Hi-Tech Automotive

Hi-Tech Automotive is a comprehensive micro-ethnographic study of the communicative actions of one man in the course of one work-day. This man, Mr. Hussein Chmeis, a Lebanese immigrant to the US, is the owner and hands-on manager of a car-repair shop in a metropolitan city in the Southwestern U.S. I investigate nearly the full range of communicative modalities and practices that he deploys—how he walks, stands, looks, points, gestures, and talks—in an attempt to understand how an individual person acquires, invents, adapts, and routinizes embodied cultural practices and forms by which he solves his daily communicative tasks and achieves practical understanding with others. Interaction sequences are analyzed both for the interaction methods and sense-making practices that are locally employed in them, but also for how they fit into and sustain the overall distributed cognitive and activity system of the shop, as well as web of social relationships that Mr. Chmeis entertains.


This study expands upon the empirical theory of gesture that I have presented in Gesturecraft (Streeck 2009). In that book I describe the different ecologies of hand-gestures in everyday interaction, the quite heterogeneous ways gestures are fitted and contribute to communicative contexts.The present study encompasses the entire body and its couplings with material and personal contexts of action. I ask about each of these communicative modalities* (walking and standing, gesture, gaze, speech) how, in its coordination with others, it contributes to the “situated activity system” (Goffman). Looking at engagement after engangement, I collect instances of acts and forms, aiming to find habitual methods and devices. Step by step I build up a comprehensive picture of my subject’s technique corporelles, his communicative habitus (M.Mauss), his self-understanding, and the repertoire of practices by which, in making his life-world, he makes himself.


The study is based on a 11-hour video-recording, made while I was following Mr. Chmeis with my video-camera from opening to closing time.


* Because of limitations of the video-data, only scant attention is paid to the face.


2002 A body and its gestures. Gesture, 2, 1, 2002, 19-44.


2008 Laborious intersubjectivity. Attentional struggle and embodied communication in an auto-shop. Embodied Communication in Humans and Machines. Ed. I.Wachsmuth, M. Lenzen & G. Knoblich. Oxford University Press, 202-228.