Academic journal article Communication Studies

Practicing "Sorority Rush": Mockery and the Dramatistic Rehearsing of Organizational Conversations

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Practicing "Sorority Rush": Mockery and the Dramatistic Rehearsing of Organizational Conversations

Article excerpt

Similar to other organizations, sororities need to find new organizational members to replace those that leave. Each year's graduation ceremony marks the organizational exit of approximately one-quarter of each sorority's membership. Thus, the recruiting of new members (aka "rush") is an important process (Handler, 1995; Johnson, 1972; Mongell & Roth, 1991; Risman, 1982; Scott, 1965). During sorority "rush" prospective members (aka "rushees") and current members encounter one another in a series of "rush parties," and through a mutual decision-making process, rushees become members of various sororities (Mongell & Roth, 1991). In preparing for rush, each sorority conducts "recruitment workshops," where current members are trained and retrained about how to interact with rushees during the parties. Central to the workshops is the rehearsing of future interaction with stand-ins, with current members pretending to be problematic "rushees." Thus, rehearsal includes the "process of projecting an image of someone not oneself," which is termed mockery (Goffman, 1974, p. 534). As such, mockery is a "caricature" (Burke, 1952) which may or may not project a negative image. The term mockery is being used in the current study to label behavior; sorority members do not use the term. The behavior is not specifically named, but is enacted as part of the process of rehearsing.

Rehearsing and mockery are phenomena that have been rarely studied within organizational communication. The current study seeks to extend research by integrating rehearsal and mockery (Goffman, 1974) with Burke's (1984b) description of the guilt-purification-redemption cycle. In so doing, we (1) extend our understanding of how the dramatistic concepts of scapegoating and mortification are manifested through mockery and (2) assess how mockery and rehearsal can contribute to our understanding of organizational maintenance.

Organizational Rehearsal and Dramatism

Rehearsal (1) has relevance for organizational scholars in terms of training, socialization, and problematic encounters (e.g., Goffman, 1974; Mangham & Overington, 1982; Turner & Edgley, 1990; Williams, 1988). However, rehearsals and rehearsing are "private" and "backstage" activities (Goffman, 1959, 1974; Williams, 1988), and are often conducted "when nobody is looking" (Williams, 1988, p. 277). Consequently, studying rehearsal activities such as role-playing is problematic in terms of collecting audiotaped conversations. This study offers unique insights because of data not usually available.

The concept of rehearsal is developed in pragmatist philosophy, and is consistent with dramatism and the interpretive paradigm. Dewey (1922) stated that the ability to think involves deliberation, which "is a dramatic rehearsal (in imagination) of various competing possible lines of action" (p. 190). Further, George Herbert Mead termed the "process of using symbols or language covertly `imaginative rehearsal'" (Turner, 1978, p. 317). This "covert" aspect of rehearsing is also evident in the organization of collective rehearsing.

Goffman (1974) discusses rehearsal as a form of "guided doing"; rehearsal, like performance, is a "social frame" that involves intent and motive, and that may be transformed (p. 22). Goffman describes rehearsal as a variety of "practicing":

The distinctive thing about rehearsals is that all the parts are eventually practiced together, and this final practice, in conjunction with a script, allows for more or less full anticipation of what will be done in the live circumstances. Lots of activities that are run through cannot be scripted closely, because not all of the main participants of what will be the live action are part of the same team. (p. 60)

Additionally, rehearsals are such that (1) "the planned course of action, the scenario, may require controllers to periodically reestablish and redirect what it is that is `happening'" (p. …

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