Studies in Symbolic Interaction: Volume 33


Table of contents

(30 chapters)

I am pleased to introduce the second issue in Studies in Symbolic Interaction's “Blue Ribbon Paper” series. In contrast to the chapters in the first issue that focused exclusively on theoretical matters, the chapters in this one are focused on empirical problems. In John Johnson's and Andrew Melnikov's provocative article, “The Wisdom of Distrust: Reflections on Ukrainian Society and Sociology,” they examine the results of a nation-wide poll that shows among other things that Ukrainian citizenry paradoxically displays little faith in any of the branches of their democratically elected government. On the one hand, this finding is paradoxical because democracy is a relatively new experience for present day Ukrainians. Since their country had been for years a puppet state of the former Soviet Union, one would think that they now would be elated by the opportunity to elect their leaders. On the other hand, the founding fathers of our nation also displayed considerable distrust in government, including democratically elected ones, such as our own. In fact, their distrust was so great that it led them to build into our constitution an intricate system of checks and balances of power among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government. Although conventional psychological wisdom is that distrust of others is a sign of paranoia, Johnson and Melinkov conclude that being wary of governmental institutions and politicians may be a healthy state of affairs for a country's citizens.

Ukraine regained its independence in 1991, following over 7 decades of soviet domination, and about 300 years of Russian domination. Democracy and stable institutional development have proven problematic for Ukraine since 1991, arguably more so than any of the other Eastern European countries. Unlike the increasing economic development in the other countries, for example, per capita GNP in Ukraine has decreased by approximately 50% in the last decade. President Viktor Yushchenko's “Orange Revolution” has promised certain westernized economic reforms, but political opposition has forced a new election scheduled for September 30, 2007.

This chapter pays particular attention to the place of song introductions as an integral feature of public performance. Locating this analysis within the subculture of contemporary folk music, I demonstrate how song introductions can accomplish six important things: (1) provide an interpretive frame for understanding a performance, (2) cast performances in emotive terms, (3) situate performances in the larger context of marketing and sales, (4) contribute to moral entrepreneurial agendas, (5) align the performer's actions, and (6) offer a venue for making disclaimers. By demonstrating how performers accomplish these things, I locate song introductions within the larger context of situating public performances more generally.

The mobile telephone is an omnipresent feature of daily life. Mobile phone technology was made readily available to the general public in the early 1980s. A “ringtone” is the sound broadcast from a mobile telephone indicating an incoming call. The ringtones of early 1980's mobile phones usually consisted of a few pre-programmed monophonic (single melodic line) sounds. These tones had no significance or practical use other than as indicators of social status (of having a mobile phone) and to alert the listener to an incoming call. The increasing popularity of ringtone “realtones” has prompted the need to empirically investigate the way these new technologies affect how people manage the impressions they make on others. Elaborating on Goffman's presentation of self-thesis, this research note establishes the importance of ringtone technology in situating youthful identities in contemporary society. Implications for future research are discussed.

The production of an ethnographic film offers a ‘way of seeing’ for researchers exploring the lives of others, and one that remains open to further interpretation. The film Home, directed by Jeff Togman, documents a momentous 10 weeks in the lives of Sheree Farmer and Mary Abernathy, as they participate in a project designed to move selected families out of the Newark slums to new houses in a ‘better area’. Home also includes interviews with others concerned in the project, and images of the local area where the old and the new houses are located. What the film reveals is the complexity of the emotional and social, rather than simply the legal and economic, decision-making process surrounding the proposed move. It also shows how two people, depending on whether or not they are part of the dominant social group, can perceive an apparently golden and life-changing opportunity very differently. Ultimately, Home gives an insight into the lived experience of a lone mother's participation in a neighbourhood regeneration project, and powerfully calls into question the values that underpin much of our thinking about how problems of poverty and neighbourhood could, and should, be resolved.

This chapter delineates the interactional structure of flirtation. Refining Simmel's analysis, I show flirtation as a way in which two time frames are continuously maintained within the same interaction. Rather than moving into a future interaction by using what I term “actualization practices” – actions which thrust the present interaction into a future – interactants simultaneously use practices from both time frames, careful not to irrevocably shift the situation. The management of interactional ambiguity in flirtation is then analyzed as a key to examine other ambiguous or “suspended” interactions, where interactants must work to keep different potential future possibilities open.

Growing up in a small (l,000) Nevada town in the l930s and 1940s, I acquired a neophyte's sociological eye and sensibility, though, of course, not an analytical framework from which to make sense of that social world. The everyday life in that little town encouraged perception of subtle, but nevertheless very sharp social, cultural, economic, racial, gender, and class differences among its residents.

The fundamental issue of this thematic section, as phrased in abstract terms by hooks (1992, p. 23), is that the consumption of racial difference, or as she puts it, “eating the other,” and its profound effects: “When race and ethnicity become commodified as resources for pleasure, the culture of specific groups as well as the bodies of individuals, can be seen as constituting an alternative playground where members of dominating races…affirm their power-over.” Though this nicely encapsulates the subject at hand and associated consequences, it does little to contextualize or account for changes over time – both of which are crucial if are engage commodity racism now.

In an era of global economic expansion, the harsh underside of capitalism clearly affects human subjectivities and consciousness.1 Emotions, which both express and structure subjectivity and consciousness, reflect and manifest the social reality of human life in its various globalized dimensions. My argument in this chapter thus concerns the ways in which the contradictions as the harsh underside of capitalism affect the subjectivities of racial minorities. For this reason, the relationship between emotions and commodity capitalism is an especially pressing concern for the formation and expression of racial identity in the United States today. To understand the social reality of race in the U.S. capitalist system is to take seriously the affects that express and constitute the critical social thought of racial minorities. As African Americanist scholars such as Cornel West (1994, p. 42) have argued, the ideology of unregulated capital in corporate consumerism creates market moralities and market mentalities that “erode civil society.” The critical thought of black Americans, West (1992, p. 42) avers, suffers irreparable damage by images that relentlessly commercialize the so-called good life:These seductive images contribute to the predominance of the market-inspired way of life over all others – and thereby edge out nonmarket values – love, care, service to others – handed down by preceding generations. The predominance of this way of life among those living in poverty-ridden conditions, with a limited capacity to ward off self-contempt and self-hatred, results in the possible triumph of the nihilistic threat in black America.Corporations thus capitalize on civil rights gains while commodifying the activist politics of communities and governmental organizations. In effect, the “status quo” of government that promotes economic justice and civil rights protections is fragmented and replaced by corporate domination and the rule of the free market. Instead of turning to non-commercial avenues of civil society to change oppressive relations of power, Americans opt for consuming social change in a laissez-faire economy that equates individualism and free choice with purchasing merchandise. In her powerful critique of class privilege and consumption-based individualism, Bell Hooks (2000, p. 81) explains how the media's use of race to promote a “shared culture of consumerism” vitiates community values and deflects attention from class antagonism. Such consumerism, Hooks maintains, promotes ambitions for lifestyles of conspicuous consumption and celebrity that renders incoherent and undesirable a democratic sensibility that made civil rights gains for women and minorities possible in the first place (Bell Hooks, 2000, p. 77).

During early childhood, Indians and non-Indians learn a definition of “Indianness” (Merskin, 1998, p. 159). Around 18 months of age, human beings begin to recognize themselves as distinct and separate from their mothers and others (Lacan, 1977). By age 6, most attributes of personality formation are already established (Biber, 1984). The content of the information that consciously and unconsciously reaches children is critical for the formation of a healthy, grounded sense of self and respect for others. Today, in the absence of personal interaction with an indigenous person, non-Indian perceptions inevitably come from other sources. These mental images, the “pictures in our heads” as Lippmann (1922/1961, p. 33) calls them, come from parents, teachers, textbooks, movies, television programs, cartoons, songs, commercials, art, and product logos. American Indian images, music, and names have, since the beginning of the 20th century, been incorporated into many American advertising campaigns and marketing efforts, demarcating and consuming Indian as exotic “Other” in the popular imagination (Merskin, 1998). Whereas a century ago sheet music covers and patent medicine bottles featured “coppery, feather-topped visage of the Indian” (Larson, 1937, p. 338), today's Land O’ Lake's butter boxes display a doe-eyed, buckskin-clad Indian “princess.” The fact that there never were Indian “princesses” (a European concept), and most Indians do not have the kind of European features and social “availability” that trade characters do, goes largely unquestioned. These stereotypes are pervasive, but not necessarily consistent, varying over time and place from the “artificially idealistic” (noble savage) to images of “mystical environmentalists or uneducated, alcoholic bingo-players confined to reservations” (Mihesuah, 1996, p. 9). Today, a trip down the grocery store aisle still reveals ice cream bars, beef jerky, corn meal, baking powder, malt liquor, butter, honey, sugar, sour cream, chewing tobacco packages, and a plethora of other products emblazoned with images of American Indians. To discern how labels on products and brand names reinforce long-held stereotypical beliefs, we must consider embedded ideological beliefs that perpetuate and reinforce this process.

Dear reader, lift your eyes momentarily from these words and look around you, to observe how this world is fraught with traces of the East, the yeast fermenting your very existence. Your clothes, your food, your Sony television, your Honda Accord, etc. Even the physical distance between you and the East is blurred as the shirt made in China rubs against and seeps into the atoms of your skin, as the Kimchi Ramen from Korea enters your entrails, as images displayed on your Sony television are reflected upside down at the back of your eyeballs, as the very thought of yEast now leavens in your mind – “leaven” as in “the Levant,” the rising of the sun, hence the East.

Although the commodification of black bodies amid state violence and widespread racism is nothing new, considering the histories of Hollywood, jazz, minstrelsy, or even athletes enslaved on plantations (Rhoden, 2006), the hyper commodification of the contemporary black athlete, alongside expansive processes of globalization, growth in the profitability of black bodies, and their importance within colorblind discourse, demonstrates the importance of commodification within our new racist moment. Likewise, the shrinking opportunities afforded to African American youth, alongside clear messages about the path to desired black masculinity (Neal, 2005; Watkins, 1998; West, 1994), push black youth into a sports world where the possibility of striking it rich leads to a “win at all costs” attitude. Robin Kelley argues that African American youth participate in sports or engage in other cultural practices as an attempt to resist or negotiate the inherent contradictions of post-industrial American capitalism (Kelley, 1998). Patricia Hill Collins describes this process in the following terms: “Recognizing that black culture was a marketable commodity, they put it up for sale, selling an essentialized black culture that white youth could emulate yet never own. These message was clear – ‘the world may be against us, but we are here and we intend to get paid’” (Collins, 2006, p. 298). Celia Lury concurs, noting that heightened levels of commodification embody a shift from a racial logic defined by scientific racism to one centering on cultural difference. She argues that commodity racism “has contributed to shifts in how racism operates, specifically to the shift from a racism tied to biological understandings of ‘race’ in which identity is fixed or naturalized to a racism in which ‘race’ is a cultural category in which racial identity is represented as a matter of style, and is the subject of choice” (Lury, 1996, p. 169; as quoted in Spencer, 2004, p. 123). In the context of new racism, as manifested in heightened levels of commodification of Othered bodies, racial identity is simply a choice, but a cultural marker that can be celebrated and sold, policed, or demonized with little questions about racial implications (Spencer, 2004, pp. 123–125). Blackness, thus, becomes little more than a culture style, something that can be sold on Ebay and tried on at the ball or some something that needs to be policed or driven out-of-existence. Race is conceptualized “as a matter of style, something that can be put on or taken off at will” (Willis as quoted in Spencer, 2004, p. 123). Collins notes further that the process of commodification is not simply about selling “an essentialized black culture,” but rather a particular construction of blackness that has proven beneficial to white owners. “Athletes and criminals alike are profitable, not for the vast majority of African American men, but for people who own the teams, control the media, provide food, clothing and telephone services, and who consume seemingly endless images of pimps, hustlers, rapists, and felons” (2006, p. 311). bell hooks, who describes this process as “eating the other,” sees profit and ideology as crucial to understanding the commodification of black bodies. “When race and ethnicity become commodified as resources for pleasure, the culture of specific groups, as well as the bodies of individuals, can be seen as constituting an alternative playground where members of dominating races…affirm their power-over in intimate relations with the other” (Hooks, 1992, p. 23). She, along with Collins, emphasizes the importance of sex and sexuality, within this processes of commodification, arguing that commodification of black male (and female) bodies emanates from and reproduces longstanding mythologies regarding black sexual power.

Framing “Polynesia” as a touristic commodity needs to be critically tied to the cultures of imperialism that practiced both scientific racism and produced the commodity spectacle as means to rationalize the often-violent project of “civilizing.” In the late 1800s, during the second wave of European and American colonization, the cultural realm mitigated the violence and facilitated the undertaking of empire by the masses as well as providing a space for uneven and heterogeneous responses to colonialism (Pease, 1993). Foremost among these cultural technologies were the advertising industry and the world's fairs. Displaying the technological prowess and progress of American and European civilization alongside the sideshows of “other,” less civilized cultures, the fairs worked to sell the project of expansion to its audience. For Robert Rydell (1987), these world's fairs were an effective tool of “the legitimizing ideology offered to a nation torn by class conflict” as well as racial and gender discord (p. 193). Empire was seen to solve these domestic pressures by offering a unifying national project of Manifest Destiny.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations have become more popular in the United States than in Mexico. In the past few decades, this historic day has changed from a regional celebration of Mexican American culture into nationwide Latino/a holiday hijacked by the alcohol industry and other commercial interests. This chapter closely examines the varied ways in which Cinco de Mayo has been represented by U.S. advertisers, marketers, and restaurant owners. Using content analysis of Cinco de Mayo advertisements in magazines, billboards, liquor ads, and store displays from 2000 to 2006, five mediated representations emerged: Mexico's Fourth of July, Mexican St. Patrick's Day, Drinko de Mayo, Sexism in a Bottle, and Mexican Otherness. These representations are anchored in a new racism ideology that emphasizes cultural difference, individualism, liberalism, and colorblindness, which reinforce existing racial inequalities. The implications of the alcohol industry's Cinco de Mayo advertisements is the increased targeting of Latino/a youth from working-class communities with high rates of alcohol-related violent deaths and illnesses.

Frieda brought her four graham crackers on a saucer and some milk in a blue-and-white Shirley Temple cup. She was a long time with the milk, and gazed fondly at the silhouette of Shirley Temple's dimpled face. Frieda and she had a loving conversation about how cu-ute Shirley Temple was. I couldn't join them in their adoration because I hated Shirley. Not because she was cute, but because she danced with Bojangles, was myfriend, myuncle, mydaddy, and who ought to have been soft-shoeing and chuckling with me. Instead he was enjoying, sharing, giving a lovely dance thing with one of those little white girls whose socks never slid down under their heals. So I said, “I like Jane Withers.” (Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, 2000 p. 19)

Commodity racism, as conceived by Anne McClintock (1995), describes a novel cultural formation, binding difference, power, and consumption to one another, a creation at the interface of imperialism and industrialism in the late 19th century that offered an emergent language to simultaneously make sense of difference, fashion identity, cultivate desire, and sell stuff. Importantly, as it remapped the world, placing peoples and cultures in ranked social locations, it also reconfigured gender, the body, and taste as it rerouted the flows between public and private spheres. At its core, as expressed quite clearly in the soap advertisements McClintock analyzes, commodity racism stated the (then) accepted facts of white supremacy, underscoring the propriety of imperial expansion and settling, in many ways, for consumers hailed through it the racial question of the day.

Before I begin, I want to recognize and thank Sarina Chen, who has been the quiet muscle power who pulled this exciting plenary session together. [Stand] – and say how much I have enjoyed our e-mail exchanges over the last year.

I will suggest two things about propaganda: First, that the propaganda campaign was successful because of “new propaganda” akin to “public diplomacy” that was used “against” other countries, but it was turned on citizens of the United States; Second, that propaganda narratives both “pro” and “con” – in our case, the Bush Administration and an opposing view such as 9/11 Truth – not only distort reality, but are being shaped by new information technologies, for example, videos and the Internet, which play off members’ experience with popular culture and entertainment media, on the one hand, while, on the other hand, promoting sub-plots that reaffirm the dominant narrative and counter-narrative. Missing, as usual, is the sociological narrative, about how reality gets constructed through symbolic meanings that are routinized and flow into the culture stream of myth and “what everyone knows.” I will try to tell that, too.

David Altheide has provided a sociological story that may not resemble the fabled bed time stories of your youth, or even the moral parables that guide our commonsensical understanding of the everyday world. However, the story has some resemblance to Hans Christian Anderson's “The Emperor's Clothes,” especially with regard to his observation that we Americans have accepted and complied with policies, directives, and rationalizations that seemed problematic in the first place and downright odious in retrospect (see Cetola, Willer, & Macy, 2005, pp. 1010–1011). Just as Denzin (2007, pp. 449–451) noted with regard to the “one percent doctrine” (if something can happen once it will therefore happen again), Altheide points out the simple fact that our fears, lacking logical premise, have instead become dressed up in vivid colors on television screens. We as citizens seem mesmerized by an apparently inevitable concept that if we fear it, it will indeed come. A few years ago Glassner (2000) discussed how fear mongers create a false logic of inevitability. Currently, Altheide extends this argument to show how such logic has become clothed in the regalia of patriotism, news void of context, and incessant anger.

This chapter in honor of Bernard N. Meltzer briefly reflects on what are the basic assumptions, foundational issues, and seminal concepts of symbolic interactionism (SI), a topic that Bernie and I discussed for nearly two decades. It reviews those concerns, but makes no attempt to survey the many varieties of SI. I center the rise of SI as one response to the nature-nurture controversy between 1870 and 1940. SI's response to that controversy emphasized the interaction of structure and agency through which humans are constructed by society as they are in the process of constructing it. A number of concerns defines the essentials of SI: behaviorism versus minded behavior; antideterminism, structure, and agency; chance and emergence: ontological and methodological implications; selves, language, and role-taking; and symbols, meaning, and transformation. I conclude with a comment on Meltzer's role in developing Central Michigan University as a regional center of SI.

The established role of communication in sustainability studies is mainly to transmit information, about or for sustainability: disciplinary knowledge or mobilization of popular support. This chapter addresses the sustainability of communication itself, with a performance accounting framework for sustainability of organizational communication. The organizational emphasis derives from incorporating basic concepts from the work of James R. Taylor and the “Montreal School” approach to theorizing organizational communication. Communication as “text” (discursive formats and genres) and “conversation” (interactive, situational sense-making, and exchange) is assessed according to narrative and dramatistic logics in addition to instrumental ones; and sustainability standards are applied to “triadic” dimensions of communications: (1) the physical-artifactual substratum, or “carriers” of communication, including technologies, (2) symbolic forms that convey information, meanings, and ideologies, and (3) relations and interactions of communicative role-playing. The goal is to provide for sustainable knowledge, meaning, and participation mainly in organizational settings.

The sociology of professions literature has theorized that the professions are undergoing a dramatic transformation from being traditional professions to “entrepreneurial professions” populated by “knowledge workers.” In part, this transformation is associated with the commodification and commercialization of professional endeavor.

Our purpose is to enlist the processual ordering perspective to examine the ongoing transformation of the Big 5 (and following the collapse of Arthur Andersen during our field study)/4 public accounting firms to become entrepreneurial firms populated by global knowledge experts. More specifically, we focus on the inter-play of power and meta-power across three moments of the social construction process – externalization, objectivation, and internalization – through which the ethos of entrepreneurialism is being socially constructed within these firms, their individual members, and in the public accounting profession. Finally, we explore impressions gleaned from our qualitative, naturalistic field study.

This chapter compares and contrasts the British invasion and punk rock as mystified, post-performance products. Expanding on Goffman's notion of mystification to discuss texts that emerged from performances and drawing on Mannheim's distinction between ideological and utopian perspectives, we discuss the British invasion as bound to elite interpretations of mystified products and punk rock as bound to more provincial and anti-elitist interpretations. We note that despite differences, both genres involve, to varying degrees, mystifying differences, mystifying legendary status, and mystifying popularity itself. The discussion of both musical genres compliments and affirms previous analyses, especially the analysis of punk rock as a dramaturgical and utopian version of play.

This chapter investigates the use of prospective (i.e., future oriented) narratives as rhetorical devices in public discourse. Drawing on recent narrative research and Northrop Frye's discussion of generic narrative forms in literature, I contrast the classic Romantic Narrative of America's occupation of Iraq presented in President Bush's State of the Union Addresses (SUAs) over the last 6 years of his presidency with the alternative narrative projected in the Democratic Party's formal responses to those addresses. My analysis demonstrates how Bush's story of America's actions in Iraq was constructed through the course of those speeches – by exploiting both narrative form and temporality – and how it constrained the articulation of counter narratives by the Democrats. The results support the general thesis that, by virtue of a neo-rhetoric centered around strategic frames and culturally resonant narratives, the Bush Administration in particular and conservatives in general successfully dictated public discourse on important national issues.

This chapter summarizes and explicates the work of Kenneth Liberman, an exemplary but underappreciated practitioner of ethnomethodology for the past 30 years. Four paradoxes or tensions organize the discussion. First, Liberman is highly confident that confidence is almost always unwarranted. Second, Liberman is extremely skeptical yet respectful of ordinary knowledge and practices. Third, Liberman insists that meaning is not inherent even while he tries to faithfully study and represent reality. Fourth, Liberman attempts to do work that benefits various individuals and groups, but he believes that the self is illusory and that social problems are interpretations. These four themes are common (but not universal) in ethnomethodological scholarship. Consequently, Liberman's work can be used as an instructive point of entry into that form of inquiry.

This account of a field experience is written in the form of a reverie, to match the conditions that gave rise to it. It emerges from my long-term study of the Burning Man festival, a massive countercultural communal celebration of aesthetic immediacy held annually in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Marked by the suspension of ordinary commerce in favor of a gift economy, the spectacle culminates in the torching of an enormous effigy. This experimental ethnography follows in the symbolic interactionist tradition of an earlier tale told by Andrea Fontana.11Fontana, Andrea (2001), “Salt Fever: An Ethnographic Narrative in Four Sections,” Studies in Symbolic Interaction, 24: 147–163.“Urethral awakening dream.”

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