Radical Interactionism on the Rise: Volume 41

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(15 chapters)
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Abstract

In this chapter, the approach of radical interactionism is juxtaposed against symbolic interactionism, its older conservative turned rival cousin, to highlight primarily the major differences between them. The five key differences identified are as follows: (1) the major progenitors for symbolic interactionism are Mead and Blumer, while those for radical interactionism are Park and, by default, myself; (2) although radical interactionism presumes that domination and power are always of great importance for understanding human group life, symbolic interactionism assumes that they now have only limited importance for understanding it; (3) radical interactionism makes it mandatory for researchers to examine the role of dominance and power during social interaction, whereas symbolic interactionism makes it only discretionary; (4) while radical interactionism stresses the impact of individuals’ and groups’ unstated assumptions on their interaction with one another, symbolic interactionism de-emphasizes their impact on it; and finally (5) radical interactionism discourages, while symbolic interactionism encourages researchers falling into the trap of linguistic phenomenalism. Thus, unlike radical interactionism, symbolic interactionism facilitates sociologists not only falling prey to linguistic phenomenalism, but also conservative and idealistic biases, while allegedly conducting “value-free research.”

Abstract

Because, for George Herbert Mead, the “social act” is the basic unit of analysis for understanding human social existence, and thereby, his entire body of thought, it demands much more critical attention than it thus far has received from sociologists. Here, his notion of the social act will be critically examined – in terms of his definition of social action, the underlying organizing principle he uses to explain it, the different fundamental forms of social action he identifies, and the basic operating elements that he contends comprise these forms – for the purpose of developing a better conception of social action than he provided. Mead sees social action as organized on the basis of “sociality,” expressing itself in two fundamental forms – “cooperative” and “conflictive.” He also views the cooperative form as comprised of five basic elements – attitudes, roles, significant symbols, attitudinal assumption, and common social objects – while the conflictive form is comprised of only the first four elements. After a critical examination of Mead’s social act is completed, an alternative and improved conception of social action, with domination as its organizing principle, is proffered. More importantly, it is argued that this new notion of social action, termed the “collective act,” provides the grounds for the development of a novel interactionist perspective, dubbed here “radical interactionism,” which is based on the principle of domination rather sociality. Thus, this new interactionist perspective, is dramatically different from the traditional interactionist perspective Mead and Blumer developed.

Abstract

George Herbert Mead developed a sophisticated social and pragmatist model of science, which has escaped the attention of most modern-day scholars and symbolic interactionists. While Mead’s insights have much to offer to contemporary interactionist studies of science and technology, they are not without their shortcomings. In his analyses, Mead tends to put most of his emphasis on the concrete micro-foundations of knowledge production and the functional necessity of science as a problem-solving institution par excellence, yet he fails to seriously question the role of power and domination within the competitive terrain of scientific fields. Lonnie Athens has attempted to reconstitute the basic assumptions of symbolic interactionism by insisting that domination, rather than mere sociality, is the foundation of human existence, since the root of all social acts are comprised of super- and subordinate relations. Changing our fundamental assumptions about social action thus forces us to ask new questions about the micro- and macro-processes we explore in our research. By applying this radicalized lens to Mead’s view of science, I attempt to forge a new interactionist approach, which would better connect with and contribute to the critical wing of the science studies tradition.

Abstract

Dewey, through his contributions to pragmatism (America’s sole original philosophy), has long been considered relative to symbolic interactionism (SI), which emerged from that philosophy. His impact on SI, while falling short of those of Mead and Cooley, has mainly come from (and has been limited to) concepts and insights developed in Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology (1922/1957) and his earlier, seminal, article, “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology,” published in 1896 during his tenure at the University of Chicago (1894–1904). SI, however, has wrongly ignored Dewey’s political theory, especially his concept of domination. In order to rectify this inattention, I summarize the social and historical contexts that motivated Dewey’s turn toward domination; outline the radical nature of his political theory; illustrate similarities of his political theory with Marx’s; expatiate on his concept of domination, including his argument for social practices to reduce surplus domination; and explicate the theoretical and political implications of taking his political theory seriously.

Abstract

The sociology of education has various traditions which examine the connections between education, culture, and inequality. Two of these traditions, symbolic interactionism and critical theory, tend to ignore each other. This paper creates a dialogue between these traditions by applying symbolic interactionist (SI) and radical interactionist (RSI) sensibilities to an important study for resistance theory, Paul Willis’ classic ethnography Learning to Labor (1977). The SI reading of Learning to Labor emphasizes the importance of group interactions and the creation of meaning, while the RSI reading highlights how domination unfolds in social interaction. We argue that SI and RSI have much to offer Learning to Labor, as these readings can avoid some of the critiques commonly leveled on the book regarding the linkage between theory and data, structure and agency, and the book’s conceptualization of culture. Likewise, we argue that the data in Learning to Labor have much to offer SI and RSI, as the material provides grist to further understand the role of symbols in domination while identifying escalating dominance encounters that create a set of patterned interactions that we describe as a “grinding” social order.

Abstract

In this chapter I attempt to merge Athens’ conception of domination as a complex interactionist concept with Goffman’s notion of demeanor and deference as lynchpins of dramaturgical analysis. I ground the merger in an analysis of metaphorical duel between a superordinate and subordinate in the TV show Mad Men. The examination of this metaphorical dual also implies a connection between a radical interactionism as defined by Athens and a radical dramaturgy informed by Athens’ conception of domination. In particular, I propose an examination of civil domination within institutionalized settings in which use of shared pasts and concomitant acts of demeanor and deference enhance the construction of domination between superordinates and subordinates. The fictional representation of a metaphorical duel in the television show Mad Men depicts a struggle for control in which the superordinate demands that a willful subordinate sign a contract which will bind the subordinate to a particular place for an extended period of time. The examination of events leading to signing reveals a complex weave of social acts that combines the force of domination with the artistry of demeanor and deference.

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Abstract

This essay argues for a a radical interactionist framework using autoethnographic tools as well as critical feminist perspectives. Not all “masculine” systems are necessarily all “evil” and “feminist” systems are not unambiguously good, devoid of context. The vantage point from which I engage Lonnie Athens’ work on radical interactionism is rooted personally and professionally: as a woman of color who was formerly a tenured Associate Professor of English and Humanities turned joint Juris Doctor in Law and Women’s Studies Graduate and Teaching Fellow in Women’s Studies.

An autoethnographic exploration of critical pedagogies, as practiced by law professors, concretely shows that a radical interactionist framework more accurately describes the fluctuating borders of power in the classroom. In addition, feminist critiques against Athens’ work, as evidenced, for example, by Deegan’s critique of the “patriarchal” type of “Chicago pragmatism” practiced by Mead, suffer from similar simplistic binaries as Noddings’ “ethic of care” – which reduces gender to sex, and unconditionally idealizes the “feminine” as “feminist.” Most importantly, this biologically determinist perspective does not take into the account the lived realities of lesbians and women of color, for whom the principle of domination is always, already a part of the worlds into which they are flung.

This chapter closes with an examination of how an acceptance of the radical interactionist principle of domination combined with an intersectional approach, rather than a binary of gender, could yield fruitful results in new areas of application, such as international human rights, and critical race theory and criminal law.

Abstract

Athens’ Radical Interactionism and Rorty’s neopragmatism represent two differing interpretations of pragmatist philosophy that are used to inform contemporary approaches to social inquiry. Athens’ and Rorty’s views differ greatly in their positions on the implications of a Darwinian worldview, leading to different perspectives on the value and role of truth, scientific method, and rationality in engaging in social inquiry and political reform. By tracing out the differences between Radical Interactionism and neopragmatism with respect to epistemology, social science, and political reform, I show that Athens’ Radical Interactionism accomplishes more to inform concrete social inquiry and political change. While Rorty’s neopragmatism helps readers to situate pragmatist-inspired inquiry in its evolutionary context, his work provided little guidance for social science. Conversely, Athens’ Radical Interactionism expands upon the value of a pragmatist version of rationality and scientific method, directing researchers’ attention to domination and dominance orders in contemporary social life. Furthermore, the Darwinian underpinnings of both Athens’ and Rorty’s pragmatist-inspired philosophies suggests that concepts in social inquiry are to be understood as sensitizing as opposed to definitive. As such, Athens’ Radical Interactionism remains true to the pluralistic thrust of pragmatist philosophy by conveying domination as a sensitizing concept in contrast to a more neo-positivist definitive concept.

Cover of Radical Interactionism on the Rise
DOI
10.1108/S0163-2396(2013)41
Publication date
2013-10-16
Book series
Studies in Symbolic Interaction
Editor
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78190-785-6
eISBN
978-1-78190-785-6
Book series ISSN
0163-2396