Studies in Symbolic Interaction: Volume 31


Table of contents

(16 chapters)

In this issue of Studies in Symbolic Interaction, I am pleased to announce the publication of the first set of papers in our newly created “blue-ribbon paper” series. The series is dedicated to publishing cutting-edge papers done from a broadly defined interactionist's perspective. We particularly want to publish the works of new and seasoned scholars that display not only a creative, but also a humanistic bent. We want our series to provide scholars who think “outside the box” about the human condition with a chance to “push the envelope” in their special areas of expertise and interest without fear of having their work rejected for being too avante grade. Thus, our main objective is to help beginning and veteran interactionists whose work “breaks the mold” carve out or expand their niche in the research literature. In the immortal words of Robert Park, the journalist turned sociologist and early interactionist, we want to help scholars who fall into this category find their “spot in the sun.”

This will be an attempt to construct a pragmatist theory of the self, drawing on the four major classical pragmatists. From John Dewey, I will take the self as actor or agent; from George Herbert Mead the social self; from Charles Sanders Peirce the semiotic or significative self; and from William James the emotion of self feeling. The four fit together reasonably well, and the result is a highly egalitarian, democratic and humanistic idea of what it means to be a human being.

George Herbert Mead is an exemplary figure in sociology, and is central to sociological conceptions of the self and social action. However, other important aspects of Mead's thought have been largely neglected, including his remarkably sophisticated and sociological theory of scientific knowledge. Traditional accounts of the sociology of science identify Thomas Kuhn, and his predecessor, Ludwig Fleck, as pioneers in the social analysis of scientific knowledge, allowing the modern constructionist school of science studies to emerge. This article challenges this history by showing Mead's awareness of the sociological aspects of scientific knowledge in papers that predate both Kuhn and Fleck. Finally, Mead's position attempts to avoid sociological relativism, and offers instead a pragmatist foundation to approach the study of science.

In this essay, I relate G. H. Mead's emergent theory of mind and reflexivity to neuroscience evidence that “minded” practices can be applied in restructuring the neural structures involved in obsessive-compulsive disorders, stroke patients, and depression. The demonstration that such efforts can become causal factors in changing material brain structures attests to the emergent reality of mind as conceived by Mead, the neuroscientist Roger Sperry, and others. This means that mind, arising from the material brain cannot be completely reduced to the biological properties that make it possible. Schwartz and Begley (2002) and Begley (2007) describe the six-step program in minded practices producing structural brain change in The Mind and the Brain. The authors argue for a voluntaristic framework transcending SR behaviorist approaches to behavior modification, which ignore distinctively human capacities. fMRI evidence of the structural changes in brain systems involved in OCD after patients were trained in “minded” behaviors is described.

In this paper, I orchestrate an encounter between Mead and Ortega in which their notions of action, truth, self, society, and individual agency are systematically compared. Thus, I offer a critical comparison of Ortega's and Mead's positions on the above issues, pointing to the strengths and weaknesses in their respective theories. My comparison shows how an encounter between Mead and Ortega can lead to the refinement, extension, and ultimate improvement in Mead's ideas, especially his conception of the relation of the individual to society.

A number of international relations' mid-level theories about violence are inadequate to the task of explaining societal and group violence. Many of these theories, for example, confuse causality with correlation, or breakdown and then cannot explain why they fail. Building upon the theories of criminologist Lonnie Athens, both in their particulars and in their spirit of practical solution rather than entrenched debate, this article considers whether those theories of individual violence are suitable for extrapolation to the societal level. It explores some problems with the current theories in international relations, and reviews the theoretical foundations offered by Athens and some others, who have also laid strong groundwork for scaling Athens' theories to the societal level by considering their applications to communities. A number of those theories, although based upon analyses of individual dangerous violent criminals, lend themselves particularly well to groups and communities, suggesting strong suitability of scaling to these levels, and to the societal one as well. Also considering critiques of Athens' and Rhodes' work, this article ultimately argues that Athens' theories of violence, and those building upon them, constitute a strong foundation for theories of violence in international relations that relate to the societal scale.

People have often asked me “how did I decide to become a criminologist?” Looking back over my life, I think two key factors played a part in my making this decision. To begin with, I am a product of the Great Depression. I was born on November 12, 1911 in Boston, Massachusetts into a middle class, New England family. My mother, who was a graduate of the Boston School of Elocution, taught public speaking. My father, who was a jovial and convivial man, did quite well for himself as a ladies wholesale shoe salesmen. However, when we moved to California he experienced some difficulties in his sales career when he tried his hand at selling shoes outside his native area of New England. He made the mistake of underestimating the value of the personal relationship that he had cultivated with shoe dealers in New England and as a result he lost a great deal of money and forced us to return to Boston. My mother made it quite clear to me that I was not to become a business man like my father. Despite his death in 1926 from pneumonia and overwork, I attended Governor Dummer Academy, a preparatory school in Newburyport, Massachusetts, which I graduated from in 1928.

The term “everyday” can be found in almost every qualitative sociological study done today, though its usage, meaning, and importance are often taken for granted. The everyday world has not always had such a prominent place, however. This paper examines the development of “the everyday” an as area of study through everyday life sociologies and cultural studies, using quilting to compare sociological usage to the development of the everyday as a topic in the arts in the 1960s. As a focal point for discussions of art hierarchies, as cultural resistance, and as a form of women's cultural production, quilting's role in everyday life illuminates the new way of seeing that everyday life sociologies developed.

Performance ethnography is concerned with more than just the descriptive documentation of culture; it's meant to elicit change by uncovering, critiquing, and – when successful – dislodging the personal and cultural assumptions that all too often go underinterrogated. It's also a public, discursive practice that takes as foundational the notion that we are co-participants in d/Discourse. But what happens once the performance is “over?” Or, put another way, is the performance ever really over? What are the aftereffects of calling on strangers to involve themselves in the rehashing of one's most uncomfortable memories? What changes take place within the writer of the ethnography? What part or parts of the performance can be identified, in retrospect, as transformational? By reevaluating one performance ethnography and proposing two new terms, “live text” and “dialogic discomfort,” this paper attempts to explore the relationship between written texts, live performances, shared discomfort, and the discursive production of self.

This is an experimental text with a performative cast, the aim of which is to enact, excavate, chronicle, and interrogate the racialized experiences and spectacles endured, consumed, and performed by the author in the course of a two-week stay at a Native American themed catholic summer camp during his youth. Following Philip J. Deloria, it is argued that the camp's history and appropriation of Native American culture eventuate in the formation of a highly racialized space where relatively well-off white children come to “play Indian,” a space that furthermore conspires in the construction and maintenance of “whiteness” as a cultural identity. The text is characterized by its multiple and rotating speaking parts and thus lends itself to both impromptu seminar readings as well as more elaborate forms of theatrical performance.

The controversy about performance ethnography and other new modes of sociological reporting in the US tends to be highly partisan and often uninformed. Toscano, one of a handful of symbolic interactionists in Italy, places new modes of reporting, which he calls “artistic performances,” in the proper historical and contextual perspective. He points out that the boundaries between art and everyday life and art and science are changing and can no longer be viewed as dichotomous and it is time to redefine the fluid relation between these different realms.Toscano identifies C. Wright Mills as the first sociologist to stress the relationship between the arts and sociology to the point of referring to his work as a “sociological poem.” Not coincidentally Norman Denzin and other supporters of new mode of sociological reporting invoke a return to C. Wright Mills, not only for his poetics of expression but for his quest and passion to help the downtrodden.Toscano analyzes the artistic productions of Goffman, Denzin, and others, focusing on the production of new sociologies that are no longer mere “texts” but become “performances.” He realizes that performance can only partially communicate the emotional struggle of those we study. Yet with its pathos and its passion performance can begin to melt the crystal palace of modernistic meta-theoretical sociology. Andrea Fontana; University of Nevada, Las Vegas

This article examines the prevalence of Hollywood blockbuster films, specifically 300, as popular ethnographies that contribute greatly to North American society's perspectives on “truth.” Within this article it is argued that films like 300 have become significant forms of pedagogical persuasion in North America and have contributed greatly to the discrimination and miseducation regarding people of the Middle-East. The overt dehumanization and vilification of ancient Persia in 300 and the movie's not so subtle comparisons to current political contexts are considered in regard to not only the West's view of the Other, but the sense of Self of those of Middle-Eastern origin. This paper speaks of the failings of qualitative methodologies and studies in responding to and promoting multicultural and “just society” concepts in North America and notes that in comparison to the mediums we use in our classrooms to counter its production of the “true” master narrative everything else has fallen short.

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Studies in Symbolic Interaction
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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