Improvisation and Communicative Agency: Contribution of an Improvisational Model to the Analysis of Communicative Agency


  • Håkon Lie
  • Anne V. Nafstad



improvisation, communicative agency, multimodality, conversation analysis, congenital deafblindness


Introduction: Persons with congenital deafblindness mainly communicate using the bodily tactile modality. Their expressive communication is often formulated by an authentic language that gives the persons with congenital deafblindness low readability towards the rest of the world. This can be an obstacle for the development of their communicative agency. In the present study it is investigated whether a theoretical approach to improvisation can contribute to the development of communicative agency in a person with congenital deafblindness with low readability and authentic language in a dialogical perspective. 

Method: The study employs a qualitative design conducted as a dialogical single case study. Even though this research is based only on one recording of a communicative encounter between a person with deafblindness and her communication partner, it is assumed that the study can be used as a representative case study for people with low readability and authentic language. 

A video of communication between a person with CDB and a sighted/hearing communication partner is transcribed and the transcription is analysed in three stages through 1) Conversational analysis (CA), 2) Improvisation analysis and 3) Subjectivity/intersubjectivity analysis. 

Results: The Conversation analysis proved useful to identify complex turn-taking patterns in the communication. Through the improvisation model it was possible to define the degree of subjectivity/intersubjectivity in every utterance by each participant, as well as how each act was met by the other. With the improvisation model discriminations could be made between the different modalities, as vocal speech and bodily tactile acts.  Regarding communicative agency, the model was useful to analyze degrees of self-expression as well as the balance of subjectivity and intersubjectivity between the participants. 

Conclusion and discussion: The model of improvisation contributed to specify subjectivity/intersubjectivity and multimodality in communication, though it did not contribute to the analysis of turn-taking. The model contributed to the development of communicative agency by pointing to the open-ended outcome for each utterance as the most important factor for developing and sustaining communicative agency. 

Limitations: The main limitation of this study was that the analyses were performed on only one video-clip with one dyad. Due to time constraints, a consensus check could not be carried out. Recommendations for future research is that, since this is a very innovative method in the deafblind field, replications of the study should be performed on more dyads, different dialogues and more video clips. 

Recommendation for practice: The combination of conversation analysis and improvisation analyses can very well be used with focus groups of care professionals in clinical practice under supervision of a trained expert in this method of communication analyses.