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Pandemic Meaning Making of Interaction and Communication

We want to start to make meaning of how communication and social interaction is changing in the global pandemic and understand how this will impact our practices in the future.

What is PanMeMic?

This is a space for collective research, observation and conversation on how communication and social interaction are changing during the global pandemic, to envisage possible futures.

These pandemic times are changing the ways in which we all communicate and interact with others – and this is affecting everybody (similarly and differently) worldwide.

But we still don’t know how exactly this will impact on our future ways of interacting with others.

Who we are

We are a group of semioticians based in different countries worldwide. We study meaning making, communication and social interaction.

Read and see more on who we are here: The Collective

What we want to do

We want to join forces with everybody who is interested in how the pandemic is changing our ways of communicating and interacting – to share reflections, observations, fears and good practices – and to try together to envisage where these can lead us in the future.

We want to reflect on and assess these changes, to start thinking about the implications for the future. By mapping what we gain and what we lose in the way we communicate and interact with others, we can trace the opportunities and possibilities as well as the dangers and threats, to try to share and promote good practices and policies, to minimize risks for the future of social interactions, and design new and better futures.

Join our conversations!

This website is a place for publishing our reflections and starting public forms of conversation with everybody who is interested in gathering and sharing observations on the changes affecting our communications and interactions, in all spheres, as well as how people cope with these changes.

You can comment on the posts on this website, send us yours to be published, and post your own reflections on our social media pages. See our Contacts to join our initiative.


5 Responses

  1. Ben Rampton says:

    I do interactional sociolinguistics and linguistic ethnography, and here are my rudimentary attempts to formulate what’s been happened:

    a) basic observations

    RESETTING THE PARAMETERS OF INTERACTION: A sense of risk/potential danger is intrinsic to all socio-communicative activity, and this is usually handled with a range of routinised strategies (facework, civil inattention etc; cf Goffman). But following a huge discursive campaign from government about the need to stay-at-home, to social-distance and to wash-our-hands to avoid contagion (and in the UK, save the NHS, the nation-state’s most cherished institution), most of us have had to reflect on and reorganise a large range of our habitual practices in the interests of self- and other-protection. Over a period of weeks in which the interaction order has been massively ideologised, the normative parameters of embodied conduct, interaction and mobility have been extensively re-set.

    CHANNELS OF COMMUNICATION: There is a new regime of sensory perception, and with distancing and face-masks, inter-personal touch and smell have been proscribed outside the home (turning what was maybe a cultural tendency into a rule?). There has been a massive uptake of (more hygienic) digital technologies supporting auditory and visual communication, and many personal and institutional relationships involving physical co-presence outside the home have moved on-line, retuning their communicative dynamics to the constraints and affordances of digital platforms with varying degrees of effort and success.

    CURTAILED MOBILITIES & THE RE-LOCATION OF ACTIVITIES: Places and events where people gather within 2m of each other have been told to close/stopped; venturing outside the home involves intensified forms of watchfulness and amplified displays of situational propriety, with everybody other than home-co-habitants regarded as potential threats; and rather than merely involving transit to a destination somewhere else (e.g. commuting), mobility outside the home has been revalued as an end-in-itself (aka ‘exercise’). The boundaries between the scenes of private and public life have been reorganised, disclosing domestic space and introducing new participation frameworks (children, animals etc).

    b) But what’s the point of a rather basic/obvious formulation like this?

    If the communicative dimensions of the lockdown down are broken down into fairly basic elements like this, we would have a framework for comparing experiences. Questions I think it would be interesting to pursue include:

    • in what ways have the normative parameters for embodied conduct, interaction and mobility been reset differently for groups defined in terms of +/- key worker, social class, ethnicity, gender etc
    • exit from lockdown will involve further adjustment to these parameters, and the ideological conflict over the interaction order will intensify. How?
    • How far and in what ways do these developments resemble everyday practices in places where there is a lot of everyday violence and fear (among particular groups)?
    • How does the experience of (in)securitisation associated with a virus compare with the (in)securitisation associated with terrorism? What are the ramifications for surveillance and the centralised mapping/control of bodies and mobility?
    • What is the scope for primarily linguistic analyses, and what are their limitations? (cf Goffman on ‘The neglected situation’). As corporeal interaction (dance, sport etc etc) are increasingly restricted, is sociality becoming more linguistic?
    • What’s new? What’s an intensification of changes already in progress? What’s useful for whose future? For how long?

    Any thoughts or comments on any of this v much appreciated.

    • elisabettadami says:

      and absolutely yes to your idea of breaking down the communicative dimensions into basic elements to have a framework for collecting and comparing experiences, and generate questions collectively. You gave us all a great starting basis here!

    • elisabettadami says:

      Hi Ben, what you’re writing here reasons so well with many of my reflections. I’m now in the process of writing down what I’ve observed in these past three months and I’ll post it on here in the next days. In the meantime I’d like to say thank you for this very insightful contribution – it has given me some useful coordinates to navigate and put some order in my notes too!

      Only a brief comment on the linguistic aspect that you mention in your closing: true that corporeal interactions are restricted, but I’m not sure this means that sociality is becoming more linguistic – it’s certainly becoming more audiovisual, as you mention earlier, both online and offline. The audiovisual involves way more than verbal resources though – and maybe because of my socio-semiotic multimodal take, both online and offline I’ve noticed much more the visuality than the verbality (massively imprecise distinction, I know).

      Online, the mediation through screens necessarily rules out touch, smell and taste (and all the other senses involved in physical co-presence), and I’ve noticed how much everybody I’ve come across online increasingly uses the visual affordances of the cameras in creative ways to communicate, interact and carry on activities (a banal example, as on zoom only one person can speak at a time, one way some of my friends communicate their ‘asides’ while somebody is speaking is to enact something at the camera, show objects, or work with the perspective of the camera to create visual illusions – which work often as a humorous metacommentary to what the one who’s speaking is saying – but that’s only one of the many examples – consider the many infographics about the virus, and the memes).

      Offline, as you say, touch is confined in the homes (and is dangerous outside the homes, so we touch things only when strictly necessary, as when shopping for food). In public, the visual is the channel we use the most (also the auditory, but, at least in York where I am at the moment, everybody is awfully quiet when walking around – more on this in my post soon). I interact a lot through gazes (to detect face expressions when the mouths are covered, and also to signal my attitudes to others, as they cannot see my mouth), through gestures (as my speech is muffled through the scarf I wear on my face), and through a new ‘distanced’ proxemics, detecting other people’s body trajectories and readjusting my own while I walk the streets and see others coming my way.

      In communication studies, we were somehow starting to think that the ‘visual turn’ was something of the past, superseded by new ‘sensory’ and ‘material’ turns today – but now the semiotic resources relying on the visual are those that are most available to us. This opens to a lot of creativity, but it also scares me a lot in terms of potential losses of all the richness involved in the unsayable and unshowable of embodied interaction through physical co-presence.

      I’ll post my reflections soon – and let’s keep this conversation going!

  1. 02/06/2020

    […] Offline, there is now a dramatic threshold between our private/home space and our public/outside space. Outside we need to discipline our bodies, the way they move in space, how close we get to others, and what/who we touch. The threshold is marked and salient, as we are not yet accustomed to what we need to do to prep ourselves, mentally and physically, to cross it both to venture outside and to get back inside. But the threshold comes with us everywhere, as it marks the separation between our own bodies (or intimate units, if we go out with somebody in our households) and those of others. The way we conduct ourselves with others, what Goffman called the interaction order, is undergoing   a resetting of its parameters, as Ben Rampton has pointed out in a PanMeMic comment. […]

  2. 07/08/2020

    […] Rampton, B. (2020) Comment on PanMeMic: https://panmemic.hypotheses.org/1#comment-3 […]

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