Gaze as integral to family Skype interactions

Year: 2019

Author: Busch, Gillian

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Many families use video-supported technology, regularly Skyping distant family members, to build and sustain important family relationships, including those between grandchildren and grandparents. The multi-party context in which the Skype calls occur present challenges for speaker selection and for maintaining turns as speaker (Sacks, 1995). Additionally, while “numbers matter” (Sacks, 1995, p. 127) in terms of how the Skype calls unfold, the location of members is also consequential for the calls. In a Skype call, some members are physically co-present while others are virtually co-present. In the data selected for analysis, it is the grandparent who are virtually co-present. An interactional resource family members draw on to support interaction within this context is gaze, with gaze providing the “interactional machinery by which participants sustain and regulate their conjoined activities” (Kidwell, 2005, p. 420). This paper draws on an ethnomethodologically informed conversation analytic approach to examine several Skype calls from two families. Focusing on how gaze is employed, analysis explicates first, how gaze and the use of objects are used to attract and coordinate attention, second, how gaze is used to manage the coordination of offline and online interaction and, finally, how the virtually co-present grandparent maintained their gaze on the child and their activities. Together these findings contribute to understandings of the integral nature of gaze for participation in Skype interaction and the ways young children learn to participate in Skype interaction. Additionally, the findings highlight how very young children orient to gaze and use gaze to accomplish interaction when mediated by video-supported technology.


Kidwell, M. (2005). Gaze as social control: How very young children differentiate “the look” from a “mere look” by their adult caregivers. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 38(4), 417- 449.

Sacks, H. (1995). Harvey Sacks lectures, 1964-1965. Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.