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Book: Communication in Surgical Practice

Chapter: Chapter 11 Lovers, Wrestlers, Surgeons: a Contextually Motivated View of Interpersonal Engagement and Body Alignment in Surgical Interaction

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.26855


This chapter draws on foundational and more recent work in proxemics (Hall 1959, Martinec 2001) to explore the role of body alignment as an important mode of meaning in surgical practice and its interaction in that context with linguistic semiosis, particularly in the exchange of what Michael Halliday has termed interpersonal meaning (Halliday 1973). At the same time the chapter uses the novel analytic demands of surgical interaction to test the possibility of an account of body alignment that is sensitive to variation in context and register. There must be room in such a model for a given distance between participants in interaction, or a specific alignment of bodies or gazes, to mean different things in different social and professional situations, and to be crucially involved in distinguishing such contexts. After all, although lovers, wrestlers and surgical teams all work in potentially highly charged interpersonal proximity, such proximity does not have the same meaning in each context. The chapter draws on data from a collaborative project between linguistics and surgery. The analysis focusses on an episode of surgery in which an established specialist surgeon is assisting a senior registrar in a colorectal surgery procedure, and features the common practice in teaching hospitals of swapping sides. Findings indicate the importance of mutual understanding of body alignment.

Chapter Contributors

  • Alison Moore ( - amoore) 'University of Wollongong'