Doing Social Life: The Qualitative Study of Human Interaction in Natural Settings

Doing Social Life: The Qualitative Study of Human Interaction in Natural Settings

Doing Social Life: The Qualitative Study of Human Interaction in Natural Settings

Doing Social Life: The Qualitative Study of Human Interaction in Natural Settings

Excerpt

For several decades, social scientists have been using qualitative techniques of field observation to decipher the tactics, ploys, and ruses that people employ in the social interactions of their everyday lives. Inspired in part by such genius exemplars as Erving Goffman, dozens of observer-analysts have created a rich body of studies describing subtle strategies of interaction played out in a wide variety of important human situations.

Unfortunately, the personal individualism of these scholars and the inherent individualism of their methods have retarded collation and codification of their achievements. I try here to remedy this deficiency, first, by explicating the logic of how naturalistic studies of interaction strategies have been and are performed and second, by organizing and reviewing in detail more than a hundred reports of interaction strategies in everyday life. In addition, four incisive and lively studies of interaction strategies are presented in their entirety, to "ground" the more abstract aspects discussed.

The logic of qualitative studies of interaction strategies is developed in terms of the four concepts that orient observers as they engage in scrutiny of people interacting in real settings: the necessity to acquire personal, direct, and firsthand intimate familiarity; the need to delineate generic features of the situation in which action is being developed; the requirements of deciphering the strategies participants are constructing in dealing with the situation; and the desirability of developing and interrelating emergent concepts and accumulating data in a disciplined and grounded fashion. Part I devotes a chapter to each of these concepts. An additional chapter shows how they specifically structure research reports.

The qualitative studies of interaction strategies reviewed in Part II are organized in terms of the scale of their strategic and situational complexity--the amount of time, space, people, and equipment involved. Encounters are the smallest-scale strategic situations, typically involving only two people in face-to-face contact for a short time.

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