40th Anniversary of Studies in Symbolic Interaction: Volume 40


Table of contents

(27 chapters)

Rarely are we invited to know the where of a writer’s writing; not the stance or angle or point of view they take on their narrative, but rather, the physical space and time they occupy as they write. This, of course, is an integral facet of the writer’s craft – and perhaps art. Writers (or in this case, ethnographers) may write “winter wonderland” tales in summer, or pieces exploring the inner workings of mind while on an impressive, event-packed holiday. They may write with calm and ease while flying at 11,277 meters above the Tasman Sea in a jostling, raucous ride that tests the resolve of all who fly. They may end up taking notes at their chosen “site,” transcribing in cramped student quarters, and writing in between early-morning feedings. Does place (and, come to it, time) affect what they have to say? What they choose to write? How they – or we – interpret what “facts” or “data” or “evidences” they call to bear on their individual take of the “truth”?

Through the use of digital methods, representation of peoples’ self-perception of experiences becomes possible. Digital imagery presents opportunities to expand the way it is possible to convey the diverse information gathered in the field. To enable some of the communication of various unseen experiences of the chronic illnesses Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, I created, what I have called, hypertextual self-scape digital photographs through collaboration with participants which use a layering of information gathered in the field, including both seen and unseen experiences to create sensory embodied dialogue about the lifeworld. I will expand on this in greater detail as we continue, but briefly this means the use of art forms being used as a way to gather information and then using digital techniques to communicate the self-talk of lived experience. Images have the potential to expand our access to peoples’ lifeworld and I will take this further in the chapter to look at how altering an image increases the information that can be communicated. Just as the bodies of my participants do not reveal the truth about their experiences, the objects chosen do not tell the whole story about what they really represent. As a part of this discourse I will show how digital technologies have the potential to expand representations of experience. Imagery is another way to “write up” information gathered during the research and by embracing images and symbols through our method and our writing up of the research expands on the information which can be gathered and later communicated about participants’ lifeworld. The images I am using here act “not as observational and objectifying tools, but as routes to multisensorial knowing” (Pink, 2010, p. 99) and expand on the existing representations of chronic illness in the literature. We also view and interpret images in a different way to text, as I believe images offer a potential to engage in dialogue with the body in sensory discourse. Therefore, the purpose of this chapter is to advocate the use of digital technologies alongside research methodologies when looking at hidden experience and interiorities (Hogan & Pink, 2010; Irving, 2013).

This chapter “unpacks” a poster from the CEAD (Contemporary Ethnography Across the Disciplines) conference 2010 and re-situates it within an autoethnographic narrative. The poster presented a project that combined Evocative and Analytic modes in a visual ethnography focused on a collection of tourist photographs taken on Rarotonga in the South Pacific. The framing autoethnography finds in this project evidence of a distinctive tension in contemporary informationalized life between embodied life and data coordinates, plots, or maps of the spaces and times where life takes place. The chapter aligns two sets of terms: on one hand embodied life and the Evocative mode, on the other hand data coordinates/plots and the Analytic mode. With its focus on the photographic image, the chapter also suggests two further terms for both Evocative and Analytic investigation: the image as fantasy and the visual moment. The chapter takes the form of a layered performance text in order to explore these matters.

A central issue in contemporary dance ethnography is that of writing the somatic – the attempt to articulate kinesthetic, bodily sensations that emerge in a particular culture or context, within a research format (Ness, 2008; Sklar, 2000). Emerging methods including performance making and poetic, narrative, experimental, or performative writing create space for recognition of choreographic and sensory knowledges within ethnographic research.This chapter presents a case study that illustrates what I term “movement-initiated writing”: writing that emerges through dance making, wherein the dance ethnographer is a participant observer in studio practice. This emic approach attempts to translate the felt affects of a specific world of movement into performances sited in the terrains of pages. This mode of writing draws on Roland Barthes’ (1977) notion of the “grain of the voice,” Gilles Deleuze's concept of the “minor literature” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987), Hélène Cixous’s examples of écriture feminine (Cixous, 1991), and the field of performance writing.

In this chapter the authors take an auto-ethnographic approach to draw from recent experiences of being integrally involved in the death rituals pertaining to a close family member, ranging across three different cultural backgrounds, all located in Aotearoa New Zealand and involving intercultural complexities. All of these funeral proceedings were unusual circumstances, due to the status of the deceased, meaning that in all three instances, the rituals were very public, due to cultural expectations. Through narrative descriptions, this chapter illuminates the ways in which traditional cultural values are played out in contemporary contexts and their importance in providing a framework of support for the bereaved families through the mourning period, albeit in the public gaze. Despite the impacts of colonization, immigration, and globalization, these traditional practices, passed down through generation after generation, demonstrate their resilience and contemporary application in service of the emotional and spiritual well-being of the respective collectives.

Trans theory (also known as transgender studies) is a rapidly expanding interdisciplinary field in which activism, scholarship and lived experience are coalescing around questions of embodiment, personhood, and intersections of race/ethnicity/class/ability/gender/sexuality. Trans-themed research, whether explicitly located in trans theory or not, is a growing area of academic exploration. As a trans researcher and trans person, I am interested in two questions: how does autoethnography fit within trans and queer theory, and how can people who do not live in trans communities undertake ethical trans-related research? A symbolic interactionist perspective informs my understanding of trans theory and the social construction of identity and embodiment. I explore my own femme transmasculinity through autoethnography, and also consider my experience interviewing other trans people as part of researching masculinity. I suggest that researchers who are not trans (who are cisgendered, meaning they identify with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth) must accept that trans people have what Talia Bettcher (2009a, 2009b) terms First Person Authority over their embodiment, experience, and narratives. Having established this, I examine self-identification and intersubjective recognition in relation to my own experience of femme transmasculinity, asking what is femme incoherence and how does this relate to queer and trans theory/politics?

The civil wars between North and South Sudan have created one of the largest populations of displaced people in the world. This chapter introduces an ethnographic study with South Sudanese men who have resettled in Adelaide, Australia as former refugees and critically evaluates how they conceptualize and respond to trauma to highlight their agency and capacities to recover from difficult circumstances. The participants often used the term “slowly slowly” as an expression of working through adverse experiences to reduce the risk of retraumatization and as an approach to integrate into a new society. This chapter unpacks this phrase to highlight the complexities of conducting research with refugee communities and reinforces the need to maintain reflexivity, build interpersonal relationships and incorporate reciprocity to further consider the contested perspectives on trauma, resettlement, and recovery.

This chapter uses symbolic interactionism as a theoretical framework for considering data produced during two in-depth ethnographic investigations: one at Orco, a minerals processing facility; the other at RTE, the Rail Transport Executive of an urban region in Australia. It discusses the value of symbolic interactionism in revealing the detailed importance of interaction between managers and workers and, particularly, within specific workgroups. It argues that regular, repeated and intense interaction such as characterizes daily work in high-pressure occupations helps establish subcultures. It is then comparatively easy for a subculture group to develop its own values and meanings in opposition to those promulgated by management. The two case studies differ significantly around the organizational value placed on investigating injuries and accidents. In the Orco workplace, injury statistics are clearly communicated and workers believe that the “zero injury workplace” is a management priority. In the RTE, transit officer injuries are kept confidential and workers believe that a major purpose of investigations is to show how individual workers are at fault. In both cases, however, the work group has developed an informal safety culture at odds with that promoted by managers.The conclusion drawn by the end of the chapter is that managers seeking to influence the safety cultures of workers in dangerous and fraught occupations should pay close attention to the ways in which those workers operate at a symbolic distance from management. They should engage with the workers to understand the symbolic value placed by frontline staff upon the meanings attributed to safe work practices, and should collaborate together to develop a shared safety culture in which workers are protected by active management engagement in their symbolic reality. Where this occurs, workers’ perspectives are appreciated at the same time as their practices become more regulated and aligned with managerial wishes. Symbolic interactionism offers a rich perspective that takes into account the dynamism of changing circumstances and that works outwards from the thought processes of individuals through to interactions across entire organizations.

This chapter discusses the methodological underpinnings of a doctoral study that examined boys’ performances of gender in physical education (PE) at a single-sex secondary school in Auckland, New Zealand. Initial findings are also presented; however, they only serve to demonstrate the potential of such an approach and not as an exhaustive report of findings. Using a participatory visual research approach involving video recordings of boys participating in PE, the boys’ representations and interpretations of the visual data were explored during both focus groups and individual interviews. The boys’ visual representations and interpretations highlight how their performances of gender are embedded in the design and structure of the physical spaces and places associated with PE. Through a Foucauldian (poststructural) lens the boys’ responses also illuminate how the gendered self is performed in multiple, contradictory and fluid ways involving particular technologies of the self. Visual research methods that focus on young people’s visual representations and interpretations might help identify (gendered) identity issues that are seen as important to the students themselves. It creates a space for young people to critically think about, reflect, articulate, and reason their lived experiences, their relationships with their peers and more importantly themselves. The use of such research approaches has the potential of realizing one of the key aims of symbolic interactionism by opening up new analytical possibilities for understanding young people’s lived experiences in both formal and informal pedagogical contexts.

This chapter explores ethnographic fieldwork as embodied, material practice. It takes as its foundation the long-standing acknowledgement of the importance of ethnographers’ bodies in their work. Concepts and a range of theoretical sources are interwoven with reflections on my own fieldwork in a child and family health service in Sydney. The conceptual discussion begins with a framing of fieldwork as sociomaterial practice, following Schatzki, which highlights bodily and material dimensions of practice. These ideas are then reworked through a number of theoretical lenses, as metaphors of Möbius ribbons and grotesque bodies are used to reflect on relationships between body, mind, and materiality in ethnographic fieldwork.

In this chapter, I offer a critique of linguistic field methodology, exploring the contribution that a participant-driven approach to data collection can make to language documentation and description. Bringing together material from linguistic field manuals, project documentation, hand-written field notes, and reflexive accounts of my field experiences, I trace my journey into the field, and through the process of collecting language data for the eventual production of a grammatical description. I establish that the basic field methodology advocated by linguists has traditionally involved tightly structured interviewing (known as “elicitation”). At the same time, I point to a literature in which this methodology is critiqued. While experienced fieldworkers no doubt employ multiple methodologies in the field, novice fieldworkers are encouraged to focus on their research goals. This can mean that elicitation sessions typically become the only way in which fieldwork is carried out.Drawing on my own experiences in the field, I demonstrate that linguistic fieldwork can combine ethnographic participation/observation methodology with community-driven text collection, and context-rich techniques of elicitation. This layered methodology prioritises people and social participation over the goals of academic research. It allows the research record to be shaped by the community, thus permitting the researcher to experience and seek understandings of the symbolic system of language from the perspective of the community. In my experience, such a methodology enhances the sustainability of the field project from both community and researcher perspectives. Crucially, it creates a context in which it is more likely that the linguist will be invited to return to the field and contribute in an ongoing way to a community, on their terms.

The current chapter outlines the process through which New Religious Movement (NRM) membership is conceptualized as facilitating the development of increased reflexivity, in particular the development of an increased ability to connect to others. Based on the narratives of a subsample of 11 former members of NRMs for whom membership signified a desire for an increased ability to emotionally connect to others, a number of factors that are understood as having facilitated or inhibited this type of change were identified and are discussed. The findings extend previous theorizing of NRM as facilitating changes in the behaviors and beliefs of their members, and conceptualizes NRMs as possible avenues through which self-change at an emotional level can occur.

Since the 1950s four distinct inductive research traditions developed in California, following the migrations of Herbert Blumer, Erving Goffman, Anselm Strauss, Harold Garfinkel, Jack Douglas, and others. Each of these traditions has made intellectual, organizational, service, pedagogical, financial, and personal contributions to the growth and development of symbolic interaction.

Richard Ericson’s work taught us much about how institutional narratives reflect and promote social control. He demonstrated how institutional logics delineated the origin, nature, communicative forms and formats, and consequences of bureaucratic reasoning on a range of significant sociological topics, particularly power and social control. His contributions also illuminated how social institutions differ in social power, as well as the dominance of certain communication formats that, on the one hand, bind institutions to contemporary mass media forms that reached divergent audiences, while one the other hand, show that there is an institutional order and hierarchy that shape social policies and practices. This chapter examines some aspects of the organizational narrative about “terrorism” and highlights the reemergence of the “National Security University,” or a generic composite of direct relationships between the national security agencies and university administrations, academic programs, research support and agendas, as well as special academic lectures, colloquia, etc. Specifically, I wish to raise some issues surrounding the more recent pursuit of academic advice and legitimacy following the 9/11 “terror” attacks on the United States. Supported by the rhetoric of a never ending battle against terrorism, government and military “knowledge brokers” invited – and paid – academics to join in the fight, and they accepted it overwhelmingly.

A hockey riot occurred on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Riots involve crowds. The presence of social media changes the spatial and temporal elements of the crowd, a process that contributes to online collective interpretations of social events, including riots. A key element of this process concerns the definition of the situation. Using Qualitative Media Analysis, we illustrate how the researcher of everyday life can retrieve and examine an accumulation of “definitions of situations” from social media, a process that provides insight into collective interpretations, including how online users made sense of the Vancouver riot. We begin with a short overview of the riot, briefly profile collective behavior in relation to the definition of the situation, and contextualize the importance of media in this process. We then examine what select posts made on social media can tell us about collective meaning making in relation to the Vancouver riot. We conclude by suggesting some directions for future research.

Medical uncertainty is recognized as a critical issue in the sociology of diagnosis and medical sociology more generally, but a neglected focus of this concern is the question of patient decision making. Using a mixed methods approach that draws upon autoethnographic accounts and third-party interviews, we aim to illuminate the dilemmas of patient decision making in the face of uncertainty. How do patients and supportive caregivers go about navigating this state of affairs? What types of patient–doctor/healthcare professional relationships hinder or enhance effective patient decision making? These are the themes we explore in this study by following patients through the sequence of experiencing symptoms, seeking a diagnosis, evaluating treatment protocols, and receiving treatments. In general, three genres of culturally available narratives are revealed in the data: strategic, technoluxe, and unbearable health narratives.

Symbolical-interaction sociology is useful to mediators and relevant to mediation practice. It explores the elements of everyday social interaction including behavior of disputants during instances of conflict. In particular, Erving Goffman’s frame analysis offers mediators a practical tool useful in assessing and managing both the intellectual and emotional responses of disputants during mediation. Moreover, frame analysis can effectively guide mediators in assisting disputants to reorient their respective responses to each other and to the dispute, thereby enhancing opportunities for meaningful dialogue. In addition, Goffman’s game, drama, and ritual metaphors offer simple but powerful analytic tools guiding mediation clients through terrain which would otherwise be chaotic and overwhelming. Mediators committed to enhancing their practices and researchers in search of a sound theoretical base for effective dispute resolution can benefit substantially by applying these insights to the practice of mediation.

This piece is a review of the animal selfhood literature in sociology, organized into four main parts. First, I review the sociological literature of human–animal interactions, in which sociologists claim that animals possess selves. Second, I review how sociologists have referred to the self, from which I construct five criteria of selfhood, including self as attribution, self-awareness, intersubjectivity, self-concept/reflexivity, and narration. Third, I address how animals have selves using these criteria, drawing on sociological and ethological evidence. Fourth, I critique the animal interaction sociologists’ specific claims of animal selfhood, including their epistemological failure to distinguish between human accounts of animal subjectivities and animal subjectivities, and their empirical failure to show how animals act toward themselves. Ultimately, I conclude that animal selves, particularly in an elemental Meadian sense, are potentially real, but in most cases are unobservable or unverifiable phenomena.

This article provides rhetorical commentary to Ryan Turner’s arguments pertaining to animal self-hood. Turner’s assessments address one of the central lynchpins of Mead’s subordination of animals (and denial of animal selves), but he also presents a limited and selective review of Mead. In particular, in making his case for establishing the criteria for self-hood, Turner seems to ignore that temporal location, either in a static, individualistic, point-in-time, or more processual, social, and across time terms, becomes central to the question of animal selves. Turner also seems to minimize the extent to which animals can create complex coordination here and now, even employing dramaturgical sophistication as rotted in Goffman’s analysis of the self as performance. Despite his limited use of Mead and Goffman, however, Turner’s assessment of animal self-hood based on his criteria can stimulate interactionist inquiry into the similarities between animals and humans.

Although questions about nonhuman animal mind and selfhood have been a long-standing interest of philosophers, psychologists, biologists, and cognitive ethologists, sociologists have been reluctant to acknowledge the importance of such questions. This is due, in part, to George Herbert Mead’s denial of consciousness, especially self-consciousness, in animals. Indeed, the exclusion of nonhuman consciousness was a fundamental axiom of Mead’s very conceptions of mind and self. However, recently a growing number symbolic interactionists have begun to build a body of research that demands a reconsideration of Mead’s anthropocentric and phonocentric definitions of mind, self, and the nonhuman participants who cohabit the everyday world of social life. Here we provide a brief account of their work and present evidence from evolutionary biology, cognitive ethology, and neuroscience that strongly validates their contention that the processes of consciousness and self, which constitute the cornerstone of meaningful social action and interaction, can no longer be denied to several species of nonhuman animals.

David L. Altheide, Ph.D., is Emeritus Regents’ Professor of the Faculty of Justice and Social Inquiry in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, where he taught for 36 years. His work has focused on the role of mass media and information technology in social control. His most recent books are Qualitative media analysis (2nd ed., Sage, 2012) and Terror post 9/11 and the media (Lang, 2009). Altheide received the Cooley Award three times, given to the outstanding book in symbolic interaction, from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction: In 2007 for Terrorism and the politics of fear (2006); in 2004 for Creating fear: News and the construction of crisis (2002); and in 1986 for Media power (1985). Altheide received the 2005 George Herbert Mead Award for lifetime contributions from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction, and the society’s Mentor Achievement Award in 2007.

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Studies in Symbolic Interaction
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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