Lindström, J., Norrby, C., Wide, C. & Nilsson, J. 2017. Intersubjectivity at the counter: Artefacts and multimodal interaction in theatre box office encounters. Journal of Pragmatics 108. 81–97.



The present study investigates the interplay between language, material and embodied resources in one specific type of service encounters: interactions at theatre box offices. The data consist of video recorded interactions in Swedish at three box offices, two in Sweden and one in Finland. Cases representative of the interactions are selected for a multimodal micro-analysis of the customer--seller interactions involving artefacts from the institutional and personal domain. The study specifically aims at advancing our understanding of the role of artefacts for structuring and facilitating communicative events in (institutional) interaction. In this way, it contributes to the growing research interest in the interactional importance of the material world.

Our results show that mutual interactional focus is reached through mutual gaze in strategic moments, such as formulation of the reason for the visit. Artefacts are central in enhancing intersubjectivity and mutual focus in that they effectively invite the participants for negotiation, for example, about a seating plan which can be made visually accessible in different ways. Verbal language can be sparse and deictic in these moments while gaze and pointing to an artefact does more specific referential work. Artefacts are also a resource for signalling interactional inaccessibility, the seller orienting to the computer in order to progress a request and the customer orienting to a personal belonging (like a bag) to mirror and accept such a temporary non-accessibility. We also observe that speech can be paced to match the deployment of an artefact so that a focal verbal item is produced without competing, simultaneous physical activity.

© 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license http://creativecommons. org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

Keywords: Social interaction; Multimodal analysis; Artefacts in interaction; Joint attention; Intersubjectivity