In June, I wrote a short piece about the practice of theorising, ethnomethodology, and the pandemic for the Magazine of The Sociological Review. The brief text can be accessed HERE or by clicking the image below.
Despite the long-time talk about the demise of the street-market as an inefficient place to make money street-markets, flea-markets and car-boot sales are booming. People seem to have discovered these places not only as markets to buy and sell objects but also as places for leisure activities. In London and other big cities street-markets have become major tourist attractions. In recent years, they have been redeveloped to increase their attractiveness and possibly also to give them a more trustworthy, clean and orderly look. Moreover, they often are equipped with surveillance cameras and security staff who police trading and behaviour more generally. Yet, what has remained largely the same over the past years is that sales are produced in interaction between traders and customers, people who first show an interest in a particular stall or sales item and then make a purchase, or sometimes leave without buying anything. “Price” and”price information” plays a particular part in the interaction between traders and their customers. In “Timing is money” I consider pricing not so much as a process of calculation for the participant to get the best value out of the interaction, although this may play a part in this as well, but as a communicative practice that traders and customers deploy in the interaction. The paper examines the moment when and the way in which traders and customers use “price” in their interaction, e.g. when do they use price in an offer or request of a sales item? It turns out that price is often deployed as a technique to manage the ‘floor’ and the interaction at the stall. For example, when customers display an interest in an item but are not yet committed to buying an item offers, including price information, are designed in a particular way that encourage the customers to commit to make a purchase.
The paper uses “focused ethnography” as a research method. Alongside other recent developments in ethnography, such as “short-term ethnography” (Pink and Morgan 2013) Hubert Knoblauch developed “focused ethnography” (2005) an observational research methods that often supported by video-recordings examines in detail particular settings and activities while spending only relatively short periods of time there.
Knoblauch, Hubert (2005). Focused Ethnography [30 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 6(3), Art. 44, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0503440.
the below I posted earlier on the SSSI Blog
“I have no universal cure for the ills of Sociology. A multitude of myopias limit the glimpse we get of our subject matter” (Erving Goffman, 1983: 2)
On September 27th, a conference was held at the University of Cardiff where participants discussed the influence of Goffman’s concept of the “interaction order” on sociology and related disciplines. Four speakers, Paul Atkinson, Greg Smith, Randall Collins, and Susie Scott explicated the origin, application and further development of Goffman’s concepts and analytic devices.
Atkinson delivered a performance that would better be shown as a video-clip than summarised in a written paragraph. He began by highlighting that Goffman’s interest was interaction as it happens and he demanded from his students to “go out and uncover something”, rather than to concern themselves with theory and concepts. By drawing on short video-clips from masterclasses for a tenor Atkinson illustrated some of the aspect of the “interaction order” and highlighted that for Goffman it was important to unpack the intrinsic properties of situations without attributing them to individual participants. This of course is not unproblematic as situations are loaded with a history that can hardly be understood from the situation at hand alone. The sociologist therefore needs to embed themselves within situations, make observations and conduct interviews to be able to understand the events. Thus, they will be able to make sense of how the participants refer to and draw on the history of the situation to go about the action at hand.
Smith illustrated his talk “Interaction Order Controversies” with photographs he had taken on the Shetland Islands where Goffman had gathered the data that form the basis for his PhD and for what we know today as “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” It is the original PhD thesis where Goffman uses the term “interaction order” for the first time. Then however it took until 1982/3 before he again uses the term to highlight the myopia of contemporary sociology. In the time he deployed concepts like “copresence” and “small behaviours” to denote the organisation of conduct in situations. Aside from exploring the origin and use of “interaction order” and related concept in Goffman’s writings Smith also discussed how the concepts sits within the micro-/macro debate that has been ongoing since sociology was founded as a discipline. Aside from talking about Goffman’s work, Smith also talked about Goffman as an academic who at his time was one of the best paid sociologists in the USA; he obviously was very much aware of his value and was able to use it to advance his career.
This leads us to Randall Collins’ talk who drew relations between Goffman and Garfinkel as well as to other areas of sociology that often are described as macro-sociology; Giddens to mention but one representative, used Goffman and Garfinkel to underpin his structuration theory. In his talk Collins drew attention to some curious aspects of Goffman’s work, such as his heavy reliance on codes of conduct as resources for his studies whilst at the same time in the 1960s young people were distancing themselves from just that order and the related rituals described in these books. He pointed out however the richness of Goffman’s work and how he addressed the micro-/macro-question by explicating the ingredients of interaction rituals and their link to social structure; for instance, he showed that different people deploy different greeting rituals, wear different clothes etc. displaying their ‘place’ in society. Collins, of course, is very well known for his studies of violence and conflict. In his talk he showed how that research links in to Goffman’s studies of interaction rituals in that people when being violent manage the impression they give of themselves.
The final talk was delivered by Susie Scott whose interest in Goffman is known for example through her work on Total Institutions and Shyness. In her talk she elaborated on four facets she sees in Goffman: the hero, the detective, the villain and the magician. She brought these four images of Goffman to life by referring to her research on shyness, intimate deception, and others. At various points her talk showed close relationships to the points raised by the talks by Atkinson, Smith and Collins. In particular her reference to Goffman the villain linked nicely into Smith talk that touched on the sometimes not easy character of Goffman and his very well known ‘unusual’ behaviour at social gatherings.
The presentations together with the discussions during sessions and in breaks showed how relevant and influential Goffman still is for sociology. As time goes by his influence is growing beyond sociology and reaches into performance studies, management and marketing as well as into various areas engineering including the design of virtual worlds and social networking sites.
The conference was organised by Martin Innes and William Housley. A Twitter stream accompanied the event managed by Robin Smith. With the #socsigoffman you can trace some of the information of the event.
Recent Articles in Symbolic Interaction related to Goffman
Phil Strong: The Importance of Being Erving
Susie Scott et al. Goffman in the Gallery: Interactive Art and Visitor Shyness
Chris Conner’s Review of Stigma Revisited
Lots has been written about Apple’s problems with their Maps application. Apparently, motorists stranded in a National Park in Australia after relying on the app had to be rescued and many people complain or joke about problems with the app.
This morning, I received a Tweet via @CityJohn who used the app after arriving at Clapham South Tube station (South London). He opened the app and triggered the locate function only to be shown this map.
I don’t know what possessed me but I opened up my Apple Maps app and search for Clapham Common and was shown this map.
As far as I can tell the map accurately locates Clapham Common and I decided to pass a picture of the map on to @CityJohn. I have no idea about or interest in the technical workings of Apple Maps but found it interesting how Apple Maps, not only in this case, has become a conversation starter on Twitter. We all know by now that the app is anything but perfect and there is no need to post more examples of its shortfalls. But by posting curious examples one is almost certain to receive a response from others.
So, not surprisingly, when checking on @CityJohn’s Twitter Stream there now is at least one other short sequence of a ‘Twitter conversations’, just like the one I had with him. Maybe it’s worthwhile creating a collection of such instances. Maybe, this is not everybody’s cup o tea though….
Symbolic Interaction (2011; Vol.34, No.3/Summer)
Special Issue “Interaction”
Dirk vom Lehn, Will Gibson
can be downloaded here:
2. Interaction Ritual Theory and Structural Symbolic Interactionism(pp. 319-329)
Chris Hausmann, Amy Jonason, Erika Summers-Effler
Jonathan H. Turner
4. Toward a Theory of Interaction: The Iowa School(pp. 340-348)
Dan E. Miller
Symbolic Interactionism and Ethnomethodology(pp. 349-356)
Robin James Smith
Jeff Bezemer, Ged Murtagh, Alexandra Cope, Gunther Kress, Roger Kneebone
Examining Interaction Using Video(pp. 415-420)
Video in Qualitative Research: Analysing Social Interaction in Everyday Life by Christian Heath; Jon Hindmarsh; Paul Luff
On February 4th, 2011, Rob Wilmot, Director of BCS Digital and Co-founder of Freeserve gave a guest lecture on “Marketing & New Technologies”, a module that I convene as part of the MSc International Marketing at King’s College London. In his lecture “Social Media and the New Economy” Rob provided a fantastic overview of the importance of Social Media to business and marketing as well as to Masters’ students who soon will go out and look for work.
Rob named 2009 as a watershed when Social Media turned from a fringe activity into becoming the mainstream. He names 4 events that pushed Social Media to the fore: (1) backed by a Facebook/Twitter campaign Rage Against the Machine ‘steal’ the Christmas No. 1 spot from the 2009 X-Factor Winner Joe McElderry, (2) on Christmas Eve, for the first time, Facebook had more site visits than Google US, (3) Pepsi pulls its adverts from the Superbowl in favour of a Social Media campaign, and (4) Barak Obama becomes President of the USA after an election campaign that made very effective use of Social Media. Since 2009, this development of the growing importance of Social Media for political campaigns and business activities has accelerated and spread into other areas, such as police investigations and professional football. New Social Media websites emerge all the time and the next big service/site following Facebook’s success is probably out there already (Rob Wilmot).
The spread of Social Media is closely monitored and investigated by commercial research institutes such as Forrester Research and the Altimeter Group. This research provides interesting insights into what Social Media people use – right now mainly Facebook and YouTube -, what kind of new Social Media services are currently emerging – right now, in particular Twitter – and what the demographics of Social Media users are. It also suggests that people use Social Media for different purposes and in different ways, and increasingly while being on the move rather than while sitting at a Desktop Computer.
For the “new economy” that is arising from these developments “recommendations” of products, services and websites are of particular importance. For example, with the deployment of ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons “Facebook aims to become the authority for recommendation on the Internet” (Rob Wilmot). This development is highly relevant for all Social Media users as the effectiveness of recommendations is closely linked to the ‘trust’ people have in each other; “trust” being seen as the basis for the building of relationships.
Companies are well aware of the link between ‘recommendation’ and ‘trust’ and pay celebrities and Twitter users with large numbers of followers, fans and friends for recommending their products and services. For the rest of us, the link between ‘trust’ and ‘recommendation’ highlights the importance to take care when posting on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. In order to develop a reputation and to build trust it is critical not to post false, misleading, offensive etc. messages to Social Media sites: ”imagine your post is published on a billboard visible to everybody on the street” (Rob Wilmot).
The effectiveness of Social Media has been notoriously difficult to measure. The impact of wrong-footed Social Media campaigns such as those by Habitat (2010) and Kenneth Cole (2011) for the image of companies, are well reported. For the measuring of the Return on Investment (ROI) tools are developed by Forrester, Altimeter, Google and many others that provide information on the relationship between Social Media campaigns and monetary return. This information is critical to refine campaigns and continue to engage with customers. As Social Media continues to develop alongside more conventional marketing channels the instruments to measure their effectiveness in delivering ROI will be refined and further developed.
Social Media are not a magic wand that resolves all the problems marketing managers may have with building relationships with customers in an increasingly complex and competitive environment. However, they are a powerful additional channel marketing managers need to take seriously when developing campaigns and engaging with (potential) customers. Common-sense rules about the way in which to conduct communication are valid in Social Media just as in conventional marketing channels. However, Social Media fundamentally change the relationship between companies and customers: in particular, they facilitate conversations with customers and, if used in the right way, support the building of trust and long-term relationships with customers.
Rob’s lecture offered a wide range of information and insights on Social Media. He suggested that there is a growing field of research designed to support companies in developing Social Media campaigns and to asse
ss, evaluate and measure their (monetary) success or failure. It seems that whilst effective measures for the quantitative impact of Social Media campaigns are emerging, methods to be used for the assessment of qualitative aspects of the relationships between Social Media users are still underdeveloped.
The lecture implied a range of possible research questions. The research the lecture has been based on, origins from studies conducted by research companies who aim to inform management practice and marketing strategies. Detailed academic research can contribute to this research by unpacking the concepts and foundations of relationships this research is pointing to. For example, the Social Technographics Ladder developed by Forrest Research (see Li & Bernoff 2008) creates a typology of people according to the ways in which they use Social Media tools, such a blogs, podcasts or RSS feeds. Little do we know of how people actually ‘read’ and ‘collect’ Social Media content, what resources they draw on and how they use these resources to create new content and new forms of content.
Furthermore, much has been written about the importance of the building of relationships that often origin in ‘recommendations’ from “trust agents” (Brogan 2010). Yet, little do we know of what ‘recommendations’ are made up of, when do they arise and how are they designed in different situations and with regard to different products, services and people. How do long-term relationships and loyal customers of a company arise from a recommendation by a Social Media ‘friend’. ‘Relationship’, ‘loyalty, ‘trust’, ‘reputation’ and ‘recommendation’ in this context are often used as a generic concepts rather than as products of interaction between people. Little is known of the processes through which these ‘products’ of interaction are brought about.
Detailed studies of interaction between people, online and offline, and in particular between marketing practitioners (shop keepers, vendors, marketing managers, direct marketeers, customer service personnel, etc.) and customers will useful in helping to unpack generic concepts like ‘relationship’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘trust’. Furthermore, they can specify the social organisation of activities such as the ‘conversation’ between companies and customers or those activities described in debates about Social Media as ‘engaging’ and ‘recommending’.
With such complementing interests of research companies and academic scholars it would seem sensible to engage in joint research projects and programmes that aim to develop generic concepts and models whose components are well understood and specific that they can inform the Social Media activities of companies and customers.
Anderson, Chris. 2006. The Long Tail. How endless choice is creating unlimited demand. Random House.
Brogan, Chris & Smith, Julien. 2010. Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. John Wiley & Sons.
Cellan-Jones, Rory. 2008. Freeserve and ten years of boom and bust. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/technology/2008/09/freeserve_and_ten_years_of_boo.html
Li, Charlene & Bernoff, Josh. 2008. Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Harvard Business Press.
Solis, Brian. 2011. Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web. John Wiley & Sons.
Tapscott, Don & Williams, Anthony. 2007. Wikinomics. How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Atlantic Books.
Rob Wilmot in the News