"The role of touch in socialising children into health practices: Examples from a doctor, nurse and a dentist’s office"

Event Date: 

Friday, April 10, 2020 - 11:45am

Newborn babies and young children’s health care visits involve different forms of intercorporeal (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, 1968; Meyer et al., 2017) and collaborative (C. Goodwin, 2018) engagement between the health care professional, young patient and caregivers. In this presentation, I will introduce my previous and present video-analytic research on types of institutional artwork on bodies chosen to achieve this engagement. I provide examples of, among other things, the collaboratively accomplished ‘walking’ of newborn babies when testing their stepping reflexes (Figure 1); breathing in and out to enable palpating of the lungs of child-patients who have symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections (Figure 2); or holding a child’s body completely immobile while administering local anaesthesia at a dental clinic (Figure 3).

I chose microanalysis of naturally occurring interactions (e.g., C. Goodwin, 2018; M.H. Goodwin & Cekaite, 2018; Heath & Luff, 2010; Katila, 2018; Meyer et al., 2017; Streeck, 2017)  
to analyse visits by children ages 2 weeks to 6 years to a Finnish child health care centre and a general doctor’s office (Katila et al., under preparation; Ruusuvuori et al., 2008) and a Chinese
dentist’s office (Guo, 2019; Guo, Katila & Streeck, in press).  
I will unravel the micro-dynamics of how – often amid the most salient and focussed moments of the operation – health interactions can unfold as fluctuations in bodies’ control and participatory  
roles in tactile intercorporeality, in which one’s body movements are sensed immediately by and affect the body of the other (cf. Guo et al, in press; Katila, 2018; Merleau-Ponty, 1968, 1964).  
During these moments, a child’s body sometimes becomes a mouldable object of institutional craftwork – steering and shepherding co-participatory choreographies of health care  
professionals and parents, who are present to guide, control and shepherd (Cekaite, 2010, 2015, 2016) the child corporeally toward context-relevant forms of participation in health care.  
However, the children often resist or protest these actions in different ways, given that they also may cause discomfort or even pain. Thus, accomplishing health care activities sometimes  
requires persuasive, controlling or compensatory actions, such as controlling touch, or empathetic and apologetic vocal tones combined with a controlling touch.

Through examples from the three aforementioned settings, I show how the art of health care operations with children occurs as a complex dance between the bodies of the child,  
professional(s) and parent(s). I will conclude my presentation with remarks on how studying touch and its interwovenness with other sensorial resources as practices for socialisation
contributes to our understanding of how bodily conduct is shaped concretely by being and interacting in the world (e.g., Cekaite, 2015; Cekaite & Kvist Holm, 2017; Cekaite & Ekström,  
2019, De Leon, 2012, 1998, Goodwin & Cekaite, 2018, Katila, 2018).