Visual identities: Choreographies of gaze, body movement and speech and ‘ways of knowing’ in mother-midwife interaction

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The aim of this chapter is to explore the potential of a video-based, visual methodology for understanding the interactional accomplishment of social identity. Drawing on the theoretical framework of ethnomethodological conversation analysis (CA) and ‘naturally occurring’ video data of mother-midwife interaction (Lomax, 2013), the chapter explores the role of the visual,the postural, spatial and visual orientation of speakers, in the social construction of identity during routine home visits by midwives. Focusing on sequences of interaction in which mothers talk with midwives about their recent birth experiences, the chapter examines how normative professional and patient identities are accomplished locally and sequentially through the orchestrated gaze, body movement and speech of participants. Interaction can be understood as a choreography in which mothers and midwives display, through their talk and visual attention to the other, their alignment, respectively to embodied and clinical understandings of birth. These different ways of knowing are reinforced by the asymmetrical organisation of interaction, whereby midwives steer the agenda and mothers are attentive to their questions, ‘responding appropriately to whatever is asked for, at whatever point, and in whatever form’ (Clark and Mishler, 1992:346). The interactional asymmetries which emerge are accomplished posturally and visually through midwives' inattention to mothers' speech and gaze. In focusing on the visual elements of interaction, the chapter responds to an emerging agenda within psychology and the social science which seeks to elaborate how participants experience and re-produce the social world (Henwood, Dicks and Housley, 2019). A focus on the spatial organisation of bodies and more particularly the ways in which an individual’s embodied actions are co-ordinated in response to the actions of a co-speaker, enables researchers to capture how various forms of self-hood are constituted in diverse spaces. As the chapter considers, institutional priorities are displayed, made visible and ‘talked into being’ (Heritage, 1984) through the asymmetrical organisation of body-movement and speech. These constraints on mothers (and midwives) voices produce particular maternal and professional identities. In this way the chapter seeks to consider the full range of communicational forms (body movement, gaze etc) as well as the materiality of the space as attended to and made use of by participants. This includes a focus on the interaction between mothers and midwives as well as sequences in which I, as the researcher, am observably drawn in to the on-going interaction through mother’s visual interaction (gaze, gesture and facial expression). In doing so, my aim it to consider an empirically based reflexive approach which moves beyond confessional reflexive positions in order to enhance research practice and methodology in psychology (Pillow, 2010). Analytic focus on these sequences makes explicit the role of the researcher and video camera in the construction and mediation of video-based data as well as making visible the significance of non-linguistic modes of communication in the construction of normative patient and professional identities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Handbook of Visual Methods in Psychology
Subtitle of host publicationUsing and Interpreting Images in Qualitative Research
EditorsPaula Reavey
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9781138491793, 9781138491809
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2 Dec 2019


Cite this

Lomax, H. (Accepted/In press). Visual identities: Choreographies of gaze, body movement and speech and ‘ways of knowing’ in mother-midwife interaction. In P. Reavey (Ed.), A Handbook of Visual Methods in Psychology: Using and Interpreting Images in Qualitative Research (2 ed.). Routledge.