Clapping out the conference season

Thirty years on since I first got interested in how applause works in speeches, I'm still adding gems to my collection of video clips. This year's star exhibit came when the accountability of clapping (or not) became headline news with David Miliband's reproach to Harriet Harman for applauding his brother's declaration that something she'd voted for was wrong.

It reminded me of a fascinating moment from the Thatcher era, when the accountability of not applauding in the right places was highlighted by Peter Snow in a Newnight interview with Francis Pym:

Viewing applause as 'anthropologically strange
When people ask me how I came to do the research that changed my life (see Our Masters' Voices and the Claptrap saga, links to which are listed HERE), my answer is that I was merely trying to follow one of the central pieces of methodological advice from the founders of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis.

According to them, the starting point for escaping from the limitations of the hypotehetico-deductive model of science that had held (and continues to hold) sociology and psychology back was to follow the maxim: try to view the familiar and the ordinary as 'anthropologically strange', no matter how mundane it may be.

To give you an idea of what this means (and by way of bringing my posts on this year's conference season to a suitable close) I've spliced together some close-ups of audiences in action over the past few weeks.

Before watching it, imagine that you're a Martian anthropologist. You've just been beamed down to earth on your first mission of exploration, you've arrived in the middle of an audience at a party conference and this is what you see. Then ask yourself what, if anything, you'd make of what members of this alien species are doing:

A research project?
If, having watched it, you're wondering why it ends with an artificially extended sequence of Michael Gove in action, it's because I think there might be something going on here worth further examination. Having watched it several times (!), I get the impression that there could be a connection between his eye-blinking and the rhythm of his hand movements.

As it happens, I have neither the time nor the inclination to pursue it further. But if anyone else can be bothered, I'd be fascinated to know what, if anything, you come up with.

This year's conference season posts:


dirkvl said...

a minor observation: M Gove's clapping is quite peculiar and technically quite difficult to accomplish. After clapping for a while he tilts and overstretches his right hand to the outside before he pulls it back for the next clap; it looks like the right hand is floppy, flipping up and down as the arm Gove's lower arm moves forward and backwards. It looks like the right wrist unwillingly is moved by the clappers right arm to accomplsih the clap - one could interpret this in one way or the other or applaud Michael Gove for his clapping skills

icerunner said...

It looks rather like someone else is clapping in front of Mr. Gove's face and he's a little put-off by it.

By not seeing the forearms connected to his body, the motion looks very alien and disconnected.

Simon Lancaster said...

You might want to check out this clip too. It has a different perspective showing the reaction from those around. Check out the wonderful Alistair Darling smirk from behind as Miliband lays in. Beautiful!