Touch: A resource for making meaning

Bezemer, J., Kress, G. (2014)
Australian Journal of Language and Literacy Vol. 37, No. 2, 77-85
In this article we attempt to provide some ways of thinking about touch. Our aim is to develop new insights into ‘touch’, as well as in meaning making and communication more generally, by bringing into ‘explicitness’ meanings which, at present, are referred to by labels such as ‘implicit’, ‘tacit’ or ’embodied’. We wish to show that this discussion needs to happen, and it needs to become more precise before we can attempt to settle various issues in connection with touch, such as the implicatoins of touch-screens and other touch-technologies. The frame for our discussion is social semiotics. Taking examples from different domains and communities of social practice, ranging from shoulder tapping and clinical examination in hearing and sighted communities, through to tacticle signing in deaf-blind communities, we explore ways in which touch is used as a resource for making meaning, and unpack the multiplicity of meanings attached to the term itself. One question that is central to our discussion is whether and if so, how, touch can represent and communicate meanings and develop into a ‘mode’ that can serve a ‘full’ range of semiotic functions within a community.

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