Open Thinkering


Tag: gestures

Gestures as semiotic domains

[vimeo w=450&h=360]

The above video shows hands with and without a book in them. Books have a defined user experience: there is a consistent and uniform way to open and ‘read’ them; they have a particular structure encourage certain familiar gestures – e.g. flicking through to the index or chapter headings.

Gestures, therefore, meet the three tests for a semiotic domain (implicitly) laid down by Gee (2003:23):

  1. They allow us to experience (see, feel and operate on) the world in new ways.
  2. Such gestures are shared with groups of people who carry them on as distinctive social practices.
  3. They allow us to gain resources that prepare us for future learning and problem-solving in the domain (and perhaps related domains)

If gestures are semiotic domains, explains Gee, then they must have ‘design grammars’:

Each domain has an internal and an external design grammar. By an internal design grammar, I mean the principles and patterns in terms of which one can recognize what is and what is not acceptable or typical in a semiotic domain. By an external design grammar, I mean the principles and patterns in terms of which one can recognize what is and what is not an acceptable or typical social practice and identity in regard to the affinity group associated with a semiotic domain. (p.30)

The concept of ‘gestural literacy’, therefore, would seem to be somewhat of a misnomer. Grammar may be a semiotic domain and have both internal and external design grammars, but to consider it separately from the act of reading would be to miss the point. We need holistic views of literacy that take into account embodied cognition.


Gee, J.P. (2003) What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (Palgrave Macmillan, New York)

Leadership by gesture.

The Art of Worldly WisdomI stumbled across a book recently that I think is going to have a major influence on the rest of my life. The philosophers Schopenhauer and Nietzsche both recommended it highly and it is, in a way, a western equivalent in scope (but not style) to the Analects of Confucius and the Tao Te Ching.

Written in the 17th century by a Spanish Jesuit scholar by the name of Baltasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom consists of 300 pearls of wisdom. Reading through some of them last night, number 43 on leadership caught my eye:

Natural leadership. It is a secret force of superiority not to have to get on by artful trickery but by an inborn power of rule. All submit to it without knowing why, recognizing the secret vigor of natural authority. Such magisterial spirits are kings by merit and lions by innate privilege. By the esteem that they inspire, they hold the hearts and mind of those around them. If their other qualities permit, such people are born to be the prime movers of the state. They perform more by a gesture than others by a long harangue. [my emphasis]

It’s this last sentence that intrigues me. That it can be counter-productive to harangue people with words when you can say much more by action and example. I’ll be bearing that in mind over the coming weeks… 🙂

N.B. Whilst I highly recommend you consider buying the book, the full text is available online here.

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