Studies in Symbolic Interaction: Volume 30

Cover of Studies in Symbolic Interaction

Table of contents

(25 chapters)

As the framing perspective has evolved, there has been growing recognition that framing processes cannot be adequately understood apart from the broader enveloping contexts in which those processes occur. One such context recently has been conceptualized as discursive opportunities or the DOS. To date the concept has been examined most closely and carefully in relation to the media, most notably in Koopmans research on how the strategies of the German radical right have evolved partly in response to various media reactions and constraints (Koopmans, 2004) and in Ferree, Gamson, Gerhards, and Rucht's (2002) comparison of abortion discourse in the U.S. and Germany (between 1970 and 1994) via the media. Koopmans provides the most straightforward and researchable conception of discursive opportunities, defining them in terms of three selection mechanisms that affect the probability of a proffered message or framing being picked-up and diffused. They include “visibility (the extent to which a message is covered by the mass media), resonance (the extent to which others – allies, opponents, authorities, etc. – react to a message), and legitimacy (the degree to which such reactions are supportive)” (Koopmans, 2004, p. 367).

As a longstanding fellow-traveler and occasional critic of symbolic interaction, I read Dave Snow's paper with the following five basic Scientific Interest (S.I.) assumptions in mind: (1) there are no immaculate perceptions; (2) no object, actor, action, or situation has intrinsic stimulus properties; (3) therefore there are no inherent meanings for any object, actor, action, or situation; (4) the meaning of any object, actor, action, or situation is the response made to it; (5) therefore, there are as many meanings for any object, actor, action, or situation as there are responses made to it. In other words, meanings are constructed. Hence the different responses – the different meanings for or meanings of – the Fall 2005 Paris Riots and the current Spring 2006 Paris protests. I am also mindful of William I. and Dorothy Swaine Thomas's (1928) statement of what has come to be known as the Thomas theorem: “Whatever men [sic] define to be real is real in its consequences.”

It is a pleasure to comment on the celebration of my work by three of my dearest friends and most respected colleagues. At first I fretted over whether I had produced a “work,” especially one that could be celebrated. So the comments offered by Joseph Schneider, Michal McCall, and Norman Denzin at the World Congress of Qualitative Inquiry in 2005 and published in this issue were a gift to me. Schneider, Mc Call, and Denzin have drawn a line of thought through my writing, which has invited me to reflect on my career as a scholar and teacher in the discipline of Sociology. I want to express my gratitude to them and I will do so at the close of these remarks.

In her first three books, Patricia Clough gave sociology a new subject, to replace the static, fully conscious, volitional, 19th century “self” who was not only the sole source of meaning but the author of society itself. In her newest work – The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social (Duke University Press, forthcoming) – Patricia leads sociology beyond the subject to rethink “society” since, since as she says, “it is not from the position of the subject that sociality can now be grasped” (forthcoming, p. 32).

In 1985, I was moving along a more or less definable disciplinary path, writing qualitative sociology guided by my understanding of leading symbolic interactionist texts, productively disturbed by affection for Harold Garfinkel's ethnomethodology. Although there were prior lines of influence, my writing then was focused especially on various “social constructionist” projects, first with Peter Conrad (Conrad & Schneider, 1992 [1980]; Schneider & Conrad, 1983) and then with Malcolm Spector and John Kitsuse (Kitsuse & Schneider, 1984, 1989). I also read closely and had many conversations with Anselm Strauss about how to do what he and Barney Glaser called “grounded theory” and with Howard Becker about “doing sociology.” Not only did I feel that I was getting better at doing ethnography or field work and “writing it up,” as we put it in Sociology, I felt I was engaged in an epistemologically superior practice relative to the more quantitative and structurally oriented work that was then and still is defined as “mainstream” (a land from which I had emigrated, gradually, after the Ph.D.).

Although it is often assumed that the study of human group life as “something in the making” is a product of the more distinctive emphasis of 20th century American pragmatist scholarship, the roots of the analysis of the social construction of activity run much deeper.

Whereas poetics (i.e., fiction) represents only one arena in which earlier scholars have more explicitly addressed the matters of human knowing and acting, Horace, Longinus, and Plutarch, three authors from the classical Roman era (c. 200 BCE-500 CE) contribute notably to an understanding of the ways in which people accomplish activity. While Horace and Longinus focus primarily on the production of poetic texts, Plutarch addresses the matter of reading, comprehending, and utilizing fictional materials within instructional contexts.

The texts of Horace, Longinus, and Plutarch are generally valued for the insight that they cast on the Roman and Greek life-worlds in the classical Roman era, but they also assume considerable importance as detailed reference materials for developing a more informed, comparative (i.e., transhistorical) analysis of the study of human knowing and acting in contemporary contexts.

Because of the particular subject matter they address, their extended levels of involvements in the communication process and their detailed analysis of people's roles as authors, instructors, and readers, Horace, Longinus, and Plutarch provide much valuable insight in the production and use of written texts. Moreover, given their associated attentiveness to the matters of authenticity and misrepresentation, persuasion and intrigue, and interpretation and inference, these statements should have considerable value to a wide range of scholars and educators.

This paper proposes that narrative inquiry adopt the concept of the “involute” – a passage stored in memory from reading that is later enlisted as a problem-solving device – to further the goal of understanding the identity work performed through reading and writing. Three related examples are given – one from Thomas De Quincey, the nineteenth-century essayist who coined the term and used an involute in fashioning himself as a scholar; one from Jane Addams, who used an involute from De Quincey to separate the role of the social worker from that of the literary critic; and one from the contemporary New Historicist Stephen Greenblatt, who used an involute to create a socially engaged identity for literary researchers. Considering these examples, I argue that involutes offer insights into the connections between selves and others, words and acts, past and present that should advance interdisciplinary study and advocacy of morally responsible discourse.

Social theory contains contributions related to the processes of semiosis. Between the subjective experience of intentional meanings and objectivized structure of meanings there is a sphere of meaningful interactions and collective actions. Arguments are presented that it is possible to integrate symbolic interactionist orientation and Durkheimian tradition in the study of social symbolism in the perspective of collective action approach and pragmatism. That allows going beyond the cognitive limitations inherited from phenomenological view on symbolism as manifested in the concepts of P. Berger and T. Luckmann about the social construction of reality. A model for a multidimensional analysis of social symbolism and its functions is proposed.

Using puns as an illustration, we examine how verbal ambiguity affects the process of discourse. Our major focus is on the responses people make to the occurrence of puns in face-to-face conversations. First, we question the notion that the groans that commonly and distinctively greet puns are responses to the perceived low or high quality of specific puns. Next, we describe the special problems of interpretation that accompany puns arising in encounters. Finally, we suggest a modification of the views of Blumer and of Goffman as to the incidental or disruptive intrusion of jocularity into encounters. We conclude that verbal ambiguity – despite its popular identification as enigmatic, “incorrect” language – does not significantly alter the processes or results of everyday discourse.

This article draws from ethnomethodology and poststructural discourse analysis to examine commonsense knowledge about whiteness and white racial identities. In order to get at that which most broadly passes as matters of commonsense in the United States, the research design includes analysis of both interview and television data. I make two sets of concurrent arguments, one that regards the production of whiteness as a kind of normalcy against which race and racialization is made meaningful and another concerned with the analytical power derived by combining ethnomethodology and poststructural discourse analysis. I illustrate local practices for interrupting hegemonic reproductions of whiteness and conclude with methodological considerations.

In this essay I examine a variety of approaches to the contemporary postmodern self. I argue that this diverse literature may be analytically distinguished along two general lines. The first concerns institutional or structural claims regarding what a self “is” or “is not.” The second focuses instead on what a self “does” or “does not do.” I conclude by recommending a more comprehensive approach that takes into account the salience of both of these analytical dimensions in the contemporary debates over the postmodern self.

Unfortunately, I am not the first to attempt to map out the narrative terrain of Others. In 1985, R. S. Perinbanayagam presented various social theorists’ conceptions of the Other in his book Signifying Acts: Structure and Meaning in Everyday Life. Basically, they comprise three Others: the Generalized Other, the Meiotic Other (my language), and the Significant Other. I will address three additional Others – the Unconscious Other, the Marginalized Other, and the Nonhuman Other – that I find in a broader and more recent literature. Although I group them into six main Others, the borders of these types are somewhat arbitrary, porous, and nondiscrete, as interaction and intersection exist among them. Two characteristics that distinguish one Other from another are whether the Other exists within or outside the Self and whether the Other is an individual or aggregate entity. The Unconscious Other and the Generalized Other both are constructed from symbolic material outside the individual but ultimately take up residence within the Self. The Meiotic Self is the self-divided; there may be multiple divisions but each Meiotic Self is usually presented as singly constituted. The Significant Other, an individual, and the Marginalized Other, often a status group or member of it, reside outside the Self but play supporting roles in relation to any particular Self, which may also be an individual or status group, such as men, Whites, and Americans. The Nonhuman Other may be individual, an aggregate of individuals, or the product of human behavior, all of which reside outside the Self.

Drawing from in-depth ethnographic interviews conducted at an American public research university with 46 professors I analyze the meanings that faculty in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities assign to the aspect of their work known as service and institutional governance. Regardless of disciplinary affiliation, almost all faculties perceive feelings of self-inauthenticity when they engage in service and governance and view this aspect of their work as meaningless, inconsequential, trite, and as a waste of time. Yet, interviews with two professors show that service and governance work leads them to feel true to themselves because they view it as of a meaningful symbolic space where a truly effectual cultural politics of resistance against alienating institutional forces can take place. I reflect on the latter two professors’ agency and power to redefine symbolic occupational spaces within and outside their selves and occupation.

The question of cultural identity has taken new levels of importance in the Andean country of Ecuador. Ecuadorian scholars often treat identity as a historical construction, revealing the country's Mestizo population as a culture of oppression. However, such statements only take into account the Western definition of history and fail to appreciate the indigenous concept of myth and the human need to constantly rewrite history in terms of today. Since Ecuador's majority is profoundly Mestizo (people with both Spanish and indigenous ancestry), there exists a clash of thought structures, both Western and indigenous, which do not allow for collective transformation. This research utilizes interactive research methods, particularly Augusto Boal's “Theatre of the Oppressed,” to penetrate the clash, intensifying it so that the “cultural oppression” becomes clear to those involved in the explorations, allowing them to uncover the “power of myth” now deeply buried in the collective unconscious.

A few hours before the May 17, 2004 gala to commemorate the legal decision that ended “separate but equal” facilities for black and white U.S. citizens, comedian Bill Cosby heard a radio broadcast that was on his wavelength. As Cosby listened to “Ask the Chief” on May 17, 2004 Washington, DC Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey recounted the number of children who had been the victims of homicide (Schroeder, 2004). A few hours later, Cosby picked up on the discussion with a live audience at Constitution Hall to celebrate the historic verdict of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. During the event, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Howard University acknowledged Cosby for his multimillion dollar contributions to historically black colleges and universities.

This autoethnography considers the role of human relationships in the educational process. Approaching learning as a transformational process rooted in human experience and interaction, I explore the central role of emotion in learning relationships. Through an analysis of a learnable moment experienced in a relational communication course on language, I theorize new ways of “doing” learning relationships.

If military cooks can consistently fuck-up the preparation of refried beans, why would one expect these nincompoops (I have learned to call this institutional rationality) to produce efficient killers in 4–6 months of basic training? The answer to this is obvious: they don’t. Before an individual comes into the military, they have been inculcated with celebratory military triumphalism for decades; these teachings come from parents, family members, peers, teachers, professors, history book lies, cinematic lies, mass media lies, religious lies, and a wide range of other cultural lies (see Goode, 1978). These cultural lies tell of the alleged or presumed challenges of outside forces, and of how these unprovoked aggressions are met with the heroic efforts of our own peace loving people. These cultural lies neglect to specify the complete social, economic, and political context, and the extent to which the aggressive acts were a response to other actions which preceded them. For America specifically, they neglect the Christian genocide of the indigenous peoples, and our own long-standing and consistent imperial actions from the Bay of Manila onward. The cultural lies purport to justify blood sacrifice of the young for the short-term hubris and conceits of the political, economic, and religious leaders.

This paper describes the home run as a dramatic offensive accomplishment in baseball linked to the five dramaturgical dimensions (act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose) defined by Burke. Such an accomplishment also pertains to two types of social pasts – categorical and crystallized – that can serve as correlates to the five dramaturgical dimensions. Owing to its dramaturgical and temporal significance, the home run symbolizes a celebrated sign of prowess that contributes to a home run hitter's or slugger's rarified status. Further, as a dramaturgical moment, the home run calls forth specified responses (especially on the part of announcers) that contribute to its distinctive meaning in the game.

The paper addresses the issue of contrasting constructions of social problems. Using “hate crime” as an example, we focus on portraits of the problem in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports and in the New York Times. The analysis illumines how fundamental contrasts in representations of hate arise from differences in the underlying, and institutionalized, sense-making practices of scorekeeping and storytelling. We conclude by discussing the larger implications of the findings for further development of the theoretical model of “dialogical constructionism.”

Narrative inquiry and life history are privileged methods for studying people's lives, experiences, and identity construction. In this article, I argue that critical life history inquiry is especially suitable for studies of those, who have actively involved in progressive social and cultural movements and have developed an identity as activist educators.

Drawing on ethnographic data collected over a 9-year period, from 1998 through 2006, we examine the foundations of community among a non-geographic, mobile, identity-based community of touring motorcyclists. Although traditionally oriented geographic communities continue to exist, the literature shows a growing trend toward non-geographic, identity-based communities, whose cohesiveness is based on collective identity, in-group/out-group boundaries, shared values, and symbols. Our focus on a mobile identity-based community contributes to this literature by examining a collectivity that is not only non-geographically situated, but is also based on a strong value placed on travel. Within the touring BMW motorcycling community, we found a strong collective identity that was founded on the shared values of adventure touring; long-distance, all weather endurance riding; proficient, and highly skilled riding; and safety. Our findings contribute to the literature on identity-based communities by demonstrating the salience of ritualized interaction that rewards those who conform to (or excel at) group values and reinforces the sense of collective identity that exists among this dispersed, mobile community. Additionally, our research demonstrates that a recreational subculture can provide some of the traditional benefits of community without many of the demands present in the more comprehensive forms of community.

Cover of Studies in Symbolic Interaction
Publication date
Book series
Studies in Symbolic Interaction
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN