Edited by Heather Brookes and Olivier Le Guen
[Gesture 18:2/3] 2019
► pp. 173–208
For gesture research outside anthropology, the promise – and challenge – of anthropological method stems from one or more of its core commitments: its pursuit of human variation, both diachronic and synchronic; its insistence on naturalistic rather than experimental research design; and its integrative sensibility that situates human behavior in relation to an expansive sociocultural context. This essay reflects on this last sensibility. As we envision an anthropology of gesture and weigh its potential for gesture studies, we should pause and reflect on the fitful history of gesture in anthropology. As a parable for the present, I revisit a neglected anthropological voice from twentieth-century gesture research: Ray L. Birdwhistell, whose ambitious postwar science of kinesics teamed film-based microanalysis with American linguistic structuralism. At stake in Birdwhistell’s work was a problem that looms large here, that of how and at what cost a science of gesture can contextualize its object integratively.