Understanding body language: Birdwhistell’s theory of kinesics

Stephen Jolly (Stephen Jolly is based at Nomura International plc, London, UK.)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Publication date: 1 September 2000


Despite research spanning a 20‐year period (from 1950 to 1970), Ray L. Birdwhistell’s work on body language and theory of kinesics has been recorded only in occasional papers. Birdwhistell defined kinesics as “the study of body‐motion as related to the non‐verbal aspects of interpersonal communication”. He believed body‐motion communication to be systemic, a socially learned and communicative behaviour unless proven otherwise. The article extensively collates and analyses Birdwhistell’s work and theories. Birdwhistell was frequently forced to admit that a number of his theories were subject to some dispute. The article concludes that Birdwhistell’s work contains major flaws and the verdict of other researchers who have tried to develop his theories of kinesics has been damning.



Jolly, S. (2000), "Understanding body language: Birdwhistell’s theory of kinesics", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 133-139. https://doi.org/10.1108/13563280010377518

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