12.9 Ruth Ayaß: Face-to-face? On reciprocity in audiovisual meetings

HSSH Visiting Professor lecture with Ruth Ayaß, Bielefeld University.

In everyday communication mutual perception plays a major role in establishing and maintaining attention and coordinating bodies and activities, as we know in particular from the work of Simmel, Schutz and Goodwin. Especially eye contact is crucial for reciprocity. Among strangers, however, eye contact is delicate, as the work of Goffman and Lofland show – and is avoided. Even in face-to-face encounters in everyday situations, direct eye contact is subject to rules. For example, staring at others (‘eye-balling’ someone) is behavior that is considered intrusive and rude. The uninterrupted gaze on the body or face of another person is a problematic behavior.

But that’s exactly what we do day after day in Zoom conferences or other audiovisual meetings. These meetings are a new form of social encounter, described by Knorr Cetina as a ‘synthetic situation’ (2009). In synthetic situations, the face-to-face encounter is replaced by a ‘face-to-screen’ encounter. This lecture deals with the social situation and the specific mediality of the interactions in which actors find themselves in a ‘face-to-screen’ encounter. These situations establish frontal bodily arrangements of a new kind. Everyone can look directly at one another without this continuous looking being considered rude. In return, direct eye contact in the original sense is no longer possible.

The lecture discusses these social situations and questions their specific reciprocity. The study is based on empirical observations. However, I will discuss the phenomenon in question primarily on a theoretical and conceptual level (with examples involved, of course).

Ruth Ayaß is professor for sociology at Bielefeld University. Her research focuses on sociology of everyday interaction, ethnomethodology, and interpretive sociology.

The lecture will take place in Unioninkatu 40 (Metsätalo) hall 2 on Monday 12th September at 14.15. The lecture is followed by drinks.

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