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Dossier thématique

The Factory of Gaze

Learning and Training Within Communities of Practice
La fabrique du regard. Apprentissage et transmission au sein de communautés de pratique
La fábrica de la mirada. Aprendizaje y transmisión dentro de las comunidades de práctica
Barbara Pentimalli et Vanessa Rémery
Traduction de Barbara Pentimalli, Vanessa Rémery et Cecily Fitzpatrick
Cet article est une traduction de :
La fabrique du regard [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
La fábrica de la mirada [es]


Cette introduction au dossier thématique explore le paysage de l’anthropologie du regard et montre en quoi il relève d’une activité sémiologique au cœur de l’expertise professionnelle. Elle souligne l’originalité du dossier : documenter les formes socio-matérielles par le biais desquelles ce savoir-voir est transmis aux novices à travers le prisme des métiers dont « les façons de voir » sont éprouvées, questionnées, reconfigurées dans leur fondement et leurs frontières. Des thématiques transversales y sont traitées : la construction du savoir-voir, sa dimension multisensorielle et multimodale, les méthodologies permettant de documenter son apprentissage et son développement, enfin ses étayages techniques et technologiques. L’objectif est de valoriser la diversité des terrains, des méthodologies et des approches proposés dans ce dossier explorant le rôle des habiletés visuelles dans la production, la circulation et la transformation des ‘façons de voir’ de différentes communautés de pratique.

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Each community is (thus) faced with the ongoing task of creating new inhabitants – cognitively skilled actors able to recognize the discursive and material objects that populate its environment in just the ways required to accomplish the distinctive activities of its particular community” (Goodwin, 2016)


1Much sociological and anthropological research emphasizes that occupational activities rely on specific ways of seeing” enabling practitioners to notice relevant details of their work environment in order to act competently (e.g. Goodwin, 1995; Goodwin & Goodwin, 1997; Sicard, 1998; Mondada, 2002; Grasseni, 2009; Nicolini, 2007; Styhre, 2010, 2011; Ellis, 2011; Charonnet, 2019). How does this ability to see shape expertise and a view of the world? How does it fit into collective ways of working to make diagnoses and produce judgments? Can it be defined as a “technique of the body” which can be learned (Mauss, 1950)? How is it constructed, legitimised, discussed, shared and transmitted within communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991)?

2This Special Issue deals with practical knowledge to enable understanding of how it is produced and developed – questions that the Revue d’anthropologie des Connaissances shares with Practice-Based Studies (Gherardi, 2009; Corradi et al., 2010; Nicolini, 2007). It regards the ability to see as a historically situated skill, in order to analyse how it is embodied, produced and taught in spaces of action and interaction within a community of practice (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1996; Bril, 2002). The papers in this Special Issue explore how “ways of seeing” or “practices of seeing” (Goodwin, 2001; Styhre, 2010) are transmitted, discussed and developed within specific communities, taking into account the role of artifacts (Latour, 1991). These visual skills participate in the dynamics of knowledge transformation that characterize communities of practice over time, and in technical and technological developments shaping the “ways of seeing” and working. This Special Issue proposes epistemological, theoretical and methodological reflections concerning the education of gaze and the “ways of seeing” of experts or novices. In so doing, it contributes to an anthropology of transmission (Chevallier, 1996; Berliner, 2010) that rehabilitates the role of visual skills in producing, reproducing and transforming epistemic communities (Knorr Cetina, 1999).

3More specifically, this introduction explores the landscape of the anthropology of gaze by focusing on a pioneering author, Charles Goodwin, after showing how gaze is defined as a semiotic activity at the heart of professional expertise. Then we highlight the contribution and originality of the papers included in this Special Issue by presenting transversal themes: the construction of the ability to see, its multisensorial and multimodal dimension, methodologies for exploring the learning and development of professional vision, and finally the technical and technological artifacts supporting the gaze. The purpose is to highlight the diversity of fieldwork, methodologies and approach of papers that focus on the role of visual skills.

The Gaze at the Heart of Professional Expertise

The Ability to See as a Semiotic Activity

4Every expert is able to look at his own work environment to notice, perceive and collect signs and affordances that configure opportunities for action (Gibson, 1979/1986). Seeing relevant clues in any work environment and interpreting them appropriately is not a natural and transparent skill (Lynch, 1988).

5The slightest glance is based on frameworks of experience (Goffman, 1974) that make it possible to carve out a portion of meaning from the chaos of reality by taking signs present in the situation based on the memory of cues created in previous situations. The organization of experience is closely related to the actors' perception of the situation in which they are involved in order to make sense of what is going on and to act in a relevant way. Thus Goffman (1983) establishes an isomorphism between perception and the organization of what is perceived. For experts, the validity of frameworks and visual landmarks is always tested in work situations.

6Similarly, Cornu (1996), in his paper “Seeing and Knowing”, shows that these two activities are inextricably linked and constantly intertwined. “Seeing is identifying signs in things and situations, signs that provide information about the invisible, the non-present” (Ibid., p. 82). The ability to see is a semiotic activity enabling the expert to “see the invisible through the visible”, that is to say, to notice by simply glancing at (Sudnow, 1972) significant details providing information about phenomena that are going to happen. For example, thanks to visual monitoring of the restaurant room, waitresses are able to notice relevant elements (customers' looks and gestures, cutlery placed on empty plates) to interpret the situation and plan the actions to be taken (taking the order, clearing and/or offering dessert) (Cahour & Pentimalli, 2005).

7Similarly, survey technicians (Grosjean, 2014a) are able to see and understand the field they are working on by constructing visual landmarks, just as naturalists (Ellis, 2011) and lepidopterists (Charonnet, 2019) can recognize at a glance the distinctive features of species to which birds, plants and butterflies belong. Thus, each profession seems to develop a repertoire of visual skills constructed through experience and participation in the creation, sharing and transmission of professional perceptual standards (Ellis, 2011).

The Social Organization of Ways of Seeing

8While much research has focused on visual skills by considering the gaze at the heart of professional expertise, the pioneering studies of Charles Goodwin have a special place since they are situated at the crossroad of linguistics, sociology and anthropology (Quéré, 2016). Goodwin (1994) notably created the notion of professional vision as “socially organized ways of seeing and understanding events that are answerable to the distinctive interests of a particular social group” (p. 606). His studies of archaeologists, policemen and oceanographers (Goodwin, 1994; 1995) stress the specificity of their “ways of seeing. They show that relevant details of phenomena observed by each profession reveal not only the use of specific cognitive categories but also contribute to the construction and redefinition of epistemic objects. “Central to the social and cognitive organization of a profession is its ability to shape events in the domain of its scrutiny into the phenomenal objects around which the discourse of the profession is organized(Goodwin, 2018, p. 424). This concept also opens up the exploration and understanding of visual skills used by members belonging to a community of practice in order to notice, see and interpret the essential dimensions of their work activity as well as to produce some shared ways of seeing. Indeed, Goodwin articulates the notion of professional vision with that of “community of practicedeveloped by Lave & Wenger (1991) in Cultural Anthropology. He argues that every competent member masters the discursive, interpretative and gestural practices of his own community. In this way, practitioners acquire a professional vision, i.e. a way of seeing and understanding particular events that are specific to their own profession. The ability to see is a cultural skill that is updated, maintained and transmitted by and within communities of practice (Grasseni, 2007). The gaze is shaped by shared ways of seeing within a peer group (Styhre, 2010) whose criteria of value are constructed throughout the history of community of practice with reference to conventions, norms or a professional genre (Clot, 1999). These shape the meaning given by actors to their activities as well as the debates and controversies animating the community. Goodwin and Goodwin (1996) stress that “glances reading the activity (…) are not isolated, individual acts of perception, but instead function much like moves in the socially situated forms of life” (p. 69). The professional gaze is socially constructed, although always updated in the situation, which requires adopting a situated analysis of phenomena. For example, in their famous paper “Seeing as a Situated Activity” (1996), Goodwin and Goodwin explore the distributed cognition at work and analyse the airport ground activity consisting of “seeing the planes. Goodwin (2016) highlights the plurality of perspectives that differentiates what operators have to see while they are looking at the same object of attention. Seeing, in this complex occupational context, is regarded as a situated activity whose very brief glances – technologically mediated – are never fortuitous: “a momentary glance is densely structured by larger organizational practices” (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1996, p. 62).

9The perception and, more generally, the cognitive operations, take place in the course of action underpinned by a social organization and technical devices. As Quéré (2016) points out, these processes are just as much shaped by the actors’ course of action as they contribute to shape it. This mutual configuration is accomplished in situ, it rests on the articulation between the technical and technological tools that mediate the activity and the multiple perspectives of the actors, guaranteeing an evolving vision of the object of attention.

10Since the 1990s, Goodwin’s studies have raised a scientific interest within various disciplinary fields stating that work activities rely on a specific professional vision (for example, Grasseni, 2009; Acevedo & Warren, 2012; Grosjean, 2014b; Nishizaka, 2000; Gamoran et al., 2009; Styhre, 2010).

The Construction of the Ability to See

Learning to See: The Education of Gaze

11The originality of this Special Issue lies in the choice of offering readers a selection of papers that take the gaze as object of study in order to analyse situated processes of its education (Schindler, 2009). The papers explore how the professional vision – as a situated activity – is performed and shared. They study in particular those visual skills that are specific to some communities of practice.

12This Special Issue extends and differs from the current scientific literature since it mainly explores the learning of gaze throughout the prism of professions whose ways of seeing are tested, debated and reconfigured in their foundations and boundaries by: technical and technological temporalities that cross the professions over time; conflicts and negotiations to gain legitimacy or identity among other professions; epistemic territories that have to be (re)conquered between old and new workers; the ways in which work is organised or the conditions under which it is carried out that make individual and collective workers vulnerable. All of this interferes with and complicates the transmission of professional gaze. This is the challenge of the Special Issue.

13This aim is reached through papers proposing an immersion in empirical studies that reflect on the visual skills deployed in different occupational fields. In addition to the large amount of papers included in this Special Issue, the reader will appreciate the variety of approaches and fieldwork dealing with medical and emergency fields (diagnosis of endometriosis, fetal ultrasound, hemodynamic laboratory, operating theatres, firefighters and paramedics), art and crafts professions (restorers, cheesemakers, watchmakers, and street mechanics) or with nature and field (foresters, graders in the diamond industry, miners and archaeologists).

14Professional vision is acquired by and through embodied practices through which the gaze is gradually shaped. “Then the challenge for the novice is to develop the ability to see phenomena or significant events, but also to discuss, interpret what is seen, and understand why it is important to look at this event rather than another” (Grosjean, 2014b, p. 146, translated by us).

15Drawing on Law & Lynch’s initial study (1990) about birdwatching activity among ornithologists, Ellis (2011) and Charonnet (2019) analysed the visual enskillment of naturalists and lepidopterists. They describe the different steps followed by the novice to learn the gaze in order to identify the particular species of plants and insects. “At first, he is able to see butterflies only if they are at his feet and he recognizes them after careful observation; then comes a time when he enters their wake by already sensing the species in question; later, he becomes able to predict the species he is going to run into, merely by walking through their environment” (Charonnet, 2019, p. 6, translated by us). As his knowledge increases, the novice switches from an analytical approach based on thoughtful identification of distinctive criteria to a more intuitive and quick approach (Ellis 2011). The eye is defined as an instrument of the activity that can be appropriated (Rabardel, 1995) and as a resource for professional vision. Dominique Guidoni-Stoltz, whose paper in this Special Issue is entitled: “Forester’s Eye”, an Instrument and a Mirror of Occupational Activity, stresses how much the eye is an essential “reading tool” to produce the diagnosis of a forest plot. In this context, the transmission of visual abilities is not easy, given the multiplicity of variables and parameters that needs to be considered in such a complex and dynamic living environment as the forest. By exploring the cognitive dimension of the forester’s professional vision, this paper presents a vocational training innovation project underpinned by a virtual learning environment designed to guide and train the beginner’s eye. The eye can also be “a tool of high precision” as Mathieu Bolay and Filipe Calvão show in their paper entitled: Seeing inside the stone: Visual Refractions and the Apprenticeship of Evaluation in the Global Diamond Industry. The authors point out the paradox between the immeasurable subjectivity in ‘the naked eye’ evaluation of diamonds, more reliable than the magnifying glass or microscope, and the objectivity of the certification attesting the quality of gems established by graders in accordance with rules of the trade. The accuracy in the evaluation of some gems with controversial qualities is guaranteed by the cross-checking of perspectives and gazes between gemmologists. This process of peer visual inspection (two pairs of eyes), at the heart of the certification process, adds an exceptional dimension to the gems and their market.

16The novice who has not yet acquired the relevant perceptual skills is not able to see what the expert sees at first glance. The difficulty he faces in learning the expert’s glance (Styhre, 2010; 2011) or the “skilled vision” (Grasseni, 2009) has been explored by some ethnographies of vocational training at work. Notably in Workplace Studies (Heath et al., 2004), there are a lot of examples depicting an expert with a novice co-operating during vocational and training interactions in the co-presence and/or mediated by technology (for example in the medical field: Beaulieu, 2002; Mondada, 2002; Alač, 2008; Svensson et al., 2009; Zemel & Koschmann, 2014; Bezemer et al., 2014; Rémery & Filliettaz, 2017; Rémery & Durand, 2018). In order to understand how participants, experts and novices, interact and coordinate with each other, these studies take into account the multimodal dimensions (gesture, gaze, body posture, movements), the artifacts (handling of objects and technologies) and the ecology of space (material and organizational features). By analysing “glances”, especially the differences between a novice and an expert, they explore how participants learn to see so as to act in the situation. They point out the situated learning of the ability to see, and describe the dynamic of gaze as well as its “shaping” by experience and throughout a long socialisation process (Grosjean, 2014b). Karine St Denis, in her article entitled: Seeing the Emergency. The Expert Practice of Seeing of Firefighters and Paramedics in Québec, reveals that the acquisition of the expert’s eye begins during vocational training through simulation exercises of diagnostic hypothesis. Here the perception of signs and symptoms is intensively trained in order to enable a rapid reaction in accordance with clinical protocols. Indeed, work conditions put firefighters in front of continuous unforeseen events and changing rhythms of work (from emergency to slow pace), so the development of reflexes and automatisms of gaze can be useful.

Dynamic of Gaze and Learning Trajectory

17Vision is a form of skill that can be acquired through interaction with members of the community of practice that the novice belongs to and of which he becomes a legitimate member over time (Styrhe, 2010). Thanks to a gradual apprenticeship, the novice can “educate” his/her own gaze and become able to see as a fully accepted competent member of the community. The experts’ gaze within the community provides novices with shared ways to solve typical problems encountered in professional activity. These routines sediment solutions to problems that experts transmit to the novices (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1997). Therefore, the gaze is constructed according to a “trajectory of participation” in a community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Nevertheless, Lave and Wenger (1991) show that the arrangement and resources of the work environment can shape more or less qualitative learning spaces (Fuller & Unwin, 2003) according to the experts’ availability and involvement in providing access to their practices and tricks of the trade. They illustrate this with Marshall’s study (1972) on apprentice butchers faced with repetitive and peripheral tasks (for example the packaging rather than cutting of pieces of meat) that prevent interactions with experts, and point out how much the lack of visual access to the main activities of the community of practice reduces opportunities for learning through observation and imitation. The same goes with experts who refuse to share their knowledge with novices. Hervé Munz, in his paper entitled: Knowing How to See, Dissimulating, Valuing. Practices of Veiling as Ways of Shaping the Visual Expertise, questions the possibility of learning the watchmaker’s trade while visual access to the work of experts is strategically denied. Even if this obstructed visibility can prevent apprentices from having access to some components of the trade, the author nevertheless shows that these “veiling practices”, do not undermine the learning of a professional vision. He even specifies that such practices fully contribute to the shaping of an expert’s gaze and the logic behind its acquisition.

18It should be noted that the learning process of the expert’s gaze also involves the fieldworker himself. At first, he/she can’t see anything and then increasingly gains access to both the professional vision of epistemic objects and the meaning of practices, but only at the cost of a transformation of his/her own “techniques of the body” (Grimshaw, 2001). Barbara Pentimalli, in her paper entitled: “The Diagnostic Eye. Seeing and Learning to See Within a Hemodynamic Laboratory, adopts a reflexive stance as she relates in her field diary the steps necessary to educate the sociologist’s gaze. At first, she fails to see the ephemeral shapes of the coronaries that appear on the screen, whereas the experts notice at first glance the relevant details of pathology. It is in this asymmetry of expertise between the inexperienced ethnographer and skillful practitioners that interesting moments of instruction for learning the ways of seeing medical images can be observed.

19As pointed out by Laplantine (2011), the ethnographer goes through a phase of reflection and reflexivity on the link between the gaze and the writing process: “The ethnographic description (...), does not only consist in seeing, i.e. in writing what we see. It is an implicit process apparently obvious while being very complex. Proceeding to a transformation of the gaze into language requires (...) questioning the relationship between the visible and what can be said (dicible) or more precisely the readable. The ethnographic description, as a writing of what is visible, involves not only the researcher’s attention (...) but also a particular vigilance with regard to language, since it is a question of making people see with words” (p. 10). These aspects are notably discussed in the papers of Karine St Denis Seeing the Emergency, Hervé Munz Knowing How to See, Dissimulating, Valuing, and Denis Giordano A Skilled View to Manage the Repairs. An Apprenticeship with the Street Mechanics. Their ethnographic research is based on taking field notes which confronts them with the complexity of describing the ephemeral events they observe. They are supported, on the one hand, by actors in the field telling them what is relevant to notice and, on the other hand, by learning themselves to look at what they couldn’t see initially.

Seeing: A Sensory and Multimodal Skill

The Corporality of Instruction in Practice

20The diversity of fieldwork, offered by papers included in this Special Issue, emphasizes that we not only learn to see with eyes but also with hands, gestures, words, artifacts and technologies. Therefore, the role of the body, language and artifacts are explored in order to understand how they actively participate in the “factory of gaze” (Sicard, 1998) and in the learning of a “skilled vision” (Grasseni, 2009). In fact, visual skills are fundamentally defined as embodied practices (Goodwin, 2000a) certainly involving a collective learning, but also a bodily and sensorial one.

21Scientific literature, mainly anglophone, has focused on the “instructed perception” or “embodied instruction”. It is the case of Svensson et al., (2009) or Mondada (2002) whose studies explore the use of the operating theatre as a learning ecology to show how surgeons, while collaborating with co-team members, create demonstration opportunities for medical students. In these moments, surgeons make some phenomena visible to the learners so that they can observe and understand them. Conciliating training requirements with the practical constraints of surgery, surgeons configure instructional moments by describing what they are doing with words and gestures. In another medical field, Hindmarsh et al., (2011) and Hindmarsh (2009) observed the accomplishment of the apprenticeship of dentists by and through embodied practices. The video-ethnographic methodology that characterizes these studies provides an approach to the interactional organization of learning in real-time, i.e. the way in which experts and apprentices embody the instruction process interactively moment-by-moment. For that matter, Goodwin (1994) shows, in the vocational training of novice archaeologists, that learning to be a competent practitioner is underpinned by didactic practices. The latter are based on the creation and use of embodied coding practices to highlight salient elements through deictic gestures (Goodwin, 1986), but also by producing and using graphic representations and inscriptions.

22In her paper entitled: To Be Attentive in Archaeology. Methods of Transmitting Know How Between Experts and Novices on a Palaeolithic Site, Gwendoline Torterat follows an expert with camera in hand (shadowing) and captures in detail how this expert, involved in the ground cleaning, keeps an eye on the beginners’ actions. The expert uses her hands not only to perform and show the suitable gesture for the fragility of the soil, but also to indicate and mime material elements that have to be identified. While performing her job she verbalizes her own actions in order to transmit to the novices the ways of doing and seeing of archaeology. In the continuity of Goodwin’s pioneering study on archaeologists, the author puts at the core of her analysis the concept of attention in its triple meaning: vigilance towards the actions of novices when training them, towards her own precautionary gestures and towards the material elements of the soil, whose extreme fragility gives them an archaeological value.

Gaze and Multisensoriality

23The emerging and embodied features of knowledge within language and artifacts was the subject of many Practice-Based Studies (Gherardi, 2009; Corradi et al., 2010). For example, Strati (2007) studied how so-called “sensible knowledge” is produced at work. Sensible experience is this aesthetic knowledge created by the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and also by the ability to produce aesthetic judgements through the sensory relation to the object of work. Strati stresses the necessity of integrating these bodily and multisensorial dimensions in the analysis of the situated production of practical knowledge. The importance given to this sensible knowledge led some sociologists to talk about a “sensory turn” within Social Sciences (Howes, 2008; Jakubowska, 2019).

24Studies about roof workers who recognize dangerous noises by “looking at with ears” (Strati, 2001) ; or on a pianist’s “knowledge of hands” (Polanyi, 1962; Sparti, 2005) whose virtuosity does not rely on a visual representation of keyboards; studies on cooking lessons (Mondada, 2019); as well as those on the recognition of counterfeit banknotes by touch among tobacconists (Bessy & Chateauraynaud, 1995); and on the “fertile fingers” of watchmakers perceiving the tiny pieces of watches (Munz, 2017), point out that experts manage to see not only with eyes but also with other senses of the body. All these studies show that sight is not the dominant sense for the acquisition of knowledge (Maslen, 2015) because it implies multisensoriality.

25The art of seeing (Prentice, 2005) relies on the interweaving between abstract knowledge linked to the professional taxonomies that guide the attention and gaze towards discriminating details, and a practical knowledge based on a tacit (Polanyi, 1966), tactile and kinesthetic form of experience. Therefore, becoming a competent member of a community of practice requires experiencing, learning and sharing the “aesthetic sensibilities” (Grasseni, 2009) of practitioners belonging to it. Denis Giordano’s paper in this Special Issue, A Skilled View to Manage the Repairs. An Apprenticeship with the Street Mechanics, narrates the sensory apprenticeship of the researcher in the field. By adopting the position of apprentice, he carries out a sensorial ethnography and he physically experiences the mechanic’s senses. The practical intelligence required by the context of a precarious job in the street implies specific abilities but also a skilled vision that goes beyond those skills traditionally used by mechanics working within a garage.

26Fanny Chrétien, Jean-François Métral and Paul Olry in their paper, Seeing What is not Visible. Watching, Seeing, Knowing about Cheesemaking, illustrate how cheesemakers collect information by using body senses, especially when they immerse their own hand in the vat to verify the curdling of the cheese. Even though these invisible processes can be perceived by new agronomic technologies, the authors show that cheesemakers tend to preserve traditional practices based on more direct visual and bodily information. Karine St Denis in Seeing the Urgency, also illustrates the multisensorial dimension of firefighter and paramedic work. During emergency interventions, they capture by the senses the breathing difficulties of a patient, his internal traumas, his consciousness, or the smoke velocity, but sometimes they can only resort to vision because of the protective equipment they wear during fires. Finally, Dominique Guidoni-Stoltz, in the Forester’s Eye, emphasizes the importance of the sensory experience of touch for learners assessing the texture of a plot of land and shows that the eye is not enough although it can notice other elements (colours, presence of root, traces of worm activity). Therefore, even if the eye is the main working tool, it must sometimes resort to other senses.

27In other words, the body and its senses play the role of mediator and guide to the practitioners performing their work activity as well as to the researcher doing his fieldwork. Nevertheless, some studies in this Special Issue show that learning to see involves not only the body and gestures in work and training interactions (Strati, 2007) but also discursive and scriptural configurations (metaphors, stories/tales, sketches, drawings/pictures). Vanessa Rémery and Nelly Duret-Benou in Seeing, Making See and Learning to See, highlight that the illusion of transparency in an ultrasound image frequently hides a long-time learning process requiring specific skills to see and make the foetus be seen. In fact, sonographers make the foetus visible by mobilising a variety of semiotic resources that go beyond the unique use of an ultrasound scanner. They use gesture imitating the foetus in order to show its position, metaphors to identify organs on the screen, or sketches in abnormal situations so as to make the patient understand the risks of pregnancy. In other words, making visible in this context does not rest merely on available technologies in spite of their complexity and high performance.

Exploring the Learning and Development of Professional Gaze

The Ethnography of Gaze

28In order to explore the learning and development of professional gaze, most studies in this Special Issue are based on an ethnographic approach, at the heart of anthropology. This kind of approach requires the researcher to go into the field, within unfamiliar communities of practice, meet, discuss and interview people, observe their actions and interactions, share their professional daily life and participate in formal or informal moments of training. Observations are recorded in field notes and diaries, sometimes completed with drawings and/or pictures, or equipped when the researcher uses a video camera. Not only are people and their actions observed but the artifacts are also analysed in terms of their performative roles and situated use, just as the material ecologies are mapped.

29Other studies in this Special Issue analyse the “factory of gaze” through the prism of vocational learning narratives of novices and experts. By drawing from biographical approach, or archive work, they come back to the construction of gaze within communities that no longer work under the same conditions as in the past. This is the case in Sylvain Leberre and Sophie Bretesche’s paper, From Miner to Environmental Expert. Learning and Transformation of the Miner’s Work, and Invention of a New Way of Seeing the Mine (1950-2010), wherein they recount the learning of the mine’s trades by showing the transformation of the professional vision of uranium miners from the first steps underground of miner farmers up until the emergence of expert knowledge. Thanks to a “socio-genesis of miner trades”, they analyse the learning of gaze, gesture and practices from a long-term temporality. This historical perspective is a very illuminating counterpoint to the other papers in this Special Issue. It raises methodological problems of access to a past perception and clearly establishes the role played by the evolution of technologies and the organization of work activity.

30Some empirical analyses rely on sequences of interaction between practitioners to describe how they “see” pertinent clues or how they “make others see” what they have seen. This kind of analysis considers visual practices and the transmission of the expert’s gaze as a situated and interactionally organised activity using a diversity of multimodal resources. This “micro-ethnographic” approach (LeBaron, 2008) enables an immersion in the heart of work practices and human interactions occurring in their natural context. It is based on multimodal analyses that go beyond a discourse analysis to include gesture, gaze orientation, use of material resources and the organization of bodies within space (Streeck et al., 2011; Mondada, 2008; de Saint-Georges, 2008). The images captured by a camera or a video camera provide access to the artifacts manipulated by practitioners and to some details of work activities. They enable the production of very rich data concerning the socio-technical processes involved in the factory of gaze. More specifically, with the video camera, the researcher can focus on different dimensions of the interaction to understand the actor’s gaze within a particular situation, his/her movements, facial expressions, gesture and manipulation of objects (Hindmarsh & Heath, 2007; Heath et al.,2010; Grasseni, 2004). The multimodal and detailed transcription of significant events (Mondada, 2008) is sometimes illustrated by photograms (as in the paper by Gwendoline Torterat) to describe the practical accomplishment and the multimodal layered organization of the action making it possible to explore the learning of professional gaze in interaction (Drew & Heritage, 1992).

Professional Visions and a Reflective Approach

31The place of video-ethnography (Knoblauch & Tuma, 2011) is linked to the practice turn in Social Sciences that gives a relevant role to ethnography. As we saw previously, the interactionist and praxeological approaches to the activity use recordings and transcriptions to make the elements aimed at by actors in the course of action observable. Nevertheless, some analytical perspectives using video differ in the way they describe activities and construct data. This is the case of francophone approaches developed within Activity Theory that rather aim at describing and developing the actors’ experience by eliciting their comments and/or analysis based on the video sequences of their activity (Cahour & Licoppe, 2010).

32As stressed by Dominique Guidoni-Stoltz, in Forester’s Eye, wherein she studies the forester’s ability to see and his learning to see, the explication or self-confrontation interviews are essential to reveal the subjective meaning of visual phenomena (when, how and what the eye looks at or the finger points at in the forest, and on the computer screen during self-confrontations) as well as the meaning given by actors to the use of documents and instruments. Thus, the ability to see is also expressed within speeches produced by practitioners during self-confrontation and not only through gaze, gesture, images and instruments used at work.

33The Vocational Didactic perspective adopted by Dominique Guidoni-Stoltz, but also by Fanny Chrétien, Jean-François Métral and Paul Olry (Seeing What is not Visible. Watching, Seeing, Knowing About Cheesemaking), seeks to deepen the cognitive dimension of professional vision through the analysis of conceptualizations supporting it. This is a shift from Goodwin’s studies which consider the perception as a public, social and visible activity and consequently as observable, recognizable and debatable. Their analysis of actors’ speech during interviews makes it possible to identify the visual abilities mobilised in vocational and training situations as well as the concepts that organize their action and structure their representation of environment, such as a forest or a cheesemaking factory. By inferring the concepts invoked by experts or trainers, the analysis brings out both a functional representation of environment and the reasoning developed by them to act in a relevant way. This is what leads Fanny Chrétien, Jean-François Métral and Paul Olry to propose a distinction between “singular professional gazes” and “shared professional vision”. They particularly show that cheesemakers express and debate their different ways of seeing that animate controversies within the community over time and contribute to the transmission of savoir-faire, and sometimes to the reconfiguration of professional visions resulting from renormalization practices in the ergological sense between experts and novices (Schwartz & Durrive, 2009).

34The development of gaze is also analysed during clinical interventions in Occupational Psychology with Jean-Luc Tomás, Maria Ianeva, Pascal Simonet and Yves Clot, in Activity and Professional Vision. This perspective differs from the situated approach of learning processes to address the issue of individual and collective empowerment of practitioners from the lens of gaze and professional vision. Extending Goodwin's (1997) hypothesis about the developmental potentiality of vision, the authors show, however, that such a development would not result exclusively from interactions among peers at work. Inviting operating theatre nurses to analyse video sequences of their work activity, this clinical intervention device, based on simple or crossed confrontation (Faïta, 2007), encourages dialogue between them. This expression of multiple work perspectives challenges their personal professional vision and therefore contributes to the development of collective ways of seeing. From the perspective of an anthropology of knowledge, this paper explores the role of heterogeneous gazes and ways of seeing in the development of trade. In this respect, the notion of epistemic community makes it possible to go beyond a stable and delimitated conception of professional vision(s) within a team. Instead of focusing on what is shared by members and what keeps them together, it considers these professional visions in their transformative dynamics by analysing how they become a political workplace, i.e. the way they are supposed to bring about change (Meyer & Molyneux-Hodgson, 2011, p. 150).

Technical and Technological Support of Professional Gaze

35In the continuity of sociological research on scientific visualization (Burri & Dumit, 2007), several papers in this Special Issue show that technologies and artifacts help to see (Grosjean, 2005) and make the invisible as well as the minuscule visible (Maestrutti, 2018; Kawatoko, 2010). Sometimes, by providing practitioners with an externalised retina (Lynch 1988), these technologies destabilize and weaken the work activities as they were performed until now. In this way, Mathieu Bolay and Filipe Calvão, in Seeing Inside the Stone, mention the criticisms of natural diamond graders on the arrival of synthetic diamonds that devalue their visual perspicacity and question the esthetic values of their epistemic objects and profession. Sylvain Leberre and Sophie Bretesche, in From Miner to Environmental Expert, narrate how the transformation of the farmer miner into an environmental expert, in the course of technological innovations, changes their professional vision. Finally, Anne-Charlotte Millepied, in Visualizing Endometriosis: The Construction of Professional Vision in Radiology, shows the process of legitimization of visual expertise and the boundary work undertaken by some radiologists specializing in endometriosis to reaffirm their distinctive professional identity regarding gynecological surgery, thanks to new medical imaging technologies. By focusing on the transformation of “traditional” ways of seeing, these papers show with originality how technical and technological evolutions contribute to the development of new ways of seeing or to the renegotiation of boundaries between legitimate territories of skills among different (medical) specialties and professions (Burri, 2008).

The Tools of the Trade: Seeing, Coding and Pointing Relevant Details

36The theory of distributed cognition (Hutchins, 1991), the symmetrical approach of Latour (1991), the Actor-Network Theory (Callon, 1986) as well as Science and Technology Studies and research on socio-materiality in vocational and training contexts (Fenwick et al., 2012), have stressed how much non-human actors – artifacts and technologies – co-participate in and interact with human actors in the work performance and learning process. Workplace Studies (Heath et al., 2004) have also highlighted that the cooperative work within centers of coordination (Suchman, 1997) is only possible thanks to the heterogeneity of artifacts whose use is made publicly visible and intelligible to the co-present colleagues.

37The operators in urban, train and air traffic control rooms (Heath & Luff, 1994; Joseph, 1994; Goodwin & Goodwin 1997; Grosjean, 2005; Hutchins, 1991) coordinate their actions with co-present or distant colleagues by exploiting the material and social ecology of their workplace. Their activities, spatially distributed and technologically mediated, require the mastery of “peripheral monitoring” (Heath & Luff, 1994; Joseph, 1994) so as to achieve cooperation and coordination by a simple glance or by overhearing the relevant colleagues’ actions. Operators enhance the mutual visibility and intelligibility of what they say and do in interaction with artifacts by using multimodal semiotic resources (Mondada, 2008). Such practices participate in building the “accountability” of a team in action. By aligning various sources of information and (by) assembling different perspectives enabled by technologies, they manage to “read the scene” (Heath, 2000; Nishizaka, 2000), i.e. to see and categorize the relevant perceptual events (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1997).

38In a similar way, survey technicians described by Grosjean (2014a) use, combine and refer to a heterogeneity of material entities to identify the relevant clues necessary to perform their job. They rely on the visual capture of multiple pieces of information (Bessy & Chateauraynaud, 1995; Soler, 2011) by making use of artifacts and technologies (maps, worksheet, GPS coordinates…) to “progressively unfold the ground that is under their eyes” (p. 161). Their way of seeing is constructed by some practices consisting of “taking control of the environment” in order “to see” the significant elements in the ground and also “to make other actors see” through points of reference/visual landmarks. These two facets – seeing and making others see – are addressed in some papers in this Special Issue to educate the novice’s eye. In that way, Gwendoline Torterat, in To Be Attentive in Archaeology, shows how an expert archaeologist, while cleaning the prehistoric ground, is able to promptly see and make the novice see those material elements that need to be evacuated (little stones) or preserved (fragments of bone and flint). Vanessa Rémery and Nelly Duret-Benou, in Seeing, Making See and Learning to See, explore three registers of seeing: to see (ultrasonographers producing and interpreting images of the foetus), to make the patient see (when the ultrasonographer shows the patient images by helping her to understand what she is seeing), and finally to learn to see (for the novices having to learn to do ultrasound examinations under the guidance of experts). Therefore, the expert’s gaze implies the handling of instruments and artifacts (Streeck et al., 2011) whose nature and generations are different – ranging from print medium in the form of charts, boards, graphics, pictures… to information technologies – that make the significant phenomena and epistemic objects visible. As pointed out by Goodwin (2000b; 2000c) in his research on archaeologists, the use of and the interconnection among heterogeneous artifacts (Munsell color chart, diagrams, graphics…) provide them with material representations of the excavation site (colour of the ground, different stratum…). They highlight and code within a complex perceptive field the relevant clues for the ongoing activity and at the same time lead the attention and visual orientation of novices.

39All of these cognitive artifacts (Norman, 1993) create an architecture of perception (Goodwin, 1994). They orient the coding and the attention to those features and phenomena that are relevant for the profession, as do graphics, diagrams, catalogues, topographical maps, drawings, colour charts, and forms used by foresters (Dominique Guidoni-Stoltz), art restorers (Yaël Kreplak), as well as diamond graders (Mathieu Bolay & Filipe Calvão) described in this Special Issue. More particularly, Yaël Kreplak, in The Art Restorer’s Professional Vision. On Condition of Artwork Reports, analyses what it means to see a piece of art professionally by studying the production, shaping and circulation of the restorers’ condition reports that are necessary to identify deterioration. In particular, she highlights the distributed nature of the perspectives of the actors in the conservation chain, and shows how these condition reports are part of a long and continuous history of the artworks. In fact, the temporal orientation of the practice of restorers holds together the retrospective, the present and the prospective through the formatting and circulation of condition reports that are essential to the conservation and the cultural heritage of artworks.

40Sometimes, the tools of the trade are temporarily distorted from their original function. Instead, they draw the attention, indicate and signal to novices what they need to notice. For example, the expert archaeologist (in Gwendoline Torterat’s paper, To Be Attentive in Archaeology), exploits the brush as a “deictic pointer”, and cheesemakers (in Fanny Chrétien, Jean-François Métral & Paul Olry’s paper, Seeing What is not Visible) use the tools that have an effect on the milk’s transformation process as vectors of information to make the state of curd cheese and the occurring processes visible.

41So then, the gaze can be equipped with artifacts and work tools but also with the practitioner’s body to visualize what is invisible to the naked eye because of the tiny dimension of some pieces. This is the case of the watchmaker’s trade whose education of gaze implies that he learns to “extend his sight with the fingertips” in order to go into the mechanism of a mechanical watch (Munz, 2017).

The Imaging Technologies that “Help to See”: The Equipped Eye

42The approach adopted in this Special Issue considers that imaging technologies and their continuous innovation have contributed to the factory of gaze (Sicard, 1998). These technologies are changing both the way we look at the world because of the evolution in science and the ways of seeing of practitioners who use them daily. Moreover, the way in which these technologies are employed shapes what can be seen and made visible by their use (Lynch, 1988; Goodwin & Goodwin, 1997). Therefore, practices of seeing are hybrids and equipped with imaging technologies that help to see (Grosjean, 2014b) and create a visual representation of professional epistemic objects.

43It is mainly the Social Studies of Scientific Imaging and Visualization (Burri & Dumit, 2007), from the first laboratory studies (Lynch 1985; Latour 1986; Lynch & Woolgar, 1990; Knorr Cetina, 1999) to the most advanced research and therapeutic care in biomedicine (Alač & Hutchins, 2004; Burri, 2012; Maestrutti, 2018; Mondada, 2002; Beaulieu, 2002), that have focused on the essential role of visual technologies. These studies show that imaging tools and technologies - ranging from the magnifying glass, through the telescope and microscope, to the more recent medical imaging technologies have enabled the phenomena under investigation to be transformed into docile objects that are measurable, manipulable, visible and describable (Lynch, 1985). The visual evidence of these phenomena is what apparently ensures the scientific objectivity of research. In the biomedical field the authoritative power of medical images gives them a scientific legitimacy (Burri, 2012).

44Medical imaging technologies offer new visual potentialities by making visible what was previously invisible to the naked eye. This fuels the promise of access to the “truth” of the human body as an anatomic landscape that can be explored (van Dijck, 2005; Maestrutti, 2018). Thus, they reinforce the belief that it is possible to discern more accurately and objectively the normal from the pathological during diagnostic work. Three papers in this Special Issue (Anne-Charlotte Millepied, Visualizing Endometriosis, Barbara Pentimalli, The Diagnostic Eye, and Vanessa Rémery & Nelly Duret-Benou, Seeing, Making See and Learning to See) look at the medical diagnostic practices mediated by new imaging technologies and highlight the challenges posed by the evolution of visual abilities within different professions that have to (re)negotiate the distinctive qualities of their expertise due to the technological innovations characterizing their work environment over time.

45Social Studies of Scientific Imaging and Visualization demonstrate that these supposedly “scientific” images are not only produced by imaging technologies but also by sociotechnical adjustments and alignments with other technologies, working tools, practical knowledge and gestures of the trade (Law, 1987). These images are neither transparent nor immediately visible since they imply socio-material adjustments as well as an interpretative work (Burri, 2012) performed by and through verbal exchanges (comments, instructions, metaphors), body movements, gaze orientation and pointing gesture on and all around images (with the possibility of enlarging or reducing images, to compare and observe them according to different perspectives…) (Alač, 2008; Alač & Hutchins, 2004; Rémery et al., forthcoming). This use of multimodal semiotic resources (Mondada, 2008) succeeds in making relevant details on the screen publicly visible and intelligible as illustrated by two papers in this Special Issue focusing on the interpretative work of medical images performed in situ among co-present practitioners (Vanessa Rémery & Nelly Duret-Benou, Seeing, Making See and Learning to See, and Barbara Pentimalli, The Diagnostic Eye). The production and the interpretation of images often take the form of instructive moments to socialise novices with the handling of visualization tools and ways of seeing” of the trade. Thus the activities of scientific visualisation are embodied in the social and cultural practices (Lynch & Woolgar, 1990) within particular epistemic communities of practice. 


46The gaze is a visual skill that practitioners learn as a technique of the body. Resulting from activity habits and ways of seeing used in work situations, the gaze tacitly makes practitioners competent. Thus the study of the ability to see informs us about the sensory dimension of practical knowledge at work within an epistemic community of practice. The ability to see, as a professional gesture, is part of an arena of meaning that contributes to delimiting, specifying and differentiating a culture of action (Barbier, 2010) peculiar to a profession. This culture of action provides members with a rich palette of semiotic resources in order to say and show what is important to look at or not to look at, how to look, by configuring the dynamics of gaze and its shaping by experience. As an individual and collective instrument of the activity, the professional vision guides and orients members of a community of practice in the identification of clues required for performing work with shared value criteria and standards. The production and transmission of these skills ensure both the survival and sustainability of the resources historically developed by the communities and their renewal as a result of the debates and controversies that have taken place within them, but also due to the technical and technological developments affecting certain trades.

47The originality of the Special Issue lies in the choice of exploring the different socio-material forms whereby this knowledge is learned and transmitted to the novice. The papers, situated at the interface of anthropology, sociology, psychology, education and training sciences, provide original results thanks to their multidisciplinary anchorage and the theoretical and methodological presuppositions they are based on. They also explore this question in a variety of fields, some of which are characterized by changes in working conditions affecting the ways of seeing in the communities concerned. Thus the role of language, but above all that of the body and its senses, and more specifically gestural dexterity, is questioned in the use and manipulation of artifacts and new imaging technologies in order to analyse how this knowledge is constructed, legitimized, shared and transmitted within communities of practice. These artifacts and new imaging technologies affect and transform the professional gaze, but several papers also show how they contribute to the factory of the expert gaze thanks to the production and representation of epistemic objects occurring during instructional situations at work. Finally, the learning of gaze also offers a privileged entry in terms of the researcher's methodological reflexivity within ethnographic or video-ethnographic studies exploring the learning of a professional vision.

48Beyond focusing on a socio-material and embodied perspective of practices, transmissions, and adjustments concerning the ability to see, some papers discuss the organizational dimensions in the production of ways of seeing. Issues of positioning are raised in a logic of market or boundaries among professions with regard to the heterogeneity of their own visions that are expressed and confronted.

49Indeed, the link between trade and knowledge is not necessarily self-evident, and is above all not without conflict. The ability to see and professional vision can be intrinsically reconfigured by debates and controversies within the same communities over time, renormalizing (Schwartz, 2007) intergenerational ways of seeing. But many studies on workplaces also show that ways of doing are sometimes undermined by forms of work organization, supervision, government knowledge, and by practices of evaluation, all of which are a source of conflicting standards. Understanding how these conflicts of norms affect these practices and the transmission of ways of seeing, tacit knowledge, tricks of the trade, and informal adjustments, is a problem that remains to be developed for further reflection.

We would like to thank Caroline Datchary for her editorial support in this Special Issue, for her collaboration in the evaluation of the papers and also for the precious advice she gave us for the writing of this introductory paper.

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Barbara Pentimalli et Vanessa Rémery, « The Factory of Gaze »Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances [En ligne], 14-3 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2020, consulté le 18 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Barbara Pentimalli

Sociologist of work, she coordinates the RiSORSa research group at the Department of Social Sciences and Economics (DiSSE), Sapienza, University of Rome. Her main ethnographic research and publications in the area of Workplace Studies and Science and Technology Studies focus on the learning of practical knowledge and professional vision, the use of new medical imaging technologies, the cooperative work within centers of coordination, as well as humour and gender culture at work.

Address: Sapienza University, via Salaria, 113, IT-00138 Rome,(Italy)
Email: barb.pentimalli[at]

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Vanessa Rémery

Researcher at the Faculty of Psychology and Sciences of Education of the University of Geneva within the area of Adult Training. Her research focuses on the developmental conditions of experience in situations of individual, collective and organizational vulnerability as well as on the design of vocational or support devices for the formalization, transmission, and knowledge sharing of actors concerned with challenges of valorization, recognition and professionalization.

Address: University of Geneva, Boulevard du pont d’Arve 40, CH-1211 Genève 4 (Switzerland)
Email: vanessa.remery[at]

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