdelski, M. & Mitsuhashi, K. (2010). “She thinks you’re kawaii”: Socializing affect, gender, and relationships in a Japanese preschool. Language in Society, 39(1), 65-93.
Burke, R.S. & Duncan, J. (2015). Bodies as sites of cultural reflection in early childhood education. New York and Oxon, UK: Routledge.
Cekaite, A. (2010). Shepherding the child: Embodied directive sequences in parent-child interactions. Text & Talk, 30(1), 1-25.
Cekaite, A. (2015). Coordination of talk and touch in adult-child directives. Touch and social control. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 48(2), 152-175.
Cekaite, A. (2016). Touch as social control: Haptic organization of attention in adult-child interaction. Journal of Pragmatics, 92, 30-42.
Cekaite, A. (forthcoming). Touch as embodied compassion in responses to pain and distress. In A. Cekaite & L. Mondada (eds.), Touch in social interaction: Touching moments. Routledge.
Cekaite, A. & Berhnehr, D. (2018). Affectionate touch and care: Embodied intimacy, compassion and control in early childhood education. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 26(6), 940-955.
Cekaite, A. & Kvist, M.H. (2017). The comforting touch: Tactile intimacy and talk in managing children’s distress. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 50(2), 109-127).
Goffman, E. (1981). Forms of talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Goodwin, C. (2000). Action and embodiment within situated human interaction. Journal of Pragmatics, 32(10), 1489-1522.
Goodwin, C. (2017). Co-operative action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Goodwin, C. & Goodwin, M.H. (1992). Assessment and the construction of context. In A. Duranti & C. Goodwin (eds.), Rethinking context: Language as an interactive phenomenon (pp. 147-190). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Goodwin, M.H. (2017). Haptic Sociality: The Embodied Interactive Constitution of Intimacy through touch. In Meyer, C., Streeck, J., Jordan, S.J. (eds.). Intercorporeality: Emerging socialities in interaction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Goodwin, M.H. (forthcoming). The interactive construction of a hug sequence. In A. Cekaite & L. Mondada (eds.), Touch in social interaction: Touching moments. Routledge.
Goodwin, M.H. & Cekaite, A. (2018). Embodied family choreography. Practices of control, care and mundane creativity. Oxon, UK and New York: Routledge.
Hayashi, A. & Tobin, J. (2015). Teaching embodied: Culture practice in Japanese preschools. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Linden, D.J. (2015). Touch: The science of the hand, heart, and mind. New York: Penguin Books.
Miller, P. & Sperry, L. L. (1987). The socialization of anger and aggression. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 33(1), 1-31.
Montagu, A. (1971). Touching: The human significance of the skin. New York: Harper & Row.
Mondada, L. (2018). Multiple temporalities of language and the body in interaction: Challenges for transcribing multimodality. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 51(1), 85-106.
Mondada, L. (2019). Contemporary issues in conversation analysis: embodiment and materiality, multimodality and multisensoriality in social interaction. Journal of Pragmatics, 145, 47-62.
Mondada, L., Monteiro, D. & Tekin, B. S. (forthcoming). The tactility and visibility of kissing: Intercorporeal configurations of kissing bodies in family photography sessions. In A. Cekaite & L. Mondada (eds.), Touch in social interaction: Touching moments. Routledge.
Nussbaum, M. (1996). Compassion: The basic social emotion. Social Philosophy and Policy, 13(1), 27-58.
Ochs, E. (1996). Linguistic resources for socializing humanity. In J.J. Gumperz & S.C. Levinson (eds.), Rethinking linguistic relativity (pp. 407-437). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ochs, E., Solomon, O. & Sterponi, L. (2005). Limitation and transformations of habitus in child-directed communication. Discourse Studies, 7(4-5), 547-583.
Romm, C. (2018). The lasting damage of depriving a child of human touch. New York online magazine. Retrieved on June 20, 2018 at https://www.thecut.com/2018/06/the-lasting-damage-of-depriving-a-child-of-human-touch.html
Ruusuvuori, J.E. (2005). “Empathy” and “sympathy” in action: Attending to patients’ troubles in Finnish homeopathic and general practice consultations. Social Psychology Quarterly, 68(3), 204-222.
Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language, 50(4), 696-735.
Schegloff, E.A. Turn organization: One intersection of grammar and interaction. In E. Ochs, E.A. Schegloff & S.T. Thompson (eds.), Interaction and grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Snow, N. (1991). Compassion. American Philosophical Quarterly, 28(3), 195-205.
Suzuki, R. (1999). Language socialization through morphology: The affective suffix -CHAU in Japanese. Journal of Pragmatics, 31, 1423-1441.
Tahhan, D. A. (2014). The Japanese family: Touch, intimacy and feeling. Oxford: Routledge.
Takada, A. (2013). Generating morality in directive sequences: Distinctive strategies for developing communicative competence in Japanese caregiver-child interactions. Language & Communication, 33, 420-438.
How to Cite
Burdelski, M. (2020). Teacher compassionate touch in a Japanese preschool. Social Interaction. Video-Based Studies of Human Sociality, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.7146/si.v3i1.120248