Interactions and Screens in Research and Education

New norms of politeness

New norms of politeness in digital contexts

Amélie Bouquain

Tatiana Codreanu

Christelle Combe

Version française > Amélie Bouquain, Tatiana Codreanu, Christelle Combe, « New norms of politeness in digital contexts », Interactions and Screens in Research and Education (enhanced edition), Les Ateliers de [sens public], Montreal, 2023, isbn:978-2-924925-25-6,
version:0, 11/15/2023
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The aim of this chapter is to redefine politeness – a linguistic, semiotic and cultural concept – in a multimodal and polyartefactual communication context. In this complex interactional situation, different instances (determined by the status in the group or by the communication tools) and presence indicators (from physical to artefactual and interactional presence) have been analysed. In order to highlight participants’ behaviour and acts of politeness, we used a multidisciplinary theoretical framework. This chapter addresses the following question: to what extent does the polyartefactual communication context affect the rituals of politeness? It aims to document the group’s evolution in terms of interpersonal relationships’ regulations from the first to the last session. It also proposes, in the manner of H. Paul Grice’s (1979) and Dan Sperber’s (1989) maxims, a redefinition of new “rules” of politeness linked to the artefacted context.

Theoretical framework

Based on Erving Goffman’s microsociology (1974), Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson’s (1978) theory of politeness adopts “face-saving” as a model while Jonathan Culpeper (1996) opts for “face-attack” as a model of impoliteness.

Forms of politeness

Catherine Kerbrat-Orecchioni (2005) defines four categories, from politeness to impoliteness:

  • Politeness, i.e., the existence of one or more markers in an utterance, the presence of which is more or less expected according to accepted norms in a context,

  • Hyperpoliteness, i.e., the presence of excessive markers compared to accepted norms in a context,

  • Non-politeness, the “normal” absence of any politeness markers,

  • Impoliteness, i.e., the “abnormal” absence of a politeness marker or the presence of an impoliteness marker.

In order to study politeness in a polyartefactual context, we selected the following concepts.

Face-threatening and face-flattering acts

Face” is “the positive social value that a person actually claims through the course of action that others assume they have taken in a particular contact” (Goffman 1974, 9, our translation) and “figuration” is “an act a person does to ensure that their actions do not cause anyone (including themselves) to lose face(1974, 15, our translation). In order to study politeness, it is therefore necessary to observe Face Threatening Acts (FTA) or Face Flattering Acts (FFA) (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 1996), while taking into account the contextual aspects (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2002). In our study, we focused on the polyartefactual context, precisely postulating that the same statement can be valid for a FTA in a given context, and for a FFA in another context, and vice versa.

Forms of strategy

The main types of face-saving strategies such as avoidance, repair and cooperation

often become habitual and standardised practices: they resemble the traditional moves of a game or the codified steps of a dance. Each person, group and society has a repertoire of these practices, which are referred to when we ask what a person or a culture is “really” like. Yet each set of practices manifested by a particular person or group is drawn from a single, coherent, structured set of possible practices, and the concept of face, by its very nature, can only be “saved” in a certain number of ways; each social group had to make its choice from a single matrix (Goffman 1974, 15–16).

Our analysis therefore consists of describing a new type of interaction – polyartefactual multimodal interactions – and presents the findings of a unique matrix.

Politeness rituals

Kerbrat-Orecchioni proposes the following definition of politeness rituals:

[These] are regulated practices, which are reproduced more or less identically in identical situations… Ritual forms are poor in informational content, but rich in relational meaning. The absence of an expected ritual is seen as a threatening symptom of a tear in the social fabric, the consequences of which can be disastrous (2002, 512).

Thus, speech acts in the context of face-to-face interactions during the doctoral seminars follow a certain more or less codified ritual.

Codified rites in the context of the doctoral seminar

After listening to a presentation, the participants’ quasi-linguistic forms of communication and conventional gestures (raised hands, gaze etc.) are clues of turn-taking for the moderator. Participants are expected to ask questions after a presentation and the absence of questions could even be considered as a potential FTA for the face of the invited speakers, the moderator may compensate for silence by asking questions themselves. However, during group work and research work, the discourse is naturally distributed between the participants, each one listening to the the other, then taking turns more or less spontaneously when they have an opportunity to speak (at the end of a presentation, after a moment of silence etc.) In the context of the polyartefactual seminar, turn-taking can be more complex and the subjects are more than ever confronted with multiple constraints (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2002).

Room and artefact configuration and turn-taking

Turn-taking is affected by the configuration of the room and the different artefacts. For the participants in the seminar room (10 to 12, depending on the session), turn- taking can be decided with help from the facilitator (by looking at each other or raising a hand), or through a simple glance around the room to see if someone else is about to speak. The participant using the Beam robot, on the other hand, will have to rotate the artefact towards the participants present in the room, or the participant on the Kubi had to rotate the device on the stand in order to be able to observe the room or make themselves visible to the other participants. In both cases, this had an audible and visual impact on all the participants in the seminar room. Participants on Adobe Connect have the option of raising their hand (a functionality offered by the platform) or raise their hands in front of their camera so that this is perceived by the other participants present in the seminar room (some of whom are also connected via Adobe Connect). The image of the participants on Adobe Connect was projected on the wall of the room and the participants usually directed their gaze at this projection. In a face-to-face interaction context, the physical form of the interlocutors’ bodies, the Kubi (pivoting on the table) and the Beam robot (moving around the room) were part of the bodily experience (Merleau-Ponty 1945).

Terms of address

The terms of address, which are composed of pronominal forms, usually of the second person, and nominal forms of address (NFA) that designate and name the main addressee (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2010), depending on the kind of interaction in which they occur, play a particular role: a role in the organisation and turn-taking, a role in the selection of the addressee and turn-taking, a role in strengthening the interlocutory link and the speech act and finally a role in relation to the interpersonal relationship (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2010). Their role is also essential in conversational openings and closings.

The notion of cooperation

The notion of cooperation, which is seen in the context of figuration by Goffman, is also studied in evolutionary biology. According to Martin A. Nowak (2006a ; 2006b), in a group, one can distinguish three types of behaviour: individuals who cooperate (cooperators and super-cooperators), individuals who decide to stay out of cooperation (defectors) and individuals who observe other agents’ behaviors with respect to acts of cooperation and defection (discriminators). Nowak emphasises the cost associated with cooperative behaviour (by providing a benefit to other individuals).

Politeness and acts of cooperation

Thus, people cooperate on the basis of past experiences and knowledge of what has happened before. Another element that comes into play is that of reputation. Depending on the value given to an individual (reputation, prestige etc.), there may be a case of cooperation through indirect reciprocity. Cooperation also emerges in a group dynamic, where reciprocity is linked to the network. Depending on the social ties and interactions, individuals who wish to cooperate may group together and alter social interactions with other individuals. Nowak also highlights the difficulty of mixed groups and interactional situations in terms of cooperation. In this case, a selection by the group takes place. Three types of behaviour are distinguished: cooperative behaviour, non-cooperative behaviour, and mixed behaviour, the latter allowing for parity, a relationship of equals in a group. Nowak and Highfield (2011) highlight the fact that in face-to-face and unmediated situations, unequal relationships between individuals are more frequent.

Politeness also involves direct, or indirect reciprocity and selective processes based on costs and benefits. Similarly, an individual’s reputation can place them above costs and benefits and guide the rules and behaviour in seminar settings. This is also linked to Goffman‘s notion of face in the context of social relations. Goffman notes internal activity as the participants’ efforts to overcome any unforeseen events that might make them look bad, without negatively affecting their relationships (1974, 38).

The status of the participants

The polyartefactual doctoral seminar forms in Goffman’s sense, a team, that is:

a set of people whose very close cooperation is essential to maintain a given definition of the situation. It is a group that is related, not to a social structure or social organisation, but rather to an interaction or series of interactions in which the proper definition of the situation is maintained (Goffman 1973, 102).

The members of a team are interdependent and seek to give the representation expected by the audience.

Based on the notion of a dynamic participatory framework (Goffman 1987) and the analytical inputs of evolutionary biology, we distinguished the following statuses:

In order to define the rituals of politeness in the context of the doctoral seminar, this chapter will answer the following research questions:

Analysis and results

Nominal forms of address: diachronic evolution

In this section, we will analyse the nominal forms used to address or designate the participants who, in order to participate remotely in the doctoral seminar, had to use an artefact (Adobe Connect, Beam or Kubi). Our analysis is diachronic from the first to the last session of the corpus of study.

In this polyartefactual context, it is necessary to take into account the characteristics of the artefacts used, but also the different “spheres of interactionBy “sphere of interaction”, we mean the space open to interactions that the artefact allows. Interactions can therefore take place within this space and be characterised as inter or intra when the interactions take place in spaces of intersection between different spheres (when using several artefacts), for example a computer connected to the video-conferencing software is used for a whole face-to-face group, including the artefacts present in the room, such as Beam and Kubi remote presence robots.↩︎” that are inherent to them.

Artefacts and their characteristics

Artefacts Robot Beam Robot Kubi Adobe Connect
Typology of artefacts individual individual individual and group*
Types of discussions dialogue and polylogue dialogue and polylogue dialogue and polylogue
Spheres of interactions inter inter inter and intra
Types of interactions synchronous oral synchronous oral synchronous oral and written

* Individual in the sense that a single individual connects remotely with their computer, and group in the sense that the software allows several remote participants to connect.

As the system was set up, with participants connected via the Beam and Kubi robots, Adobe Connect and the face-to-face group, meant that there could technically only be synchronous oral interactions (intra sphere of interaction). However, all participants had the possibility to connect to Adobe Connect as well – those in the face-to-face group as well as those using Beam and Kubi – allowing for synchronous written exchanges through Adobe Connect chat (inter sphere of interaction).

During the doctoral seminars, all participants referred to each other by their first names. Informal language was used between permanent members and the use of “vous” (you, plural) was related to addressing the group and the guest speakers (formal). Our analysis focuses on the NFA used by face-to-face participants to refer to remote participants.

The analysis of the corpus of study at the macro level allows us to define three levels of perception and representation corresponding to membership categorisation devices (Sacks 1992). These levels influenced the designation of remote participants by face-to-face participants, and in particular by the participant who has the leadership role in the seminar:

This categorisation demonstrated by our analysis shows a perception ranging from the general to the individual level and thus a graduation in the representation of the group and of the remote participants linked to the effects of presence. We conducted our analysis at the micro level through these three categorisations.

To do so, we recorded and analysed the NFA used in each session and noted the changes we observed between the first and last sessions.

Group categorisation Artefactual categorisation Individual categorisation
Session 1 X X X
Session 2 X X X
Session 3 X X
Session 4 X
Session 5 X

Session 1

Table Session 1

Categorisation Nominal forms of address
Group categorisation 00:20:00 - Christine: “Maybe we’ll give the floor to remote participants”

00:32:11 - Christine: “Those of you who are remote, do you have any suggestions or comments?”
Artefactual categorisation 00:35:52 - Christine: “The robot is sneezing”
Individual categorisation 00:20:13 - Christine: “Maybe we’ll give the floor to those who are remote, do you have anything to say?”
“No? Amélie? Tatiana?”

00:35:52 - Morgane: “Bless you”.

From the very first session, in addressing others, we observe different terms of address between face-to-face and remote participants, as if beyond the different artefacts used by the remote participants, there were two spaces that coexisted through group effects: a face-to-face group and a remote group.

Session 1 analysis

As interacting with remotely connected participants can seem unnatural, Christine (the group facilitator) occasionally tried to give them the floor.

This sequence showes how the remote participants were considered as a remote group (“remote”, “remotely”) before being named as individuals. Their first names were used to refer to them at a later stage to address them individually, often following a lack of response when Christine gave the floor to “those who are remote”, or even to fill the silence.

Furthermore, the moment when Amélie (who was using the Beam robot) sneezed, highlights the dichotomy of the reality of the situation experienced by the participants in the room. One participant exclaimed, “The robot is sneezing” while another participant answered, “Bless you”. On the one hand, the artefact was personifiedSee chapter “Artefacted intercorporeality, between reification and personification”.↩︎, on the other hand, the remote participant was addressed (artefactual and individual categorisations).

Artefactual and individual categorisation

Session 2

Table Session 2

Categorisation Nominal forms of address
Group categorisation 00:01:24 - Participants: “the others”

00:51:40 - Christine: “those who are remote”

1:06:10 - Christine: “Jean-François and then we will give the floor to the people who are remote”

1:13:10 - Christine: “Give the floor to those who are remote”
Artefactual categorisation 00:01:24 - Participants: “On Beam”, “Beam”, “hand-to-hand with Beam”, “your Beam”

00:51:47 - Françoise and Christine: “the robot”

00:53:24 - Participants: “The Beam that turns around too”

1:13:10 - Christine: “Maybe we’ll give the floor to the remote people, who would like to ask a question for example, among the ones on Adobe first… Christelle, Tatiana, Prisca, Liping”
Individual categorisation 00:51:23 - Christine: “Amélie, if you can connect your camera”

1:13:10 - Christine: “Maybe we’ll give the floor to the remote participants, who would like to ask a question, for example, among those on Adobe first… Christelle, Tatiana, Prisca, Liping”

1:19:47 - Christine: “I’m finally giving the floor to Amélie because she kept getting cut off by us”

1:20:00 - Jean-François: “There’s Christelle who raised her hand, too”

1:33:25 - Christine: “Amélie, do you have anything to say? … from the remote group?”

Session 2 is characterised by the presence of guest speakers.

Session 2 analysis (1/2)

We note that in this session the guest speakers addressed Amélie (the Beam pilot) several times and referred to her each time by the brand of the robot “Beam” (artefactual categorisation). In contrast, the guest speakers directly addressed the remote participants present on Adobe Connect once, using “you” (group effect, group categorisation) and then referring to them as “the others” on another occasion. In terms of representation, this reinforced the feeling of the coexistence of two spaces, as already identified during Session 1 among the face-to-face participants, and the evidence of a very marked group categorisation.

Group and artefactual categorisation

Regarding the designation of remote participants by the face-to-face participants, we can observe that, in particular, Christine addressed them first of all as remote participants (“those who are remote”, “to remote people”), but also as people connected through an artefact – “the robot”, “among those on Adobe” –, and thus the existence of an artefactual categorisation, and finally as participants with the use of their first names, but always when asking them to speak, which is linked to turn-taking.

It should be noted, however, that on three occasions the first names of the participants were used directly to address them, which constitutes a change in the terms of address.

Session 2 analysis (2/2)

In one case, however, the first name was used in a request – “Amélie, if you can connect your camera” – an act that only the person using the Beam robot can perform.

Prior to our analysis of Session 3, it should be noted that between Session 2 and Session 3, the research group began to conduct semi-structured interviews with the participants. These interviews may have led to self-reflection and the awareness of certain elements, such as the use of the name of the artefact – artefactual categorisation – to designate a remote participant.

Session 3 – Parts 1 and 2

Table session 3

Categorisation Nominal forms of address
Group categorisation 00:03:26 - Christine: “Those who are remote”

00:05:56 - Christine: “remote”

00:22:48 - Christine: “You’re not there, neither is Amélie … and Tatiana … you’re obviously remote”
Artefactual categorisation
Individual categorisation 00:03:40 - Caroline: “I don’t know if you can hear me?”

00:03:40 - Caroline: “Those who are absent”, “Someone who is not present”

00:06:05 - Christine: “There are almost as many of them as us”

00:07:42 - Christine: “It’s the one inside the robot”

00:14:40 - Christine: “the remote people”

00:15:13 - Christine: “It’s normal that we can’t see Tatiana”

00:19:30 - Christine: “Amélie, Tatiana”

00:22:48 - Christine: “You’re not there, Amélie isn’t there either … and Tatiana … you’re obviously remote”

00:42:13 - Christine: “It’s by accident that Amélie’s moving around”

Session 3 analysis (parts 1 and 2) (1/4)

In Session 3, another artefact was introduced – the Kubi robot, so that two remote participants could use remote presence robots (Beam and Kubi) and a third participant used Adobe Connect. It should be noted that this session was focused on presenting the group’s research work, and according to the research topics defined beforehand, each group presented their progress and analyses to the others.

The classification and division into three categorisations of the NFA used in Session 3 shows the disappearance of the artefactual categorisation, i.e., the designation of the participants by the name of the artefact used, but also a more pronounced tendency towards individual categorisation, i.e., the use of terms of address relating to the individual (“Amélie, Tatiana”, “the remote people”).

Session 3 analysis (parts 1 and 2) (2/4)

Despite this tendency, the perception of two distinct spaces persisted: face-to-face versus remote, as in the two previous sessions.

However, in contrast to Sessions 1 and 2, the NFA relating to group categorisation (“those who are remote”, “remote”) used by Christine were not applied here to address the remote participants directly but to refer to them in the context of the group discussion. This NFA is a form of designation in this case and not a form of address. The group effect of two coexisting spaces, as observed during the first two sessions, was reinforced by Christine’s remark, “There are almost as many of them as there are of us”, the “us” referring to the face-to-face group and not to all the seminar participants.

From this session onwards, we noted a change in the NFA used to address the remote participants, in this case the use of their first names to address them, particularly by Christine.

Session 3 analysis (parts 1 and 2) (3/4)

This change may be due to the experience acquired by the participants over the course of the sessions, as demonstrated in an interview with Jean-François, where he described the interactions with the device as a learning process:

I think you learn to do it because you realise or are told that such and such a person is not at ease with this configuration.

The notion of learning was taken up again in this session during the presentation of the group analyses; the discussion involves learning about interactions within the group, also defined as a “community of trust”. The “norms” of interactions evolved within the group over the course of the sessions and therefore of the experiences, allowing adjustments to be made regarding what was analysed as unsatisfactory, or what could be improved.

Excerpt from an interview with Christine

Christine also pointed out this evolution in an interview:

Christine: “Well, there are still things to improve and, for example, when I see myself on the videos, I don’t like it when I say ‘the robot’ instead of ‘Amélie’. You know, it’s convenient to say that, but if I were in the robot, out of empathy, I wouldn’t like being called ‘the robot’. But it’s very difficult, I mean, we are witnessing a historical moment with these technologies.”

Tatiana: “But at the same time the robot exists.”

Christine: “Yes, it exists, but it’s still Amélie, so I’d rather say Amélie […] so when I saw myself, I said to myself, NOT cool.”

Session 3 analysis (parts 1 and 2) (4/4)

The interviews that were carried out by the different groups, as well as the experience within the device and the inherent reflections, thus contributed to a change in the NFA used during the interactions, especially regarding the face-to-face participants, including Christine (the facilitator), towards the participants remotely attending the seminar.

However, the designation of remote participants by some group members remained dichotomous. On several occasions, remote participants were referred to as “absent”. Two groups coexisted: “those present” and “those absent”. Christelle then asked the group about this use and the choice of this NFA. Caroline then agreeed that the term was not “satisfactory” and that it was not her representation. Although the participants who were attending the seminar via an artefact were indeed not physically present in the corporeal sense, they were not absent in the literal sense of the term either.

Session 4

Table session 4

Categorisation Nominal forms of address
Group categorisation
Artefactual categorisation
Individual categorisation 00:18:41 - Morgane and Dorothée: “Can you move, just move, thank you”

01:06:00 - Christine: “Christelle would like to talk, Christelle, you … so Christelle is on Adobe […] Ah, you didn’t turn your mic on […] Where is Christelle […] You’re cut off, go ahead and talk”

In Session 4, only terms relating to people were used (“Christelle would like to talk”, “Christelle, you…”, “Ah, you didn’t turn your mic on”); the participants stopped using terms relating to the representation of the remote group (group categorisation) and to the artefacts used (artefactual categorisation).

Session 4 analysis

This change may suggest an evolution as part of a continuum in terms of the changes observed since the first session. However, the fact that the guest speaker was using one of the artefacts (the Beam robot) may have contributed to questioning the representations linked to group effects – face-to-face versus remote, us versus them – as the guest speaker was remotely connected and not being part of the research group. Moreover, her reputation probably influenced the way she was addressed, but also the way the other remote participants were addressed. In this session, only two participants were attending the seminar remotely, one via Adobe Connect and the other via the Kubi, and thus the absence of a quantitative effect linked to a group certainly also favoured the use of NFAs relating to individual categorisation. In fact, the guest speaker repeatedly addressed the participant using Adobe Connect by her first name.

Session 5 – Parts 1 and 2

Table session 5

Categorisation Nominal forms of address
Group categorisation
Artefactual categorisation
Individual categorisation Data session
Using the first names of the participants at a distance

Group analysis
00:01:57 - “Christelle”

00:06:20 - Christine: “Aaaaah! She scared me!”

00:07:00 - Jean-François: “For example, Amélie has just come towards us…”

00:09:10 - Morgane: “Amélie, can you move, please?”

00:21:04 - Christine: “Tatiana, what do you think?”

Session 5a analysis

Session 5 consists of a data session and a session where the participants shared the progress of their research on the analysis of the corpus of study. Two artefacts were used by the remote participants: the Beam robot and Adobe Connect.

During Session 5, only the first names of the remote participants were used to refer to them, thus the group and artefactual categorisations changed, which confirmed a real evolution between Session 1 and Session 5, and this despite the different artefacts used, the number of participants connected remotely and the typology of the participants (member of the research group or guest speaker).

Session 5b analysis

Our diachronic analysis of the NFAs used by the participants in the room to address or designate the remote participants showed that between Session 1 and Session 5, over a period of six months, there was a strong attenuation of the group effect (group categorisation) and a shift from an initial designation mainly by the artefact’s name (artefactual categorisation) to addressing the participants by their first name. There was therefore a reduced use of the representations linked to the effects of presence and the three categorisations identified at the beginning of our analysis.

Threatening acts and repair processes

In this section, we study different face-threatening acts in this polyartefactual context, and the face-repairing strategies implemented by the participants.

Firstly, we studied the case of a “misunderstanding”. The scene took place during Session 2, when the moderator welcomed two guest speakers to the seminar for the first time. The conference took place with very poor sound quality for the participants on Adobe Connect. Only one Adobe Connect microphone was activated on one of the computers in the seminar room, which was too far away from the guest speakers.

Session 2: example of a misunderstanding

After the guest speakers’ presentations, a question-and-answer session began. Jean-François took the floor. Christine, with the intention of not neglecting the remote participants but also of regulating the interactions, informed the participants that she would give them the floor. At this point, Christelle (who was also the participant who provided access to Adobe Connect, and who was therefore responsible for running the platform smoothly) replied on the chat that the main problem was that they could not hear very well, but they did not want to interrupt. When one participant disconnected and participants on Adobe Connect were not able to hear Jean-François who was speaking in the seminar room, Christelle wrote a brief message directly to Jean-François in the chat. Christelle interrupted Jean-François via the audio channel. She did not speak particularly loudly, but the message echoed throughout the seminar room. The term of address directly targeted the guest speaker, and, despite the polite term used, a form of annoyance was apparent in the general tone of the message. Jean-François’ reaction was immediate.

At first glance, the FTA appeared to be directed at Jean-François who seemed to be caught out by his lack of knowledge of the platform. His embarrassment was perceptible and was probably accentuated by the presence of guest speakers, who did not belong to the small doctoral seminar community. A less perceptible FTA was also directed at Christelle, whose speech act was perceived as impolite despite her attempts to attract the attention of the participants in the room regarding the technical issue.

In the end there was relief from both sides, in the room and on Adobe Connect. The teams came together to help each other. Christine was committed to her role as moderator, both in terms of technical management and managing the interactions. The FTA also possibly affected the moderator since the issue occurred in front of the two guest speakers.

Jean-François reflected on his technical fluency with the artefacts in his interview, noting that:

The FTA was not very serious because the situation made me feel no less competent than the others. Well, not much, because I imagine that it could happen to anyone, since no one is used to problems with echoing microphones and so on. If it had been in a situation where I was the only one not in control of the machine it would have been an issue. It’s as if I had badly managed our communicative situation, especially with the remote people for whom I’m more inclined to be attentive. So, is it always technical problems? In fact, technology creates these communication breakdowns.

Christelle’s will to participate and be present despite technical difficulties was manifested in her abrupt speech within an engaged conversation, which in this case proves to be a FTA for the face of the person being interrupted, but also for the person committing the FTA. On both sides there were restorative processes and group cohesion was rebuilt around the incident.

Session 2: example of a misunderstanding (continuation)

As not all members possessed the same command of the artefacts, some stepped in to support others to solve certain communication difficulties. However, this can be experienced as a FTA, especially when it affects an externalised act such as moving the Beam or Kubi robot, or switching off the sound or camera on Adobe Connect. For example, during one session, Christelle opted to mute Jean-François’s microphone to avoid echo effects and feedback in the room caused by the simultaneous connection of microphones in Adobe Connect. Jean-François explains in an interview:

Afterwards, I was asked to connect my microphone and I managed to do so, but afterwards only – and I didn’t remember – I was asked to turn it off, but in fact I wasn’t asked to turn it off. I had the impression that it had disconnected itself and so I kept reconnecting it and when I realised that she was the one doing it, I said to myself, “Okay, now it’s not going to happen, I thought, OK now I get it, I get it: when I talk, I reconnect, and I disconnect right after that.” It’s a learning process, so it can be frustrating because at the beginning you don’t master anything and then someone in the interaction has ways of muting you without you realising it.

We can see that having the “mic cut off” can highlight the participant’s technical shortcomings and at the same time affect them personally, the robot and the platform being experienced as an extension of oneself. In her interview, Amélie, while praising the autonomy she felt using the robot in relation to the Adobe Connect platform, noted that “the only problem I can have is that I find myself without a battery and Morgane has to plug me in”. The personal pronoun “me” to designate herself, on two occasions, clearly underlines how she blurs the boundary between herself and the artefact, as it is the robot that needs a battery and to be plugged inSee chapter “Artefacted intercorporeality, between reification and personification”.↩︎.

Video of Jean-François: example of a face threatening act

Another form of FTA observed during the polyartefactual seminar is linked to hyperpoliteness.


As Jean-François pointed out in his interview, the participants in the seminar wanted to involve the remotely-present participants:

I am learning to manage what will be comfortable for the people who are connected remotely. In fact, the idea is to pay attention to them and to make sure that our interactions, our communicative situation, is comfortable.

The turn-taking needed to be organised, and the facilitator systematically asked remote participants to speak, sometimes by using the artefact’s name or the participant’s name. However, this ritual turned out to generate FTA in different forms. First of all, this happened through the terms of addressSee Nominal forms of address: diachronic evolution.↩︎.

These various terms of address also proved to be a FTA for different participants when they did not intend to speak, either because they had nothing relevant to say on the subject, or because they could not hear properly for technical reasons, or because they do not necessarily felt competent on the subject to speak in front of the entire group.

Example of a FTA: Failure to take into account a request to speak

In these cases, the face of the person being asked to speak may be threatened by creating a feeling of embarrassment, as Amélie states:

So when I have nothing to say, it embarrasses me a little when I’m asked, um, there are people who are in the room and who don’t participate, we don’t tell them, well, you don’t have anything to say, and I’m really all alone using the robot and that exposes me I feel that I’m more exposed if they say, well, on Adobe Connect you don’t have anything to say, there are three or four of them, but I’m obliged to say, no, um, I have nothing to say, and that bothers me a bit, it exposes my face more.

When a participant had nothing to say and justified themself, for example, by the problem of poor sound quality, the moderator may also feel embarrassed in front of the guest speaker and may quickly cut the conversation short to move on. As Christine points out in an interview:

For the organiser’s face… That is to say, obviously, I took a risk in leading this research seminar… Now, if you like, I don’t feel it’s so much a risk for my face because I’ve tried to include everyone, i.e., I think, well I feel, I hope, that we’re part of a team, and the entire team is involved, so if it fails, it’s not just me, it’s just that we’ve tried something that didn’t work… its “WE”, not just “ME”.

By including everyone in the seminar and dividing up responsibilities, the facilitator also protected her own face to some extent.

Failure to take into account a request to speak can also be a FTA for the person whose participation is denied. This appeared on several occasions where the remote participants were forgotten. Requests for technical support, or rather the failure of the face-to-face participants to respond to requests for help from remote participants, can also be experienced as a FTA.

The amplification of sound, when the robot’s pilot sneezes or moves the robot, or conversely, the sound or visual disappearance of a participant using an artefact can appear as a FTA to participants in the seminar. Leaving the room may be perceived as less of a FTA compared to a remote participant leaving the Adobe Connect screen or the robot screen.

Last example: FTAs linked to the effect of media

This final example of a FTA is related to the effect of the media. In the following example, the guest speaker was operating the Beam robot and was the focus of attention of both the audience and the remote participant. In the example below, the robot turned towards the oversized image of the remote participant projected on the wall. However, this movement created a potential FTA, as the robot turned its back to the audience in the room. The participants in the room were amused by the scene, and the guest speaker remediated the situation by directing herself, with Morgane’s help, towards the Adobe Connect camera.

FTA related to the media effect

Cooperative acts as flattering acts

To illustrate the links we make between cooperative acts and face-flattering acts, we have analysed Session 4 in detail.

Susan positions herself in the room

At the beginning of the session, the guest speaker, Susan Herring, using the Beam robot, was positioned in front of all the participants (both present and remote – the Kubi and Adobe Connect cameras were also placed on a table and directed towards the Beam robot). Susan Herring moved the Beam around the room with ease.


Synchronisation of interactions

However, at the conclusion of Susan’s presentation, the robot hid some of the text projected on the wall and Morgane, acting as the technical facilitator, asked Susan to move the Beam robot by making pointing gestures that attracted Susan’s attention. Morgane’s deictic gestures were mirrored by Dorothée who tried to cooperate with Susan and Morgane to reposition the Beam robot in the room. Dorothée’s communicative gestures showed a synchronisation of interactions (smiles, syntonic mimics, eye contact, body orientation, head nods, co-verbal gestures). The three participants – the guest speaker, Morgane and Dorothée – thus all produced synchronised interactions.


Dorothée and Samira reposition themselves

Dorothée and Samira then positioned themselves in front of the Beam robot behind Christine and Morgane. There was a brief collaboration between Dorothée, Samira, Christine, Morgane and Susan (who was piloting the Beam robot).


Acts of cooperation

During the question-and-answer session at the end of Susan’s presentation, the applause represented a FFA towards the guest speaker. Christelle resumed her place on the screen projected on the wall. The four participants (Christine, Morgane, Dorothée and Samira) continued to interact with Susan in order to attempt to resolve a technical issue (an audio echo). They tried to cooperate with Susan by making suggestions. Susan moved towards the group, and Christine asked Christelle to help Susan on Adobe Connect by switching off her microphone. Susan replied: “I am sorry, I was not able to understand what you just said”. Christine answered that she was talking to Christelle. Susan approached the table: “And if I get closer?” Christine looked at the projected screen and answered, “Christelle is frozen, isn’t she gone? Well, we’ve lost Christelle, but I hope she’ll come back, she knows how to connect anyway”. Dorothée’s gestures of empathy while looking at Christelle’s image contrast with Joséphine’s answer to Christine “Yes”. Faced with silence from the other participants, Christine decided to continue without Christelle. We can see that in the absence of discriminators the collaborative behaviour disappears as face flattering acts towards Susan Herring were favoured.

At the end of the session, Susan moved the Beam robot towards the participants who were addressing her. The reorientation of the Beam robot can even be assimilated to gestures of referential activity, testifying to Susan’s willingness to cooperate and can be considered an act of politeness. Moreover, when Christelle wrote on the chat, Susan approached the Adobe Connect screen with the Beam robot to read the message directly.

Jean-François bends over to protect the visual field of the camera

Other acts of cooperation were remarkable and highlighted the true function of the room and what was sought in relation to the acts of politeness, without corresponding to an immediate rationality of the choices made.

Let’s take as an example the moment when Jean-François returned to the room. The gesture of bending over (so as not to obstruct the camera recording the interactions) has an important place historically, in terms of rites of politeness. This gesture is also common when watching a film in the cinema or a show. In this case, the person standing up bends over so as not to disturb the visual field of the people sitting behind them. What is interesting in this passage is the participant’s internalisation of the design of the room and the acts of politeness-cooperation in relation to the objectives of the seminar: to collect data for the future research project. Jean-François made an attempt not to disturb the future “audience” of this film by obstructing the camera. His gesture is illustrative of the super-cooperative acts that emerge beyond ephemeral inter-group cooperation, as sharing knowledge is essential for the survival of scientific research.

Figure 1: Jean-François tries to protect the camera

The interaction analysis shows that cooperative acts can be equated with acts of politeness. Nevertheless, cooperative participants did not necessarily impose a strategy of cooperation during the doctoral seminar. Groups were formed and split by the constraint of size, positioning in the room, strategies for occupying chairs, and the search for a place that optimised sound and visual reception. The selection model was thus based on the notion of technical optimum. Cooperation was precarious and cooperative behaviours did not emerge in a stable way either for participants in the room or for participants at a distance. Cooperative groups could be overwhelmed by non-cooperative choices. However, stable behaviours did occur when participants cooperate around data recording and knowledge sharing.

The acts of cooperation analysis highlight the impact of the 3D design of the room that structures the interactional environment. This corporeality was not the same for a 2D image projected on a wall which deprived the participants of a 3D physical form on Adobe Connect. We could then observe that the design of the initial experience (the seminar room, the physical configuration and the choice of artefacts) formed a perceptual horizon that affected the interactions between the seminar participants. The difficulties linked to the projected image of Adobe Connect and to the functionalities of the platform (limited visibility for people in the room) added a degree of interactional complexity that required a degree of learning from participants of the new “body”, the 2D projected image. While the movement of the 3D bodies in the room easily attracted the attention of the participants present in the physical space of the seminar room, the Adobe Connect image projected on the wall required an additional effort for the interactions in progress (looking up, a passive artefact that was easily forgotten in the absence of any sign of an anatomical and physical reality). Thus, the positioning and nature of the various artefacts in the physical space of the seminar room played a considerable role.

New “maxims”

In a polyartefacted context, interaction rites must therefore be put in place, and learning about a new “hybrid interaction culture” is thus indispensable. We propose the following maxims for a polyartefactual seminar in the manner of Grice:

The diachronic analysis of the NFAs used by the face-to-face participants to address or designate the remote participants showed that over a period of six months there was a strong attenuation of the group effect (group categorisation) and an evolution of the terms used, from designating mainly the artefact (artefactual categorisation) to addressing participants by their first name, and thus a disappearance of two categorisations linked to the effects of presence in favour of the individual categorisation.

The micro qualitative analysis of various FTA and face-repairing strategies shows that these are often related to the effect of the medium or a technical malfunction, and that it is important for different participants to master not only the artefact they are using, but also the one their interlocutor is using. To put it more simply, ideally, all the participants would have had practice using all the artefacts to create the conditions for the empathy necessary for a satisfactory interaction.

A group effect will always be able to operate at the level of the co-operators and thus compensate for the potential shortcomings of other participants. The design study of rooms where interactions using artefacts take place can show how acts of politeness and cooperation can be influenced by the architecture and design of the space itself. The strategy of occupying a space is strongly linked to the search for technical optimum, and the absence of an equilibrium has a direct influence on acts of politeness and cooperation.

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