Busy embodiments: The hierarchisation of activities in multiactivity situations

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Wetteri Hall (IT115)

Topic of the dissertation

Busy embodiments: The hierarchisation of activities in multiactivity situations

Doctoral candidate

MA Antti Kamunen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, Research Unit of Languages and Literature

Subject of study

English philology


Professor Arnulf Deppermann, Leibniz-Institut für Deutsche Sprache


Professor Pentti Haddington, University of Oulu

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Busy embodiments: The hierarchisation of activities in multiactivity situations

In my thesis, I examine everyday situations of multiactivity (multitasking) and look into how participants in face-to-face conversations make visible their prioritisation of one activity over another through talk and their bodies. My research dissolves some of the myths and preconceptions regarding multiactivity. I use the method of conversation analysis to study naturally occurring conversations, and the data for the study consists of video recordings of everyday interactions at work and at home. The languages spoken in the data are English, Finnish, and French. My research shows how participants in face-to-face conversations use various means of bodily interaction to visibly give priority to one activity over another. They make their prioritisation visible by (re-)allocating some of their bodily interactional resources – such as the body, gaze, and hands – from one activity to another. This is done for example when it is difficult or impossible to carry out two or more activities simultaneously. In my thesis, I also argue that visible prioritisation can be used for prompting another person to give space for finishing an ongoing activity, as well as for starting an all new activity. In such situations, making one’s priorities visible leads to minimisation of parallel involvements and, thus, to minimisation of multitasking. My research also invites us to reconsider how to understand and define multitasking. The findings suggest that people do not necessarily have to do two things at the same time to be in a multitasking situation: a person can also be simultaneously involved in a present and a future activity. This can be observed through a close examination of how participants orient to emerging and foreseeable activities in ways that at the same time advance a gradual disengagement of the current activity. Contrary to popular belief, multiactivity happens all the time, and it is not in any way problematic. Multiactivity becomes relevant in the interaction when parallel activities compete with each other. This is the case for example in situations, where a person’s hands or gaze would be needed in two parallel activities, which, for one reason or another, is not possible. In such moments, we organise our activities in order to minimise multiactivity, using the same means of communication that we use in all our everyday conversations, but with a meaning specified in and by the multiactivity situation.
Last updated: 1.3.2023