Home Signs: An Ethnography of Life beyond and beside Language (Paperback)

Home Signs: An Ethnography of Life beyond and beside Language By Joshua O. Reno Cover Image
On Our Shelves Now
Book Culture (112th St)
3 on hand, as of Apr 24 7:21pm


An intimate account of an anthropologist’s relationship with his non-verbal son and how it has shaped and transformed his understanding of closeness and communication.

Home Signs grew out of the anthropologist Joshua Reno’s experience of caring for and trying to communicate with his teenage son, Charlie, who cannot speak. To manage interactions with others, Charlie uses what are known as “home signs,” gestures developed to meet his need for expression, ranging from the wiggle of a finger to a subtle sideways glance. Though he is nonverbal, he is far from silent: in fact, he is in constant communication with others.
In this intimate reflection on language, disability, and togetherness, the author invites us into his and Charlie’s shared world. Combining portraits of family life and interviews with other caregivers, Reno upends several assumptions, especially the idea that people who seem not to be able to speak for themselves need others to speak on their behalf. With its broad exploration of nonverbal communication in both human and nonhuman contexts, Home Signs challenges us to think harder about what it means to lead a “normal” life and to connect with another person.

About the Author

Joshua Reno is professor and graduate director of anthropology at Binghamton University. He is the author of several books, including Military Waste: The Unexpected Consequences of Permanent War Readiness and, with Britt Halvorson, Imagining the Heartland: White Supremacy and the American Midwest.

Praise For…

“Writing with precision and vulnerability, Reno illuminates an aspect of our lives together that is ubiquitous, yet rarely noticed: the subtle, deeply idiosyncratic ways we make sense to one another beyond and beside the languages some of us type, sign, and speak. He builds on a dizzying array of interlocutors. But at the heart of the book is Reno’s relationship with his sweet-tempered, irascible, mysterious teenage son and the slaps, snaps, caresses, sounds, and silences that make up their shared repertoire of home signs. Setting a new standard for ethical, rigorous scholarship, Home Signs shows us how to move beyond debates over the limits of the human to the places of danger and creativity where sociality lives.”
— Danilyn Rutherford, author of Living in the Stone Age

“In this richly innovative book, Reno delves into the intricacies of communication among alingual children and their families and caretakers, unsettling stubborn assumptions about language, cognitive disability, and human sociality. As with the best of anthropology, Home Signs is ultimately about life and our creative abilities to relate to others.”
— Robert Desjarlais, author of Subject to Death: Life and Loss in a Buddhist World
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226831268
ISBN-10: 0226831264
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: March 11th, 2024
Pages: 256
Language: English