In common usage, gesture names the emptiest of social forms. You reach to help someone, knowing already that they’ve got it. Somewhere between reflex and performance, a gesture signals good intentions without the burden of follow-through—we call this a “mere gesture.” At the same time, a gesture can be understood as the smallest, most basic unit of power as it gets made and remade through embodied social relations. A handshake in a back room is only the most obvious example. We raise our hand to speak, or we don’t. We reach out to some and not to others. We return somebody’s gaze, but only if the conditions are right.

In its etymological sense, gesture (from the Latin gerere, to carry or conduct) signals a question of comportment, of how the body conducts itself (Noland and Ness 2008). Critical concern about what gesture conveys—about what kind of meaning it carries—dates …

Embodiments, Methodologies, Power


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines “skill” as the “capability of accomplishing something with precision and certainty,” the “ability to perform a function, acquired or learnt with practice,” hence “practical knowledge” or “expertness.” As a noun, “skill” is a precipitate of past actions in training or in practice that further indicates the ability or capacity to put knowledge into practice, to implement a form of knowledge performatively and effectively, to operationalize it within particular contexts. It is savoir-faire, the French compound verb that means “to know [how] to do.”

In common usage, “skill” often indicates applied or applicable knowledge, as distinct from more abstract, academic, theoretical (or trivial) knowledge. In contradistinction to the word “knowledge,” “skill” tends to highlight instrumental use value. While scholarly and vocational training both claim to impart “knowledge and skill,” each term is given different relative value in different fields. In some areas, …

Disciplinarities, Embodiments, Ideologies
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