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Gesture and institutional interaction: Figuring bids in auctions of fine art and antiques

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Despite the growing body of research concerned with talk and interaction in institutional settings, the ways in which complex forms of organisational activity are accomplished in and through gesture remain relatively neglected. In this paper, we consider auctions of fine art and antiques and examine the ways in which auctioneers deploy an organisation that creates competition and enables the price of goods to be rapidly escalated in a systematic and transparent manner. We explore the ways in which gesture and other forms of bodily conduct are used, with and within talk, to elicit, juxtapose and publicly reveal the actions of potential buyers and enable participants to have a sense of the source and integrity of the various contributions. We consider how the gesturing hands serve to engender specific actions and how they are transformed in the course of their articulation to respond to the contribution, or absence of contribution, of bidders. In various ways therefore, the paper is concerned with addressing how gesture and other forms of bodily conduct are interactionally articulated with talk so as to accomplish a highly specialised and contingent form of organisational activity; an activity that enables price to be rapidly escalated and the sale of goods to be witnessed by an audience on the fall of a hammer.

Keywords: auctions; conversation analysis; markets; occupational practice; organisation; social interaction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: King’s College London

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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