Studies in Symbolic Interaction: Volume 26


Table of contents

(25 chapters)

The essays composing this special partial issue grew out of a program featuring and honoring the work of Peter M. Hall that was presented at the 2001 Convention of the National Communication Association (NCA) in Atlanta. The session was entitled: “Social Organization, Power, and Communication: The Contributions of Peter Hall in Organizational and Interpersonal Communication Inquiries.” Since the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) became an affiliate of NCA in 1997, spotlight sessions like this one have been sponsored to recognize the work of distinguished scholars of symbolic interaction who have made important contributions to communication inquiry, as well as to promote further conversation and engagement with the featured scholar’s ideas. The participants in these panels are accomplished scholars in their own specialties who are well-credentialed to address and exemplify the value of the featured scholar’s work. Accordingly, the authors of the essays appearing here are fellow Symbolic Interactionists and include former and current colleagues and students of Peter Hall, as well as his students’ students.

One way of thinking about “theory” in sociology is that theory is the ideas, concepts, and frames, which we get from reading the insights, interpretations, and explanations of other sociologists. Doing theory is about being in a conversation with the discipline. It is in this spirit that I approach talking about theory in the work of my colleague, Peter Hall. This idea of theory as conversation is particularly apt for talking about Peter’s work, about Symbolic Interactionism today, and Peter Hall’s contribution to it.

Meta-power is communicated in our media age. Memories, expectations, assumptions of audiences, and decision-making practices take into account many messages and images. When democratic decision-making is expedited to enact policies that contradict the democratic process underlying a free society, then more than “politics as usual” is at work. Rather, the appearance of the political process has changed; it no longer matters that Congress pass legislation in a hurry because the “urgency demands it.” This is not easy to accomplish, and it is more difficult to understand. Peter Hall’s work offers some insights into these exciting, yet perilous times. Hall’s conceptualization suggests that social policy is reflexive of communication, meso-structure, and meta-power. Hall certainly complies with Vidich’s directive that “The source of some of sociology’s most compelling and important contributions to the understanding of social phenomena is the capacity for the sudden insight and the interpretative analysis…at its best it is an interpretative, creative craft” (Vidich, 1991, p. 522). Now more than ever it is imperative to understand the relationships between action, structure and history and their grounding in information technology, impression management, asymmetrical control. As Hall suggests, “Reviving the concept of institution would focus our attention upon the meso domain where social arrangements exist in and through processes that render them operational and operative. That is where the action is” (Hall, 1988, p. 355).

Since the mid-1980s, Peter Hall has given us an interactionist-based theory of social organization that is both complexly argued and complexly structured. He has taken up a variety of what I would call root images of social organization – images signified by sensitizing concepts such as negotiation, mesostructure, loose-coupling, emergence, and asymmetry – and he has incorporated those images into large scale empirical research endeavors to craft a theory, that throughout its development, has foreshadowed developments in general sociology. Hall’s scholarship is significant not only on its own terms but also because of its potential impact on social science in general. Indeed, as we witness sociology and other social sciences in the last decade focusing more on questions of agency, structure as process, the significance of situations, and the centrality of communication, we find justification in asserting that sociology may well be catching up to interactionism and its grounding in pragmatism (see Maines, 2001, pp. 28, 99 for a discussion of how Hall has anticipated some of these trends).

To understand Peter Hall’s work on social policy, it is heuristic to place it in the context of work that was done contemporaneously. Public policy studies in the late 1960s through the early 1980s concentrated in large part on the large-scale governmental policies such as the Great Society Programs of the Lyndon Johnson administration, Follow-through, Headstart, special education, bilingual education. Social policy research of that time tended to take Weberian notions of technical rationality seriously, probably too seriously.

In the late 1960s, as Peter readily admits (Hall, 1972, p. 70), he accidentally discovered Murray Edelman’s (1964) The Symbolic Uses of Politics. He immediately pilfered Edelman’s ideas and ran with them. That was only the beginning of his larcenous career. Over the years, Erving Goffman, Anslem Strauss, and David Maines, to name but a few, fell victim to his scholarly pillage. Yet, no one seemed to mind. Perhaps it was because Peter never tried to pawn the plunder as his own. Maybe it was because he didn’t hoard the spoils but publicly plied them. Most likely, it was because of what he did with the booty.

It is a sunny, windy, and cool spring day as I sit down to write my reflections on the preceding papers. It is the end of another semester and the final grades have been turned in. Forty years ago I began my academic career at the University of Iowa and two weeks ago my departmental colleagues and my family staged a symposium to mark my retirement. On my desk, just to my right, is a draft of an article requiring my next attention for a special issue of Symbolic Interaction on the past and future of the perspective. So, it feels fitting to comment on my career and scholarly corpus, and the sense-making and framing of it by my gracious, learned and most collegial fellow travelers. I am honored by their willingness to participate in this endeavor and their generous accountings and interpretations. But I can write no further without acknowledging the respectful but strong directing of Shing-Ling Chen in planning and producing the session and the publication of these papers. She gets us all organized, despite our tendencies to procrastination.

Contemporary emphasis on language and communication in mental health research and practice establishes the need for a communication model that addresses the variety of contexts – institutional, social, and cultural – in which attribution of mental disorders, treatment, and recovery occur. A ‘triadic’ approach to communication considers sufferers’: (1) transactions with environmental circumstances; (2) interpretive engagement with symbolic/discursive resources; and (3) relational interactions with others. Foundations for the model derive from pragmatism, systems theory, and theories of dialogue. A brief case study of depressive illness illustrates the value of the model. Implications for the organization of professional expertise in mental health fields are discussed.

What I refer to as a “monological” tendency is clearly seen in Spector and Kitsuse’s definition of their central term: …we define social problems as the actions of individuals or groups making assertions of grievances and claims with respect to some putative conditions (2001, p. 75).There is no mention here of audiences who hear such claims and grievances. The definition suggests that social problems are spoken into existence unilaterally by those who are especially aggrieved by perceived conditions of group life. Speakers are thus of primary importance, while listeners are not. There is likewise no reference to interactions between speakers and their audiences.

The constructionist framework for analyzing social problems rests upon the concept of “claimsmakers” who engage in definitional activities. Published researches often approach claimsmakers as agents who speak social problems into existence by naming and typifying putative conditions. This established usage fails to consider several important issues. First, claimsmakers are not merely detached interpreters but are themselves implicated in conditions. Claimsmakers, moreover, are not only speakers who deliver social-problem monologues but are also audiences that engage in dialogue with other claimsmakers. Furthermore, claimsmakers are not only the authors of social problems discourse, but are also its objects in two senses. First, they appear as positive or negative typifications in their own discourse and that of others. Second, claimsmakers sometimes emerge as special symbols that are subsequently available as resources for future social-problems discourse. These considerations indicate that the constructionist framework and empirical researches may be improved through recognition of the dialectic of claimsmakers as both speakers and audiences, both agents and objects – indeed as functioning simultaneously in all these capacities. Ultimately, claimsmakers’ influence may result from having been transformed into generalizable symbols. Their agency, paradoxically, may succeed because of their objectification.

This paper examines a premarital genetics program focusing on congenital deafness, conducted in Israel with a Bedouin minority group characterized by consanguinity, a religious ban on abortion, and high prevalence of genetic diseases. Building on interviews with counselors and counselees as well as observations of the interactions between them, the analysis describes the professional, communal, public and private arenas of negotiation that surround the process of genetic counseling.

This is a comparison of the emotions we have in watching a movie with those we have in everyday life. Everyday emotion is loose in frame or context but rather controlled and regulated in content. Movie emotion, in contrast, is tightly framed and boundaried but permissive and uncontrolled in content. Movie emotion is therefore quite safe and inconsequential but can still be unusually satisfying and pleasurable. I think of the movie emotions as modeling clay that can symbolize all sorts of human troubles. A major function of movies then is catharsis, a term I use more inclusively than usual.

Throughout I use a pragmatist approach to film theory. This position gives the optimal distance to the study of ordinary, middle-level emotion. In contrast psychoanalysis is too close and cognitive theory too distant. This middle position is similar to Arlie Hochschild’s symbolic interactionist approach to the sociology of emotions, which also mediates between psychoanalysis and cognitive theories.

Baudelaire (1863) and Benjamin (1983) used the term flaneur to denote a modern man who could evocatively describe social life in urban areas. A flaneur was poetically to describe the ephemeral nature of modern urban life, but without acting as a consumer. Here I approach Las Vegas from the perspective of a flaneur, and discuss the possibilities in that city for flanerie today. I introduce the concept pseudo-flanerie, and apply it to postmodern tourism. In Las Vegas, pseudo-flaneurs wander from one impersonation of a city/culture/era to another, stroll from one game to another, and move from one presentation of self to another. However, surveillance, social control, and the organizing principles of capitalism structure each. I also discuss pseudo-flanerie in Las Vegas in terms of temporality, morality, and consumption practices. I find that the flaneur’s traditionally anti-consumer stance has been endangered in tourist cities like Las Vegas, where mock cities have commodified city-like experiences to tourists who ultimately pay to engage in practices traditionally associated with flaneurs. A postmodern tourist environment like Las Vegas, therefore, creates the conditions for the pseudo-flaneur to emerge.

Ethnography has changed since the influence of postmodernism reached the social sciences – it has turned a reflexive eye upon itself and has been critical of traditional ethnographic work. This essay examines the concerns of postmodern informed ethnography. Then, it turns to other modes of ethnographic work, which are important intellectual precursors of postmodern ethnography-phenomenology, existential sociology, ethnomethodology. Next, new postmodern concerns, such as women and ethnography, electronic ethnography, and new narrative modes, are presented. This article points out both concerns and flaws in these approaches. Finally, the article concludes by analyzing the current and future situation of various ethnographic strands in sociology.

In this paper I seek to contribute to a growing understanding of the role of the self in qualitative forms of research and narrative. In calling upon the work of symbolic interactionists, postmodernists, and feminists, I explore how self-narrative might inform our scholarly work, both in terms of creating more advanced self-understandings and in promoting open and honest discussions about how our personal and professional lives intersect. After reviewing the philosophical rationale as well as various uses of self-narrative in social science and educational research, I examine my own deployment of self-reflexive writing as part of an effort to bridge the chasm between my personal life and my life in the academy.

Four months after I got to America, I was invited to a Christmas party. I brought some chicken wings stir-fried with wine, soybean sauce, sugar and ginger, partly to show appreciation to my new friend, partly out of my smug thought that I was here on a mission to bring authentic Chinese food to American people. Yet the chicken wings were removed from the table not long after the party began, even when there were still plenty of them. Those that were already in people’s plates were at most lightly touched. I moved among people pretending to have a good time yet feeling bashful, defeated and dismayed. How come the other Chinese lady knew better? She brought in a pretty fruit pie, the kind that has cream, peach, strawberry and nuts in it.What we found great about CM grocery store was that they have some rare kinds of ethnic foods. It happened that day that my husband, Li, and I wanted some pig’s feet. In China, this part of pigs is a special delicacy. It is our belief that slowly cooked pig’s feet are desirable for preventing skin aging and for women who just give birth to babies. As we checked out, the cashier, a tall, young man, picked them up, examined for a second and made a light remark, “Dog food!” It was so soft that Li did not hear. The boy had such light blue eyes and light freckles on his face. I found myself scouring my brain for words to say but could not come up with anything.No more showing off of my food! Shawn and Jill1 just had three new-born babies. To help them out, some of us in the department took turns to contribute food. They are a very easy-going couple and they said they liked ethnic foods. Still I got restless when it was my turn. After some careful rumination, I ordered a vegetable pizza from Papa John’s.

My first memory is of my mother’s first memory of me She’s told me this story so many times that I feel like I’m telling the story from my own memory. As if I remember being in the delivery room…Boy I remember that labor I had with you! Lord Jesus! You was the worst of all of ’em.” “You came out weighing ten pounds and five ounces.” “And once you came out, the doctors and all the nurses just looked at you like they was in shock. Then they kept calling other doctors in to come and look at you.” “But they wouldn’t let me see you. My legs was still propped up with that sheet in the way. So I couldn’t see nothin’.” “And they just kept calling more doctors in, and all the doctors kept saying the same thing:” Doctors: We’ve never seen anything like this! “But they still wouldn’t let me see you. Finally I just started yelling, ‘let me see my child. What’s wrong with my baby?!’” “The doctor finally looked at me and said ‘Ma’am, this is the cleanest baby I’ve ever seen.’ They gave you to me and you didn’t have any fluid or blood on you. Not one drop.” perhaps all the blood was used up from hundreds of years of doing nothing but bleeding When the doctor cut the umbilical cord, how different was that cut from the cut his great, great, great, great, great-grandfathers made when they cut us off from our African mother culture and all that was life-giving to me? and my life… a testimonial to the blade My earliest memory is of being two or barely three years old, walking into the kitchen and watching my mother change my little brother’s diaper. I asked her a question about the diapers. I can’t remember what I said, but her response was “I’m going to put YOU in one of these diapers, if you pee on yourself again.” I don’t know why she was so upset, seeing that when they brought us here on enslavement ships, they packed us like animals, forcing us to piss right where we were – on ourselves and on anyone next to, or below us. And it seems like I’ve been pissing on myself and everyone around me – ever since. And it seems I’ve been getting pissed on, ever since. So, what’s the big deal mama? I remember the first time I was with a girl. I was three or four. Her name was Chasa Palamore – and she was three. Her brothers pushed me and her into doing it once in the alley and another time in their oldest brother’s basement bedroom. I don’t think we ever really did anything; just naked and grinding. And it seems like I’ve been making love in alleys and dark hidden-away basements, ever since with far-away people still watching and cheering me on. yeah, over and over I attempt to make love but after the applause dies down everyone – including me – just ends up getting fucked and I can trace this one too, back to the white slaveowning sucker he wanted Lucile to have high priced babies so he forced me to fuck her And that can’t be washed away with constitutional suds when you create human breeding Farms, you produce studs and we still walk the streets, reproducing the culture whitey produced in us. I remember being four or five years old, living on 68th & Justine. Until I left home at 17, every place I ever lived was all black. The only white person on the block was my mother. But we still think she was a black woman trapped in a white woman’s body. I remember when me and my brothers would get into fights on the block. All the kids would gather around and sing: It’s a fight! It’s a fight! It’s a Nigga and a White. Gimme skin Gimme skin The Nigga gonna win Being 100% certain that I was black, the song never bothered me much. I’d just stand there amazed thinking, “These kids have got to be pretty stupid if they think I’m white.” These were the same folks I played with everyday. I remember having this thought that I didn’t have the vocabulary to express. The thought was like “Hey, I’m one of y’all, you idiots, Don’t you get it? How y’all gone let this shit split us up like that. Later I was to learn about the house Negro and the field Negro, and how our enslavers used “divide and conquer” to cause division and disunity amongst their captives. For hundreds of years, they’ve used our differences to cultivate division and hostility among us. They used everything from age to skin color to divide us. So when I stood in the middle of Justine about to fight, I was experiencing the lingering effects of the latter. I remember the Columbus song in fourth grade: In 14 hundred, ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue He sailed, and sailed, and sailed, and sailed! and found this land for me and you it was cold blooded murder I was a helpless nine year old child and they created that vicious lie and thousands more just like it and fired them into my defenseless mind it was cold blooded murder murdering my sense of self murdering my identity preventing the possibility that I could connect to a source of pride severing the connection between me and all that could give life to my spirit yeah I know of other truths now but can a fact learned at 30 overcome a lesson internalized at seven? I remember the winters on 43rd Street – a block east of King Drive. I remember my mother sending me and my brother out in the snow with a bucket. We’d fill the bucket up with snow, and stop to have a snowball fight and play in the snow. Then we’d take our bucket full of snow up to our apartment on the third floor, and set the bucket by the stove so the snow could melt. Once the snow melted, we opened the back of the toilet, and poured the water in, so we could flush the day’s waste. I remember eating oatmeal for every meal. Oatmealf or breakfast Oatmeal for lunch Oatmeal for dinner and for dessert? Oatmeal cookies and I didn’t think about it then, the way I think about it now. I didn’t know I had a right to live better than that I remember reading my first book. I was 19 years old and in the Navy. It was Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary.” Shortly afterwards, I’d read my first non-fiction work. It was the Autobiography of Malcolm X. In Malcolm I found the answers to all the questions the white world could not answer. Like the question of why in the fuck was I 19 years old and just starting to read! Much of what we accomplish is motivated by the belief that others have in our ability. I went through an educational system that couldn’t even identify my abilities let alone believe in them. Low tracked and labled I get sad when I think of the potential that was wasted in those years that I languished in a system that destroyed my belief in my own worth. Though tragic, that’s nothing compared to the potential destroyed by capitalism and slavery. What would our future African civilizations have looked like if Europeans hadn’t murdered us and our continent? Would we have performed cold fusion by now? Perhaps we would have produced a renewable energy source that didn’t harm the ozone layer, or pollute the air we breathe. If sons of slaves could produce a revolution in blood storage and perform the world’s first successful heart transplant, what could we have done by now if capitalism, slavery, and racism hadn’t gotten in our way? as a result, the most beautiful thing we’ve been able to produce under this oppressive system, is our struggle against it I remember last week Just this past thanksgiving I was at my brother Mike’s house. Mike is the oldest, then Carole, then Tony, then me, then Sean. Everyone but Sean was there and Mama had made her ridiculously delicious Sweet Potato pies. When I was little, whenever mama made those pies, people we know would come from all around the city to get a couple slices. I remember one year, lot’s of folks were in and out of the house, and a lot of pies came up missing, and soon they were all gone. We always thought someone was stealing them. But that night, this past Thursday, Mike finally told us it was him. Mike didn’t grow up with us. He and Carole lived with their aunt, and they were even poorer than we were. He was visiting with us that year in the late 70s. He told us he ate seven pies and hid two of them. We all had a very good laugh about that. But someone asked a question that night that never got answered “Why in the world did you eat SEVEN pies?” It’s not like Mike was overweight. He was slim, like me. Here’s what I believe America makes life very uncertain for Black people so many times we get all we can while it’s there, cause you don’t know if it will be there tomorrow Mike grew up not knowing where his next meal was coming from. you figure out the rest Hey, maybe that’s why I was born so clean maybe I knew that life on the outside of the womb wasn’t so certain so I consumed all I could while I was in there I remember tomorrow I saw it a few times in my dreams My great, great, great, great-grand daughter was reminiscing with her younger brother about how they’d wrestled in the grass when they were children. Then they discussed the meeting they have tomorrow with other teachers in the New Afrikan School System, in the United Republic of New Africa, in the southern and eastern regions of what used to be called the United States. They met and poured a libation calling out the names of all the ancestors who struggled to liberate our people I remember the work I must do to ensure my name is called

My earliest recollection as a Mexican living in the United States occurred when I was seven years old. My mother took my sister and I out of school to go see our grandmother in Mexico who was gravely ill. I don’t recall much of my stay in Mexico, other than my grandmother, but the memory of my families’ journey back to Chicago is crystal clear. You see, on our way to Mexico we flew on an airplane but on the way back to the U.S. we had to sneak across the border on foot.

Lived inside belief for so long, Till experience begins to prove that it’s all wrong You don’t have time to stop and wonder The truth you speak today will change tomorrow anyway. 3 Posad’ se k nám, necháme tě vymluvit A vzpomenout si na ty naše úkoly Tu ruku nám dej a odpočı́vej v pokoji Tam na tom mı́stě 4

Last night, John Coltrane came to me again in my dreams. Trane was playing up in Harlem as I sat in the audience; his spiritual sound and passion filled the room, flowing through note after note, chord after chord. He played with such tenderness and emotion, never seeming to pause for breath.

This is a performance text (see Conquergood, 1985) created out of an epiphany that occurred while conducting what would be considered a traditional sociological interview to gather information. This performance text is a critique of traditional interview models of qualitative inquiry that, “conceal the lived, interactional context in which a text was co-produced, as well as the handprint” of the person who writes the final text, presuming that the interviewer is distant and objective from the subject (Richardson, 1997, p. 140). Performance text is political, transgressive, and gendered (Denzin, 1997; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). Therefore, this performance makes a moral stance that illuminates the world/lived experience in different ways, illustrating an intent that is embedded to move others to action (see Conquergood, 1985; Denzin, 1997). There is no distance between what is written and what is happening (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). It is meant to be performed, read out loud, and use words that act on the world. This performance text is put together using excerpts of the interviewee’s actual responses (text on the left column) to questions asked from an interview instrument. In addition, my autoethnography (right column) is created from thoughts occurring during the interview in response to his answers and self-reflection after having completed the interview which, “displays multiple layers of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural” (Ellis & Bochener, 2000, p. 739).

This is an example of a personal narrative derived from lived experience that is turned into a performative text. Dwight Conquergood (1995/1998) states that performative text is necessary because: (1) Performance-sensitive ways of knowing hold forth the promise of contributing to an epistemological pluralism that will unsettle valorized paradigms and thereby extend understanding of multiple dimensions and wider range of meaningful action; (2) performance is a more conceptually astute and inclusionary way of thinking about many subaltern cultural practices and intellectual-philosophical activities (p. 26).Therefore this performance text is a counter-story to the social construction of a Latino identity by juxtaposing my authored identity that challenges, resists, and critiques the larger cultural apparatus itself, its versions, and structures that have impinged on my life.

From our garden in Tepetlixpa, we have a stunning view of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl. Both volcanos are tipped with snow now, but with the afternoon sun warming us, it doesn’t feel that cold. Only late-night expeditions to the outhouse warrant complaints about the winter weather. Right now, sitting on the grass, surrounded by the fragrant presence of chamomile and spearmint, we talk of what the coming summer holds in store. If it’s a girl, her name will be Xochitl Malintzin Ashton González. Those names are Nahuatl, English, and Spanish. The Nahuatl names have been chosen by her Mexican father, my compañero, Arnoldo. The last two are surnames from both of our families. Though my Spanish is fairly fluent by now, Arnoldo knows my Nahuatl is nil. “Xochitl quiere decirflor,’” he explains. My mind calculates: Xochitl=flor=flower. That’s a pretty name! How about Malintzin? What does that mean? He pauses momentarily before replying, “Malintzin es Malinche.” In my burgeoning vocabulary, the only word I know that sounds remotely similar to Malinche is malinchista. Roughly translated, it means ‘traitor.’ No, that can’t be what he’s saying; I must be confused. Well, yes and no.

I’ll give it to you as I remember it … a sequence of things that did all happen within a period. So, it’s my recollection of them.1

A singer whose voice is caught in her throat What kind of singer is that?

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