Melissa’s Discipline & Punishment

How Nonverbal Communication can be used to Discipline, Control, Punish & Surveille

Nonverbal communication applies to more than what one may think. It is not only in the way we use our body language or facial expressions, but in the we use media and in the way that we react to signs or campaigns. The power of a facial expression or hand gestures, the placing of a sign or the Facebook post of song lyrics can all be used to discipline, control, punish or surveille others. In my final blog post I will take a look at how two of these concepts apply to interpersonal communication, visual rhetoric and mediated communication. I will first look at how control is impacted by nonverbal communication. Control is to exercise restraining or directing influence over or having power over, according to Merriam-Webster (2016). I will then look at how nonverbal communication can be used to punish. To punish is to impose a penalty on for a fault, offense or violation (2016)

Interpersonal Communication

Gestures are often used to control, for example, a police officer may use gestures and hand signals to direct traffic or make a car stop. We immediately recognize what the gesture means and act on it. If the officer puts up his or her hand signaling someone to stop that is an emblematic gesture because it takes the place of spoken words and has a specific meaning (Gesture Types, 2016). Because everyone knows the symbolic gesture for stop, we are easily controlled.

Interpersonal communication is also used to punish by means of territory. Often times when children get in trouble they end up sent to the corner or to their room for punishment. Sometimes kids even have a special timeout chair. Being reminded or threatened to go to the time out chair is terrifying enough for kids and sometimes corrects their behavior immediately. The territory non-verbally communicates punishment to children. A child’s room can often be viewed as their primary space – areas you call your own, but when sent to their room it is viewed as a different kind of territory because it is used to punish them (Richmond, McCroskey, Hickson, 2012).

Visual Rhetoric


Visual rhetoric uses nonverbal communication to control where people are able to smoke cigarettes with the no smoking signs. Whenever someone sees this sign it is understood that they cannot smoke in that area and therefore their actions are controlled by the visual rhetoric.

“For viewers young to old, crossing all educational levels and transcending language and literacy, these symbols communicate quickly and effortlessly – especially important in a fast-paced world that demands multitasking and quick decision-making” (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2012).

Visual rhetoric is also used to punish as well as control. On Facebook, many dog parents post pictures of their dog with a sign around their neck stating what their pet did wrong this time. This dog on the right was 995b41c60a22ef084c0f6a706700cc54in trouble for getting into the bread, so the owner took a picture of the dog with a sign as a “punishment.” Although the dog probably doesn’t understand it is in trouble because of the sign, we recognize that the dog did something wrong without even reading the words.

Sometimes on the news we see parents who make their children stand on the curb with a sign around their neck stating what they did wrong. Everyone who sees this happening can tell that the child did something wrong because of the visual rhetoric around the neck and also due to the child’s interpersonal communication. This type of punishment is interesting because it is a type of public humiliation punishment which America has steered away from in the past. Experts say that any punishment that shames or embarrasses a child is not an effective way to discipline children and may cause long-term psychological damage (Rettner, 2012). In these examples, visual rhetoric can be used to punish, but it is not always an effective message.

Mediated Communication

As the definition states, control serves to have power over someone or something. Social media tends to have this effect on people today. What first comes to mind is blackmail Wednesday, which is an older hashtag used on Facebook to post embarrassing photos of friends. This is a form of  nonverbal communication that could easily be used to control. It is easy to have the power of control by having embarrassing photos of friends ready to post, unless they somehow convince you to do otherwise or delete the photo altogether. Control on mediated communication also ties closely with surveillance on social media because it only gives someone control if other people will see the photo. “Social surveillance is the use of Web 2.0 sites like Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare to see what friends, family, and acquaintances are up to” (as cited in Marwick, 2012).

Blackmail Wednesday could also be viewed as a form of mediated punishment, but I will go back to my earlier example about parents publicly punishing their children and dogs. Not only is this done in public, but sometimes parents even go as far as to post the video of their child’s punishment on social media. Michel Foucault states, “It is the certainty of being punished and not the horrifying spectacle of public punishment that must discourage crimes” (1975). While what these children did are not necessarily crimes, it speaks to the fact that public spectacles for punishment will not stop from wrongdoing, the certainty of knowing it is wrong and punishable which should discourage crimes.

There are many problematic issues with these types of control and punishments. Public punishments are one major issue within nonverbal communication using signs and Facebook videos to shame wrong doing. It has been stated numerous times that these tactics are unsuccessful and counterproductive even. Interpersonal communication used to control and punish can be quite effective, especially when using emblematic gestures because everyone understands the meaning. Visual rhetoric is another effective way to use control and to punish because of the understanding and easiness of signs. Overall, discipline, punishment, control and surveillance often overlap in many of the examples and units from nonverbal communication. These ideas can be valuable within nonverbal communication while others seem problematic as well.



(2016). Retrieved December 08, 2016, from

Rettner, Rachael. (2012, May 15). Embarrassing Punishments Hurt Kids, Experts Say. Retrieved December 8, 2016, from

Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House.

Gesture Types. (2016). Retrieved December 08, 2016, from

Jowett, G., & O’Donnell, V. (2012). Propaganda and persuasion. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Marwick, Alice E. 2012. The Public Domain: Surveillance in Everyday Life. Surveillance & Society 9(4): 378-393. | ISSN: 1477-7487

Richmond, V. P., McCroskey, J., & Hickson, M. (2012). Nonverbal Behavior in Interpersonal Relations (7th ed.). Pearson.





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