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Chapter 1 THE PROGRAM OF INTERACTION RITUAL THEORY A THEORY OF INTERACTION ritual is the key to microsociology, and microsociology is the key to much that is larger. The smallscale, the hereand -now of face-to-face interaction, is the scene of action and the site of social actors. If we are going to find the agency of social life, it will be here. Here reside the energy of movement and change, the glue of solidarity, and the conservatism of stasis. Here is where intentionality and consciousness find their places; here, too, is the site of the emotional and unconscious aspects of human interaction. In whatever idiom, here is the empirical / experiential location for our social psychology , our symbolic or strategic interaction, our existential phenomenology or ethnomethodology, our arena of bargaining, games, exchange , or rational choice. Such theoretical positions may already seem to be extremely micro, intimate, and small scale. Yet we shall see they are for the most part not micro enough; some are mere glosses over what happens on the micro-interactional level. If we develop a sufficiently powerful theory on the micro-level, it will unlock some secrets of large-scale macrosociological changes as well. Let us begin with two orienting points. First, the center of microsociological explanation is not the individual but the situation. Second, the term “ritual” is used in a confusing variety of ways; I must show what I will mean by it and why this approach yields the desired explanatory results. Situation rather than Individual as Starting Point Selecting an analytical starting point is a matter of strategic choice on the part of the theorist. But it is not merely an unreasoning de gustibus non disputandum est. I will attempt to show why we get more by starting with the situation and developing the individual, than by starting with individuals; and we get emphatically more than by the usual route of skipping from the individual to the action or cognition that ostensibly belongs to him or her and bypassing the situation entirely. A theory of interaction ritual (IR) and interaction ritual chains is above all a theory of situations. It is a theory of momentary encounters among human bodies charged up with emotions and consciousness because they have gone through chains of previous encounters. What 4 CHAPTER ONE we mean by the social actor, the human individual, is a quasi-enduring , quasi-transient flux in time and space. Although we valorize and heroize this individual, we ought to recognize that this way of looking at things, this keyhole through which we peer at the universe, is the product of particular religious, political, and cultural trends of recent centuries. It is an ideology of how we regard it proper to think about ourselves and others, part of the folk idiom, not the most useful analytical starting point for microsociology. This is not to say that the individual does not exist. But an individual is not simply a body, even though a body is an ingredient that individuals get constructed out of. My analytical strategy (and that of the founder of interaction ritual analysis, Erving Goffman), is to start with the dynamics of situations; from this we can derive almost everything that we want to know about individuals, as a moving precipitate across situations. Here we might pause for a counterargument. Do we not know that the individual is unique, precisely because we can follow him or her across situations, and precisely because he or she acts in a familiar, distinctively recognizable pattern even as circumstances change? Let us disentangle what is valid from what is misleading in this statement. The argument assumes a hypothetical fact, that individuals are constant even as situations change; to what extent this is true remains to be shown. We are prone to accept it, without further examination, as “something everybody knows,” because it is drummed into us as a moral principle: everyone is unique, be yourself, don’t give in to social pressure, to your own self be true—these are slogans trumpeted by every mouthpiece from preachers’ homilies to advertising campaigns, echoing everywhere from popular culture to the avant-garde marchingorders of modernist and hypermodernist artists and intellectuals. As sociologists, our task is not to go with the flow of taken-for-granted belief—(although doing just this is what makes a successful popular writer)—but to view it in a sociological light, to see what social circumstances created this moral belief and this hegemony of social categories...


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