Interpersonal communication is what people typically think about when discussing nonverbal communication. Body movement, facial expressions, and use of space are only a few of the many nonverbal communications associated with interpersonal communication. Within this realm, though, includes the potential to surveille, control, and even punish others using gestures, body movements, and more.
First we will look at how one can surveille others using this type of nonverbal communication. The first example I could think of to illustrate this is when people sit facing a door, with their back in a corner. This is typical with law enforcement and the military, but this behavior and use of space is used in order to surveille the room and people around them. This goes into something that I’m sure almost everyone is guilty of: people watching. According to an article by Candace Davis (2014) on The Huffington Post, “The sociologists among us will say that people watching allows us to learn about our culture and our environment. And while I completely agree, it’s not the same when everyone is doing it” (p. 1). While some use this as pure entertainment, it can also be used to surveille the people around you. I find myself doing this type of people watching every time I am out in public. I always pay close attention to others to watch for potential dangerous or strange situations. I always like to be prepared for the worst, and surveilling people and my environment in this way allows me to do just that. The nonverbal communication associated with this type of behavior shows people that you are alert and aware of your surroundings. This is actually a very good thing with much value. It is important to be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to protect yourself if needed.
Next we will look into how people can control, and even punish, those around them using their gestures, use of space, and body movement. According to Alabert Mehrabian (1981) in Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotion and Attitudes, “We know that [body movements and facial expressions] can communicate liking, social status, and even relational responsiveness” (p. 1). For example, if you see a group of people all standing in a circle, facing each other, it is pretty clear that no one else is welcome to join their group. How they position themselves and use their space and body gives off the nonverbal message that they are an exclusive group that does not want other visitors or interruptions. This can be used to do one of two things. First, it could be a method to control who is allowed to interact with your group. It would be unlikely that an outsider would try to enter your closed group with your body movement in this way. The second use would be to punish someone who used to be allowed in your group, but is no longer allowed. If you are fighting with someone or had a falling out with someone, using this type of body movements and space could be used reiterate the fact that they are not allowed into your group anymore. While this can also be of value, problems can arise with being seen as rude or exclusionary. Clearly if someone is not worried about how it makes them seem as a person, it is an effective means of nonverbal communication to control and punish others.
The nonverbal images of visual rhetoric can be very powerful tools when trying to influence someone. There are many uses attributed to visual rhetoric, some of those including being able to control how people feel about a certain topic, and punishing them if they do not feel that way.
A large factor in visual rhetoric comes into the control over the viewer. Using certain images can control how someone interprets the message you are trying to get across non verbally. According to Karlyn Kohrs (2009) from Principles of Visual Rhetoric, “visual messages are efficient, emotional, and enthymematic in the way they persuade” (p. 285). Because of the emotional influence of visual images, it can be very clear how you are supposed to feel about a certain topic after viewing the visual rhetoric. The specific pictures, colors, and phrases are used non verbally as a guide to control how you react and feel about a certain topic. This is a very powerful tool and a good way to get your point across, but it can also be problematic when the back story is left out and there is not overall knowledge about the topic. It could be seen as manipulative since they are not showing you the entire story.
The other use of visual rhetoric is punishment, which can be directly related to control. These images can be used to induce guilt for not being controlled by the image. If you do not agree with what the image is trying to get you to agree with, it then moves away from trying to control you and moves to punishing you for not agreeing. The nonverbal messages from the image remain the same, but if you cannot be controlled by it you are then punished by it. Take these two contrasting pieces of visual rhetoric for abortion as an example:
One is pro-choice and the other is pro-life. They both have clear messages associated with them but pay attention to the colors used. The anti-abortion piece is dark and grim, the grim reaper is even in the image! The pro-choice piece, though, is full of bright colors that surround the handcuffs that represent the control others have on women’s bodies. If a pro-choice person saw the anti-abortion piece, even if they do not change their opinion on abortion simply because of this image, it would then shift to make them feel guilty about their opinion. They would see the dark colors and the scary grim reaper holding the innocent child and the guilt they feel for not agreeing with their stance on abortion would be their punishment. On the other hand, if a person who is against abortion saw the pro-choice image, they could feel possible guilt because of the image of the handcuffs that symbolize the lack of control women have over their own reproductive systems, as well as the snake and phrase that is a reference to freedom and independence. According to Pamela Jo-Ann Willis, the artist who created that piece of visual rhetoric, “[it] demonstrates that the real life of a woman’s body belongs to only them” (p. 1). The value to the punishment aspect of the visual rhetoric is that even if it is not enough to completely change someone’s opinion on a topic, the punishment will at least make them stop and think about the message you are trying to get across.
Mediated communication will be the last topic we will discuss, and I believe that this is the most relevant when it comes to disciplining, punishing, and surveilling people. The online environment of mediated communication creates easy access to a lot of information about a person, as well as many different ways to non verbally communicate your thoughts and feelings.
First we will look at how you can discipline and punish people through media. The most common examples I can think of are unfriending someone on Facebook, unfollowing someone on Twitter, blocking someone on virtually any social media, as well as using emojis to describe how you are feeling using just animated images. Below are examples of the emojis you can use in order to react to someone’s status or comment on Facebook.
The nonverbal messages being sent with these types of actions are those saying that they do not want to associate with those people in a mediated environment, and being able to express their emotions without actually saying how they are feeling. According to Courtney Seiter (2016) from Buffer Social, “scientists have discovered that when we look at a smiley face online, the same very specific parts of the brain are activated as when we look at a real human face” (p. 1). This can be helpful in disciplining and punishing someone online when you cannot be around them in person. Since they will react the same to the emojis as they will to an actual human face, the emotions of sadness or anger will still be apparent. This can be a good way to punish or discipline someone online when you cannot do it in person. The problems with this can be that it could be seen as passive aggressive, or even immature, that they are choosing to communicate these types of feelings online rather than moving to a face to face setting.
Next we will discuss how mediated communication can be used to surveille people. Creeping on people’s social media, keeping track of them online, as well as performing online background checks are all ways to surveille people in their online environments. According to Leslie Walker (2016) on Lifewire, “Creeping just means browsing their timeline, status updates, tweets, and various online bios to find out more about them” (p. 1). The nonverbal messages associated with this are ones of being unsure about a certain person. Though they will not know you are doing this, it shows that you need to learn more about their online presence. It provides you with a lot of good information on a person, but the problem can occur when you find something you shouldn’t. On the other hand, though, if they do not want you finding something out about them, they probably shouldn’t have put it online in the first place. This can be very useful when getting to know a new person because a lot of the times someone’s online presence says a lot about them as an individual.
Davis, Candace. (2014). People Watching: Harmless or Perverted? The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/candace-davis/people-watching-harmless-_b_5560023.html.
Kohrs, Karlyn. (2009). The Rhetorical Act: Thinking, Speaking and Writing Critically. Principles of Rhetoric.
Mehrabian, Alabert. Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotion and Attitudes (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. (1981) Print.
Seiter, Courtney. (2015). 7 Reasons to Use Emoticons in Your Writing and Social Media, According to Science. Buffer Social. https://blog.bufferapp.com/7-reasons-use-emoticons-writing-social-media-according-science.
Walker, Leslie. (2016). What Does ‘Creeping’ Mean? Lifewire. https://www.lifewire.com/what-does-creeping-mean-2655280.
Willis, Pamela Jo-Ann. (2015). Handcuffs: Turning Anti-Abortion Ugly Into Pro-Choice Art. Words of Choice. http://wordsofchoice.blogspot.com/2015/06/handcuffs-turning-anti-abortion-ugly.html#!/2015/06/handcuffs-turning-anti-abortion-ugly.html.