Requesting immediate action in the surgical operating room

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Research on requests has focused mainly on requests in ordinary social interactions, often over the telephone, including ‘remote’ requests for something to be done in the future. However, less is known about requests in face-to-face interactions, concerning immediate not-postponable or time critical actions to be done here and now, about their embodied production, and their embeddedness in the current activity. In this Chapter I examine requests for something to be done immediately which are formatted through multimodal resources – through grammar, gestures and the embodied engagement in the ongoing activity – and which orient to the local timing of the activity and the situated environment making the request accountable. I focus on video recordings of surgical procedures: the operating room is a perspicuous setting for investigating ‘immediate’ requests, since much of the teamwork supporting a surgical operation is conducted through requests addressed by the chief surgeon to his collaborators. I describe the possible multimodal formats of these requests – that can be accomplished verbally, with or without gesture, or with gesture alone – and the way they are silently responded to. Furthermore I show how they are built into expanded complex sequences, in which the preparation of the request, projecting its relevance and recognizability, is crucial. By describing in detail the contingency, temporality, embodiment of these requests in the operating room, the paper offers more generally a systematic account of the organization of requests to be done right now and their embodiment and embeddedness in the current activity.


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