Understanding Social Interaction

Understanding Social Interaction

In sociology, social interaction is a dynamic, changing sequence of social actions between individuals or groups.

Learning Objectives

Review the four types of social interactions: accidental, repeated, regular, and regulated

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A social interaction is an exchange between two or more individuals and is a building block of society. Social interaction can be studied between groups of two (dyads), three (triads) or larger social groups.
  • By interacting with one another, people design rules, institutions and systems within which they seek to live. Symbols are used to communicate the expectations of a given society to those new to it.
  • The empirical study of social interaction is one of the subjects of microsociology. Methods includes symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology as well as later academic sub-divisions and studies such as psychosocial studies, conversational analysis and human-computer interaction.
  • With symbolic interactionism, reality is seen as social, developed interaction with others. Ethnomethodology questions how people’s interactions can create the illusion of a shared social order despite not understanding each other fully and having differing perspectives.

Key Terms

  • dyad: A pair of things standing in particular relation; dyadic relation.
  • Social Interaction: A social exchange between two or more individuals.
  • social group: A collection of humans or animals that share certain characteristics, interact with one another, accept expectations and obligations as members of the group, and share a common identity.

In sociology, social interaction is a dynamic sequence of social actions between individuals (or groups) who modify their actions and reactions due to actions by their interaction partner(s). Social interactions can be differentiated into accidental, repeated, regular and regulated.

A social interaction is a social exchange between two or more individuals. These interactions form the basis for social structure and therefore are a key object of basic social inquiry and analysis. Social interaction can be studied between groups of two (dyads), three (triads) or larger social groups.

Social structures and cultures are founded upon social interactions. By interacting with one another, people design rules, institutions and systems within which they seek to live. Symbols are used to communicate the expectations of a given society to those new to it, either children or outsiders. Through this broad schema of social development, one sees how social interaction lies at its core.

The empirical study of social interaction is one of the subjects of microsociology, which concerns the nature of everyday human social interactions and agency on a small scale. Methods include symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology, as well as later academic sub-divisions and studies like psychosocial studies, conversational analysis and human-computer interaction.

With symbolic interactionism, reality is seen as social, developed interaction with others. It argues that both individuals and society cannot be separated far from each other for two reasons. One being that they are both created through social interaction. The second reason is they cannot be understood in terms without the other. Ethnomethodology, an offshoot of symbolic interactionism, which questions how people’s interactions can create the illusion of a shared social order despite not understanding each other fully and having differing perspectives.

Ethnomethodology

Ethnomethodology studies procedures people carry out in order to create a sense of orderliness within a particular institution or community.

Learning Objectives

Identify the three ways ethnomethodology differs from traditional sociology and how sociologists define the various methods of ethnomethodology, specifically fundamental assumption, ethnomethodological indifference, first time through, and Sack’s Gloss

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Ethnomethodology ‘s goal is to document the methods and practices through which society ‘s members make sense of their worlds.
  • Anne Rawls characterizes the fundamental assumption of ethnomethodological studies, saying, “members of society must have some shared methods that they use to mutually construct the meaningful orderliness of social situations”.
  • Ethnomethodology is different from traditional sociology because it is not as concerned by the analysis of society, but rather by the procedures through which social order is produced.
  • In contrast to traditional sociological forms of inquiry, the ethnomethodological perspective does not make theoretical or methodological appeals to outside assumptions regarding the structure of an actor or actors’ characterization of social reality.

Key Terms

  • ethnomethodology: An academic discipline that attempts to understand the social orders people use to make sense of the world through analyzing their accounts and descriptions of their day-to-day experiences.
  • agnosticism: The view that the existence of God or of all deities is unknown, unknowable, unproven, or unprovable.
  • Harold Garfinkel: He is known for establishing and developing ethnomethodology as a field of inquiry in sociology.

Ethnomethodology is an ethnographic approach to sociological inquiry introduced by the American sociologist Harold Garfinkel. Ethnomethodology’s goal is to document the methods and practices through which society’s members make sense of their worlds.

Garfinkel coined the term “ethnomethodology” in 1954 while preparing a paper that included his early research on juries. He proposed that ethnomethodology might serve as an appropriate term for the study of, “a member’s knowledge of his ordinary affairs, of his own organized enterprises, where that knowledge is treated by [researchers] as part of the same setting that makes it orderable. ” For example, when investigating the conduct of jury members, an ethnomethodologist would seek to describe the commonsense methods through which members of a jury produce themselves in a jury room as jurors—establishing matters of fact, developing evidence chains, determining the reliability of witness testimony, establishing the hierarchy of speakers in the jury room, determining the guilt or innocence of defendants. These methods would serve to constitute the social order of being a juror in that specific social setting.

Some Leading Policies, Methods, and Definitions

  • The fundamental assumption of ethnomethodological studies: Anne Rawls characterized this fundamental assumption, saying, “members of society must have some shared methods that they use to mutually construct the meaningful orderliness of social situations. “
  • Ethnomethodological indifference: Ethnomethodology maintains a policy of deliberate agnosticism, or indifference, towards the dictates, prejudices, methods, and practices of sociological analysis. The policy of ethnomethodological agnosticism is specifically not to be conceived of as indifference to the problems of social order; ethnomethodological agnosticism refers to only seeing social concerns as society’s members see them.
  • First time through: “First time through” is the practice of attempting to describe any social activity, regardless of its routine or mundane appearance, as if it were happening for the very first time. This is in an effort to expose how the observer of an activity constitutes the activity for the purposes of formulating any particular description. The point of such an exercise is to underline the complexities of sociological analysis and description, particularly the indexical and reflexive properties of the actors’ or observer’s own descriptions of what is taking place in any given situation.
  • Sacks’ Gloss: Sacks’ Gloss suggests that a researcher interested in questions pertaining to a specific social order should seek out the members that social order for answers. This is in opposition to the idea that such questions are best answered by a sociologist.
  • Ethnomethodology’s field of investigation: Ethnomethodology’s topic of study is the social practices of real people in real settings and the methods by which these people produce and maintain a shared sense of social order.

Ethnomethodology and Traditional Sociology

Three core differences between traditional sociology and ethnomethodology are:

  • While traditional sociology usually offers an analysis of society, taking the objective truth of the social order for granted, ethnomethodology is concerned with the procedures by which that social order is produced and shared.
  • While traditional sociology usually provides descriptions of social settings, which compete with the actual descriptions offered by the individuals who are party to those settings, ethnomethodology seeks to describe the actual procedures that individuals use in their descriptions of those settings.
  • Structural functionalist research programs methodically impose pre-existing analytical schemata on their fields of study. Symbolic interactionist programs assume the truthful basis of the symbols being interpreted by actors party to social scenes. In comparison, ethnomethodology specifically avoids employing these types of programmatic assumptions in its descriptions of social scenes.

In contrast to traditional sociological forms of inquiry, the ethnomethodological perspective does not make theoretical or methodological appeals to outside assumptions regarding the structure of an actor or actors’ characterization of social reality. Ethnomethodology doesn’t refer to the subjective states of an individual or groups of individuals. It refuses to attribute conceptual projections such as, “value states,” “sentiments,” or “goal orientations” to any actor or group of actors, and it does not posit a specific “normative order” as a transcendental feature of social scenes.

For the ethnomethodologist, the methodic realization of social scenes takes place within an actual setting under scrutiny. This realization is structured by the participants in a setting through reflexive accounting of that setting’s features. The job of the ethnomethodologist is to describe the character of these activities—not to account for them in a way that exceeds the actual accounting practices of a participant in the setting.

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Harold Garfinkel: Sociologist Harold Garfinkel was responsible for the development of ethnomethodology.

Dramaturgy

Dramaturgy is a sociological concept developed by Erving Goffman that uses the metaphor of theater to explain human behavior.

Learning Objectives

Explain how people use dramaturgy to influence other’s opinion and perspective of them, specifically through impression management and the “two-way street” concept

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • All identities and behaviors are dependent upon the audience to whom one performs.
  • Everyone seeks to control others’ impressions of themselves. This is called impression management.
  • Dramaturgy emphasizes the dual evaluative work that is undertaken by both the performer and the audience, thus demonstrating the inseparable link between performer and audience, individual and society.
  • Front stage behaviors are those that are visible to the audience, while back stage behaviors are those to which the audience does not have access.

Key Terms

  • Impression Management: In sociology and social psychology, impression management is a goal-directed conscious or unconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object or event; they do so by regulating and controlling information in social interaction.
  • Back Stage: Actions that only occur when the audience is not around.
  • Front Stage: Actions that are visible to the audience and are part of the performance.

Dramaturgy is a sociological perspective that is a component of symbolic interactionism and is used in sociological analysis of everyday life. Developed by American sociologist Erving Goffman in his seminal 1959 text The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, dramaturgy uses the metaphor of theater to explain human behavior. According to this perspective, individuals perform actions in everyday life as if they were performers on a stage. Identity is performed through roles. Here, the term “role” works in two ways, referencing both the name for a theatrical character and the ways in which individuals fill roles in reality by acting as a mother, friend, husband, etc. Dramaturgy argues that the presentation of oneself through role is a way of engaging with society.

Impression Management

Goffman contends that each performance is a presentation of self and that everyone seeks to create specific impressions in the minds of others. This universal drive is called impression management. Individuals manage others’ impressions of them by successfully portraying themselves “onstage,” or in public. People present themselves to others based on cultural values, norms, and expectations. Most of the time, people seek to meet society’s expectations, but the dramaturgical frame applies even in cases of rebellion. If an individual wishes to convey that she does not agree or identify with social norms, she must use a commonly legible system of symbols in order to communicate that information. As such, she is still engaging in impression management by trying to present herself in a particular way to society. From a dramaturgical perspective, a performance of identity is successful when the audience sees the performer as he or she wishes to be viewed.

The Two-Way Street

The innovative strength of the dramaturgical perspective is its recognition of the “two-way street” nature of identity management. An individual invests energy in portraying a particular identity to other people. Dramaturgy binds both presentation and reception, demonstrating that one’s identity is fundamentally intertwined with society outside of oneself. The performer is always aware that the audience is doing evaluative work on its own and might doubt the authenticity of the performance.

The interrelatedness of the individual’s sense of identity and society is evidenced by the actor’s acute awareness of the audience. Goffman explains this awareness in terms of front stage and back stage behaviors. Front stage actions are those that are visible to the audience and are part of the performance, while back stage actions only occur when the audience is not around. An example of this would be the type of customer service embodied by baristas at the local coffee shop. While on the clock and in front of customers, baristas will typically do what the customer wants and try to look untroubled by obnoxious requests. The barista wishes to convey to the customer that she is willing to meet the customer’s needs. However, as soon as the customer leaves, the barista might deride the customer to coworkers. This shows how individuals are constantly attuned to audience and will alter their behaviors accordingly.

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Performance Stage: Erving Goffman uses the metaphor of a stage to explain human behavior in everyday life.