Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 79–105 | Cite as

Unspoken Diversity: Cultural Differences in Gestures

  • Dane Archer


This paper describes the use of video to explore cultural differences in gestures. Video recordings were used to capture a large sample of international gestures, and these are edited into a documentary video, A World of Gestures: Culture and Nonverbal Communication. This paper describes the approach and methodology used. A number of specific questions are examined: Are there universally understood hand gestures?; Are there universal categories of gestures—i.e., universal messages with unique instances in each society?; Can the exact same gesture have opposite meanings in two cultures?; Can individuals articulate and explain the gestures common in their culture?; How can video methods provide “visual replication” of nuanced behaviors such as gestures?; Are there gender differences in knowing or performing gestures?; and finally, Is global diversity collapsing toward Western gestural forms under the onslaught of cultural imperialism? The research findings suggest that there are both cultural “differences” and also cultural “meta-differences”—more profound differences involving deeply embedded categories of meaning that make cultures unique.

gestures culture cultural differences nonverbal communication 


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dane Archer
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSanta Cruz

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