Gesture & Speech Mapping / by Kiersten Nash

From extraordinary to mundane, everyday practices were augmented, amplified, and activated in order to engage human and non-human agents in conversations that confront the present and rehearse alternative futures. The capability of these tactics to cultivate critical consciousness via situational awareness was accessed using a diversity of qualitative and quantitative indices of embodied knowledge—verbal and non-verbal, including:

Gesture and Speech Mapping  On the final day of Physical Training, I conducted interviews with a handful of participants. While reviewing the conversations, I recognized an unexpected trend—several of the individuals talked at length...with their hands! Fascinated, I watched the interviews over and over, and over again. Body language becomes very pronounced when watching a recorded interview on mute.

Nash, Kiersten. Physical Training Workshop: In Conversation with Linda Xin. Video Stills. Parsons The New School for Design. New York, NY, 2012.

However, when I finally turned the volume on, I was incredibly intrigued by the correlation of words and gestures. While Linda explained: "…the way bathrooms are made define us and the way we respond, defines the bathrooms. (Linda's index fingers guide her hands (and torso) from right to left) And so it's that cyclical dialectic. (hands return to center and circle) That's probably one of the main things I've gotten from this whole design experience—the interaction between the human and non-human components (counts to two on left hand) and how those are constantly in motion (repeat circular motion)."  

Gestural talking, according to many individuals, is often frowned upon and sometimes even admonished. It's perceived as nothing more than hand-waving or worse,  (according to one professor in the Transdisciplinary Design MFA program) an indication that someone doesn't really 'know' what they're talking about. I disagree. And so does Susan Goldin-Meadow, cognitive scientist and Bearsdley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Psychology and Human Development at the University of Chicago. Goldin-Meadow's research on the gestures that accompany speech in hearing individuals has shown that "gesture has the potential to contribute to cognitive change in at least two ways—directly by influencing the learner, and indirectly by influencing the learning environment." Gesture not only reflects cognitive change; it can create cognitive change. Gesture can either display information or serve as a "cognitive prop" helping individuals to process information, as in Linda's case. "Gesture can thus be part of language or it can itself be language, altering its form to fit its function."

Gesture as means and evidence of cognitive development could be a thesis in and of itself or, in Goldin-Meadow's case, provide enough fodder for a lifetime of investigation. I have only dipped my toe into the pool. However, as a passionate advocate for innovation in the realm of developmental assessment, particularly in academic settings, I felt the need° to mention it as an exciting opportunity that warrants further investigation.

You might be asking yourself (because I know I asked myself), "Wait a minute, is she trying to cultivate a more competent wo/man (Taylor)?

Gilbert, Frank B. "Two Handed Motion Pattern—2300 per hour, 21% More Output Than One-Handed Method." The Original Films of Frank B. Gilbert. YouTube. 1910. Web.

Or an organizational wo/man (Whyte)? A docile body (Foucault)?" The answer is NO. While the means may draw many parallels—multi-modal learning—the end is diametrically opposed. My ultimate goal is to cultivate a critical conscious capable of [un]learning°—to learn and [un]learn, engage and [dis]engage. Or "to exercise some control over how and what you think…being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience." To find one's own way.