The Significance of Touch

We live in a language-centered culture and so it is no surprise that the methods we use to investigate our social relations focus largely on language. From survey methods to life histories, from content analysis to conversation analysis, we seek to understand both what people think and how feel by asking questions and studying what they say. After all, language is the most distinctive feature of our species and the clearest way to distinguish us from other animals.

But a moment’s reflection reminds us of the importance of touch in human relations. Whether it is a mother comforting her baby in her arms, a salesperson sealing a deal with a handshake. or a teammate high fiving another after scoring a goal, touch is used to convey meanings with an intensity and directness that can be superior in its impact to spoken words. It is a natural capacity that helps to ensure bonding between animals and did so for human ancestors before they evolved the capacity for talk.

Ethnographic and other participant observant methods use observing and recording instances of touch and then categorizing them to identify different ways in which social bonds are maintained and social status defined.

You can read more about “the power of human touch” at

How many different types of touching can you observe at your school?

What can you learn about people from differences in their use of touching others during similar social situations?

Given the potential misuse of touch to gain advantage of others, how do you think it should be limited in formal settings like the classroom?

This entry was posted in Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 15, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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