Guest Blog: Touch and control in adult-child interactions

Transcribing and analysing touch and bodily control is a very demanding business, as Asta Cekaite attests. In this guest blog, she takes us behind the scenes of her recent article in ROLSI.

Asta Cekaite, Linkoping University

Asta Cekaite, Linkoping University

Setting up a study about children inevitably implies sensitivity to embodied aspects of social interaction. For me, moving into children’s everyday spaces involves an exciting challenge and a possibility to turn to the some of less explored issues – touch, movement, multi-activities, bodily integrity and affection. The list is quite long. For researchers, interested in complex interactions, management of multi-activities, cooperation or social control, interactions from children’s everyday life – families and educational settings – can provide an inspiring venue for scrutinizing the taken-for-granted aspects of social interaction.

Documenting situations: Decision-making on the spot

In doing a video-ethnography, my focus is on situation. Documenting situations and children’s activities can  test one’s consistency – and one’s patience. It requires decision-making on the spot: when and how much to film, where to move and whom to follow. (By the end of the day, one can feel quite exhausted!) This may not sound like a big issue but it inevitably affects what is available for your analysis. Clearly, documenting activities that develop over space and time constitutes rich data about the continuities and transformations of social life. I find such complexity empirically fruitful, but also analytically quite challenging.

Analyzing social control and touch: The interactional architecture of bodily integrity

Work that is done to achieve cooperative and compliant action in contemporary adult-child interactions is abundant. Social control becomes quite vivid simply because cooperation and compliance cannot be taken for granted.

Social control by bodily handling

Social control by bodily handling

Touch at pivotal moments of directives – overlaid and coordinated with talk that demands compliance – adults telling children ‘come’, ‘come, you’ll sit over there’ – was clearly visible and recurrent in my study of Swedish classrooms and families. Touch here was not employed at random – rather, various interactional routines and unnoticed ways of combining talk and touch allowed adults to use touch to control children’s bodies, while also paying reverences to the issues of bodily integrity.

Transcribing touch

Since researching interpersonal touch from interactional perspective is an enterprise-in-progress, it allows space for exploring how to make informative and yet accessible visual representations. I chose to work with notations concerning when and what kind of touches are used.


In any case, research questions and interests influence the density of transcripts. For instance, marking the exact point of the tactile engagement and disengagement can be relevant when studying the coordination of touch and talk. The visual depiction of the situation in a sequence of line drawings can vividly illustrate the flow of bodily actions over time and space.

Cekaite, A. (2010). Shepherding the child: Embodied directive sequences in parent-child interactions. Text & Talk, 30/1, 1-25.

Goodwin, M. H. & Cekaite, A. (2013). Calibration in directive/response sequences in family interactions. Journal of Pragmatics, 46, 122-138.

Cekaite, A. (2015). The Coordination of Talk and Touch in Adults’ Directives to Children: Touch and Social Control. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 48, 152-175