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This profile was last updated on 1/17/15  and contains information from public web pages.

Ray L. Birdwhistell

Wrong Ray L. Birdwhistell?
 
Background

Employment History

  • Anthropologist
  • Primary Teacher
    Harvey Sarles
  • Student
    Chicago School of Symbolic Interaction

Education

  • B. A.
    Miami University
  • doctorate
  • Behavioral Sciences
    Institute for Advanced Study
85 Total References
Web References
ACE - Ray Birdwhistell
www.culturalequity.org, 17 Jan 2015 [cached]
Ray Birdwhistell
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Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell (1918-1994) was the founder of kinesics, the study of human movement as culturally patterned visual communication. He coined the term from kinesis, Greek for movement, as a positive alternative to "non-verbal communication" as the field was more usually known. Birdwhistell held that that kinetic communication occurs in learned patterns that form systems related to and varying as much as the patterns of spoken language. He also maintained that kinetic communication conveys 65 to 70 percent of the information in a conversational interaction. Among scholars of anthropology, folklore, and psychiatry, Birdwhistell's films and writings are legendary. Alan Lomax, who took two seminar courses with Birdwhistell in the early 1960s, was profoundly influenced by him.
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Ray Birdwhistell (in Kinesics and Context, 1970: pp.
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Ray Birdwhistell was born in Cincinnati in 1918 and grew up and attended high school in Fostoria, Ohio, graduating in 1936. He received his B. A. from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1940; his M.A. from Ohio State University 1941; and his Ph. D in anthropology from University of Chicago in 1951. It is sometimes reported that he studied ballet in his youth or even that he was a former ballet dancer, but according to his daughter, this is untrue.
RayCover
From 1944-46 Birdwhistell did fieldwork in Canada and taught at the University of Toronto. While researching kinship among the Kutenai Indians of British Columbia, Birdwhistell was struck by the fact that the Kutenai could distinguish non-tribe members from a great distance merely by their posture and body movements. He also noticed that they understood a great many things, including the subtleties of their kinship system, without explicitly verbalizing about them.
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"Legend has it that Birdwhistell was a younger anthropologist listening to Mead and others comment on a Balinese film when he interjected something like, 'But did you see what the mother did with the baby after she took him out of the bath?' He then brought to their attention a fascinating medley of actions that occurred in a few seconds" (Martha Davis, "Film Projectors as Microscopes: Ray L. Birdwhistell & Microanalysis of Interaction [1955-1975]," Visual Anthropology Review, 17: [no.
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In 1946 Birdwhistell joined the faculty of the University of Louisville, Kentucky, where he remained for ten years. He did additional research on kinship for his doctorate among the "Bluegrass" and the "Hill" people of Anderson County, Kentucky. Birdwhistell had used twelve interviewers to assist in his Kentucky fieldwork (the interview was then the chief research method in anthropology) and had noted that some were markedly more effective at eliciting information than others, a phenomenon he attributed to their extra-verbal skills. From this point on kinetic communication was to be the focus of his research activities.
Birdwhistell was part of a movement of linguists and social scientists interested in investigating culturally learned non-explicit communication.
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Birdwhistell had been at Chicago with sociologist Erving Goffman (author of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, to whom Birdwhistell dedicated his book).
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Trager, Hall, and, in the summer of 1952, also Birdwhistell, worked as applied anthropologists at the Foreign Services Institute (founded in 1946) in Washington, D. C., training thousands future diplomats in anthropology and non-verbal communication. Hall's best-selling book The Silent Language (1956) grew out of this work: it concluded "Culture is communication and communication is culture" (p. 186). The anthropologists were fired from the FSI in 1955 due to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles's dislike of anthropology, which he believed promoted relativism.
Of all his colleagues, Birdwhistell was the most theoretically oriented. In 1952, he published his seminal book, Introduction to Kinesics: An Annotation System for Analysis of Body Motion and Gesture, in which he proposed a new scientific status of the study of movement, modeling his terminology on that used in structural linguistics. He proposed the term kineme (comparable to a phoneme in linguistics) to describe a unit of movement (for example, a wink), the kinomorph, and the kinomorpheme. Birdwhistell chose the model of descriptive method of structural linguistics not because he considered body communication a language in the same sense as sign language, but for its rigor. His focus was on what was being communicated outside and in addition to the formal system of signs ¾ through posture, angle of the limbs, trunk, head, and neck, and of facial parts such as eyebrows and lids. To describe these movements he also invented a system of notation, which he called kinegraphs.
Birdwhistell spent the summer of 1956 at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, California, as part of a multi-interdisciplinary investigation that came to be known as "The Natural History of an Interview.
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In this book (using characteristically measured language), Birdwhistell summed up the implications of his work at Palo Alto and the FSI:
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Birdwhistell taught at the State University of New York in Buffalo from 1956 to 1959. In 1960 he became a Senior Research Scientist at the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute in Philadelphia, where he taught seminars in Linguistic-Kinesic Analysis and collaborated on film research with the psychiatrist Albert Edward Scheflen (1920-80) and cinematographer Jacques Van Vlack, remaining at the Institute until his retirement in 1988. He was appointed Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in 1969. Ray Birdwhistell was married twice. He had two daughters with his first wife. He died in October 1994.
The movie Microcultural Incidents in Ten Zoos (made with Jacques Van Vlack) was one the few films of Birdwhistell's to be publically released.
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In Italy, the children's nursemaid threw the food underhand with a motion of her hips that Birdwhistell called "a fine pelvic thrust. The Taiwanese families held back and threw the food from 10 to 20 feet away, though a few brave souls ventured nearer. To avoid having the his subjects' knowledge of the camera's position influence their movements, Birdwhistell and Van Vlack filmed them indirectly, using mirrors or some other device, while pretending to film something else.
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Birdwhistell himself appeared briefly in the film, acting as a decoy.
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A second film by Birdwhistell and Van Vlack was TDR- 009, an eighty-minute, 16-mm black-and-white sound film of a scene in a bar in a middle-class London hotel, which examines the interactions between speakers and listeners.
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For his part, Birdwhistell continued to insist that meanings in kinetic communication could only be explained in the context of communication between two or more people, not as absolutes. Looking back, the intensity of the debate is puzzling: the two researchers were focused on different, arguably complementary, rather than contradictory aspects of human behavior, which could both have been integrated into a larger system. (Starting in the early sixties the topic of universals also began to be studied extensively by linguists). The real issue was that Ekman's research had obvious practical implications in police and defense work and Birdwhistell's did not.
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"Ekman replaced Birdwhistell in the important role of arbiter of NIMH grants for non-verbal communication research, and by the 1980s the golden era of 'naturalistic observation' of films and tapes ended" (Davis p. 46).
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Thus, at the end of his career, Birdwhistell found himself and his field marginalized and under attack.
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Among scholars who have continued to study bodily communication in the context of culture along the lines pioneered by Birdwhistell, Trager, and Hall have been David McNeil, whose many publications include Hand and mind: What gestures reveal about thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992) and Adam Kendon, editor of the periodical Gesture and author of among other books, Conducting Interaction (Cambridge, 1990), Gestures: Visible Action as Utterance (Cambridge, 2000).
HarveySarles.com · Teaching As Dialogue
harveysarles.com, 6 Jan 2015 [cached]
Birdwhistell who Goffman met at the U. of Toronto; me, somewhat later at SUNY Buffalo - he was our primary teacher, model, incite/insight/excite: the "best observer" I ever met. Similarly for Goffman.
Birdwhistell sent us both to U. of Chicago where we fell under the thinking of various practitioners of "Symbolic Interaction" deriving from G. H. Mead, whose ideas seem now to be "creeping" back into a field which has practically been overtaken by Sociobiology and/or by Neuropsychology and other psychologies which don't pay much attention to the interactional-social facts of our very being.
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Well: the history of ideas and academic power overtook Birdwhistell, and then myself. I've been trying to revive and extend Goffman and Birdwhistell's ideas> (Plus, Birdwhistell was the best observer I've ever met - in many circumstances… all of human… life.)
While Goffman "enjoyed" quite great success, his teachers and little brother got "wiped out" in what I call the Chomskyan "revolution" in ideas - where the study of the human got displaced (still is) by the notion that the human being is centrally a mind/thinker, not a body in such complex interactions.
Goffman who was finally a "university professor" at Penn, was able to "rescue" Birdwhistell and got him a position there after he was "let-go" from his study of human-interaction at Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute as support for these studies just "went away" and our careers much diluted.
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Whew! Life is a "whew" - mainly from Birdwhistell. Read the rest of this entry >
HarveySarles.com · Language and Human Nature
harveysarles.com, 6 Jan 2015 [cached]
Birdwhistell who Goffman met at the U. of Toronto; me, somewhat later at SUNY Buffalo - he was our primary teacher, model, incite/insight/excite: the "best observer" I ever met. Similarly for Goffman.
Birdwhistell sent us both to U. of Chicago where we fell under the thinking of various practitioners of "Symbolic Interaction" deriving from G. H. Mead, whose ideas seem now to be "creeping" back into a field which has practically been overtaken by Sociobiology and/or by Neuropsychology and other psychologies which don't pay much attention to the interactional-social facts of our very being.
...
Well: the history of ideas and academic power overtook Birdwhistell, and then myself. I've been trying to revive and extend Goffman and Birdwhistell's ideas> (Plus, Birdwhistell was the best observer I've ever met - in many circumstances… all of human… life.)
While Goffman "enjoyed" quite great success, his teachers and little brother got "wiped out" in what I call the Chomskyan "revolution" in ideas - where the study of the human got displaced (still is) by the notion that the human being is centrally a mind/thinker, not a body in such complex interactions.
Goffman who was finally a "university professor" at Penn, was able to "rescue" Birdwhistell and got him a position there after he was "let-go" from his study of human-interaction at Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute as support for these studies just "went away" and our careers much diluted.
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Above all, Ray Birdwhistell - the originator of "Kinesics," the study of the human body-in-interaction. He was an Anthropologist who was the best observer of people I've ever met - observer in the sense of seeing people in careful and detailed senses. He was trained as a "classical" dancer, and seemed to see all others as performers in life's dances. And he didn't only concentrate on each individual. He also/always noted how they interacted: in groups, in life's varieties of social contexts from infants to older, the ordinary and the exceptional in every sense; richer and poorer, healthy and injured and "odd" and…; ethnic, linguistic. His ways into the world were always expanding. Life is social, interactive: the individual…?
My Teachers - My Teachers - Ray Birdwhistell, George Trager, Henry L. Smith Jr., Norman McQuown, ...
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Ray was a student of the Chicago School of Symbolic Interaction - heirs of the American Pragmatist, George Herbert Mead, and the anthropologists who wandered the entire world.
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Ray was also a student in the line of thought and active fieldwork (life is fieldwork!) of Franz Boas: Margaret Mead (especially), Gregory Bateson, influenced his thought.
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Tags:anthropology, Chicago School of Symbolic Interaction, Dan Latorre, education, Erving Goffman, Franz Boas, G.H. Mead, George Trager, Glenn Radde, Gregory Bateson, Henry Lee Smith Jr, interaction, Janis Sarles, Jerry Timian, John Dewey, kinesics, linguistics, Margaret Mead, Mischa Penn, Nancy Boler, Norman McQuown, paralanguage, Phil Regal, Pragmatism, proxemics, R. Hruby, Ray Birdwhistell, Stanley Williams, teacher education
HarveySarles.comHarveySarles.com »
harveysarles.com, 30 Jan 2012 [cached]
Big brother, because we were/are heavily influenced by the same teacher-person: Ray Birdwhistell (who doesn’t show up in Dirda â€" but he always was the primary base for Erving’s and my thinking about… most everything. Birdwhistell who Goffman met at the U. of Toronto; me, somewhat later at SUNY Buffalo â€" he was our primary teacher, model, incite/insight/excite: the “best observer†I ever met. Similarly for Goffman.
Birdwhistell sent us both to U. of Chicago where we fell under the thinking of various practitioners of “Symbolic Interaction†deriving from G. H. Mead, whose ideas seem now to be “creeping†back into a field which has practically been overtaken by Sociobiology and/or by Neuropsychology and other psychologies which don’t pay much attention to the interactional-social facts of our very being.
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Well: the history of ideas and academic power overtook Birdwhistell, and then myself. I’ve been trying to revive and extend Goffman and Birdwhistell’s ideas> (Plus, Birdwhistell was the best observer I’ve ever met â€" in many circumstances… all of human… life.)
Awardco – Employee Recognition and Rewards | Manager Tips
www.awardco.com, 15 Dec 2013 [cached]
If you've ever heard the statistic "80% of communication is non-verbal", you're hearing the work of anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell, who pioneered the original body language research in the 1970s and 80s. Birdwhistell discovered all kinds of counterintuitive facts about human communication, most of which are...
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