Culture in the making
: jointly structuring shared spaces of meaning and action in infant-­caregiver-­object interactions over the first year of life

  • Nicole Rossmanith

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


How do infants grow in and into culture? How do they become competent participants in networks of meaning-­making including people and artefacts? Typically research addressing these questions starts looking from the end of the first year, when infants’ early dyadic social interactions are supposed to turn “triadic”, that is, are extended to include objects and aspects of the world, only then giving rise to cultural learning, symbol use, co-­operative participation. In the face of mismatches with everyday experience and counter-evidence from recent empirical studies, we revisit several research programs dealing explicitly with the development of infant-­caregiver-­object interactions to arrive at a critical appreciation of how the concept of triadic interaction and the core narrative developed. On this basis, and drawing from embodiment, situatedness, and dynamical systems, we construct our own approach for exploring the development of jointly practicing social object activities, which we frame in terms of attention-­ and action-coordination.

We conducted a naturalistic longitudinal study visiting 16 infants in their homes once a month from 3-­12 months and documenting infant-­caregiver-­object interactions. Adapting techniques from interaction and conversation analysis, and using macro-­and micro-analysis of video recordings, we 1) explore and analyse the development of book sharing as a model activity over the first year of life, we 2) develop concepts and methods to characterize and analyse different modes of engagement, and patterns of coordination, infants and caregivers employ in a wide variety of ecological contexts, and 3) introduce the notion of jointly moving through affect-imbued action arcs together. Finally, we 4) sketch a tentative developmental trajectory of participation in social object activities, reconceptualising the shift from “dyadic” to “triadic” interactions as “jointly structuring shared spaces of meaning-­and-­action” of increasing complexity. In particular, we propose the mapping of complex action structures on familiar affect-imbued action arcs as a bridge towards activities such as collaborative participation, symbol and conventional object use, cultural learning and co-­creation.
Date of AwardSept 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorVasu Reddy (Supervisor), Beatriz Lopez (Supervisor) & Alan Costall (Supervisor)

Cite this