The Importance of Touch during the Time of COVID

symposium on touch background
The Importance of Touch during the Time of COVID
An International Symposium
symposium on touch background

September 22 - 25th, 2022
Moody College of Communication
School of Nursing
Steve Hicks School of Social Work
The University of Texas at Austin
DMC 5.208 (TH, F), DMC 5.102 (SAT, SUN)

Organized by Jürgen Streeck (UT Austin)
and Julia Katila (Tampere U., Finland)

with the support of Prof. Roderick Hart

The isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to realize how very important human touch is to our emotional well-being. Making us anxious and lonely, COVID also deprived us of the comforting touch of others that would normally act against our anxiety. The greater the lack of intimate touch that people experience during the pandemic, the greater the anxiety and loneliness they report to researchers. By touching one another we communicate and give health.

What is it that makes touch such a vital mode of human connectedness and communication? What explains its unique force to communicate and evoke emotions? What are the contexts and modes in which we touch one another when things are normal? What is the right place and form of touch in care and education? Even though the importance of touch for human thriving has been known for a long time, observation-based research on touch as a medium of everyday interaction is a new field of study.

This symposium, the first of its kind, brings together an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars who conduct cutting-edge, video-based research in families, among romantic couples, children, and in medical, therapeutic, care-, and educational settings. Showing examples of video-taped, un-staged communication, they describe and explain the dynamics of touch in moments of comfort, care, and control. The settings of these interactions include heart-failure medicine; dentistry; palliative and home-care; deaf-blind communities; therapy involving children with autism; and families, including those connected by video-phone alone, any many others. Philosophers and anthropologists will discuss ethical and cultural implications of this work.

Plenary Talks:

Richard Kearney (Boston College):
Touch - Reclaiming Our Most Vital Sense

Asta Cekaite (U. of Linköping, Sweden) & Marjorie H. Goodwin (UCLA):
Touch, Comfort, and Control in Family Interaction

Marion Forbes (Pediatrics, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas):
Young Children and Physical Abuse: When Touch Becomes Hurt

Jutta Wiesemann (U. of Siegen, Germany):
Sensory Practices in Digital Childhoods

Julia Katila (Tampere U., Finland):
Loving Touch: Affect, Sexuality, and Intimacy among Romantic Couples

Linda Yoder (School of Nursing, UT Austin) &
Jacqueline Gordon (St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center):
Nurses' Perspectives on Diminished Touch in Patient Care during the COVID Pandemic

Lorenza Mondada (Linguistcs, U. of Basel, Switzerland):
Re-Shaping Touch: How the Covid19 Pandemic Changed Haptic Practices