In 2008 I created a blog entitled “Doing Modernity: A Critical Sociologist Looks at Everyday Life”. It was initially created to go along with an upper-division course in Social Psychology I was teaching at Antioch University Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, that blog was erased when Friendster stopped carrying blogs earlier this year. At that time, I had produced about 80 entries with lots of images, illustrations, artwork and photos.
Here I hope to resurrect that blog and continue with its themes and ideas. That earlier blog covered a wide range of concerns and interests, but was centrally concerned with how we “do modernity”–that is, I hoped to examine a few of the concrete practices social actors employ in everyday life to produce and reproduce our society.
Initially, I also hoped to illustrate for my students an autoethnographic approach to examining everyday life, particularly concrete instances of social activity. I would usually begin with the ethnographic details of some aspects of my social life, which included a lots of time in coffee shops, walking around in downtown Santa Barbara, working as a homeless outreach worker / counselor / case manager, living with other people in shared housing situations, consuming mass media (including reading the news), engaged with new social media (such as Facebook), being engaged as a social justice advocate and activist, "doing recovery" at twelve step meetings, ...
I drew upon ethnomethodology / conversation analysis, the work of Erving Goffman, symbolic interaction, cultural studies and urban ethnography to promote studies of the everyday world as it happens. I hoped to tie these microsociological studies to concerns for domination, power and inequality, and thus draw upon critical social theory.
For me "interactionism" is an umbrella term that covers many of the qualitative, observational, "microsociological" approaches to studying social life, including but not limited to ethnomethodology, Goffman's dramaturgy and frame analysis, symbolic interactionism, institutional ethnography, interpretive interactionism, discursive psychology, conversation analysis and critical discourse analysis.
For me, "critical" is a modifier for social theoretical approaches that draw upon deep concerns for oppression, power and privilege. These theoretical approaches include "critical theory", "critical social theory", "critical discourse analysis", as well as such diverse approaches as Marxism, neo-marxism, anarchism, feminism, postanarchism, anti-imperialism, post colonialism, critical race theory, queer theory, and poststructuralism.
I call this amalgamation of microsociological approaches with concerns for power and inequality “critical interactionism”. Critical interactionism is interested in how equality and inequality are done in everyday life. How is liberation and oppression experienced in the world as it happens?
Some of my chief personal inspirations in crafting this approach were Erving Goffman, Don H. Zimmerman, Candace West, Sarah Fenstermaker, Harvey Molotch, and Dorothy E. Smith. I have also benefitted from the "critical interactionist" scholarship of Michael Schwalbe, Gary Alan Fine, Michael Buraway, Norman Denzin and Jim Forte.
Specifically, I am interested in:
How are power and privilege the outcomes of the concrete and specifiable interactional practices, situated and embodied activities, and interpretive procedures social actors employ in the real-time moments of everyday life?
Moreover, I hope to uncover some of the specifically "modern" practices that we use, that might potentially be different from the ways everyday life was done in "traditional", pre-modern societies. For example, in that initial blog I wrote extensively about the ritual of "civil inattention" (Erving Goffman) as a specifically modern phenomenon, and hypothesized that when strangers interacted in public places in pre-modern social setting, another set of interactional practices might have been in operation.
I hope to return to that theme at some point.