Volume 18, Issue 2-3
  • ISSN 1568-1475
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9773
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At the dawn of anthropology, gesture was widely considered a “universal language”. In the 20th century, however, this framing fell out of favor as anthropologists rejected universalism in favor of relativism. These polemical positions were largely fueled by high-flying rhetoric and second-hand report; researchers had neither the data nor the conceptual frameworks to stake out substantive positions. Today we have much more data, but our frameworks remain underdeveloped and often implicit. Here, I outline several emerging conceptual tools that help us make sense of universals and diversity in gesture. I then sketch the state of our knowledge about a handful of gestural phenomena, further developing these conceptual tools on the way. This brief survey underscores a clear conclusion: gesture is unmistakably similar around the world while also being broadly diverse. Our task ahead is to put polemics aside and explore this duality systematically – and soon, before gestural diversity dwindles further.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): anthropology; communication; culture; gesture; human diversity; human universals
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