Handshakes and hashtags: how changing social interactions make us feel awkward

Guilherme Giolo, Alina Pavlova, Yosha Wijngaarden*, Pauwke Berkers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing measures were implemented across the globe. These measures demanded replacing taken-for-granted social practices such as shaking hands with new interaction rituals. Based on our personal observations, this collective process of learning new interactions often resulted in feelings of awkwardness. Awkwardness, in this sense, is more than an individual emotion; it is also a cultural marker helping us understand how interactions, interaction rituals and social norms are constituted. Therefore, we aim to obtain a better understanding of both what people perceive as failed interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how they perceive these awkward moments. We do so by looking at how awkwardness is discussed in social and news media during the first wave of the pandemic. Combining a topic modelling of tweets and a thematic text analysis of news articles, we show the main topics representing awkwardness in relation to COVID-19, and how this links to new forms of face-to-face and mediated interactions. Moreover, we demonstrate that experiences of awkwardness often relate to the necessity of bodily and situational co-presence, creating a stronger sense of intimacy, synchronicity and sequency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)522-534
Number of pages14
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2023

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© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

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