Housing, Theory and Society

When I returned to Sweden in 1996, I was asked by Bengt Turner to take on the Editorship of Scandinavian Housing and Planning Research. I did so on the understanding that I could change the name and orientation of the journal, making it more international and theoretical in focus. Scandinavia was still internationally quite far behind in the proportion of practising Symbolic Interactionists, but I fully expected this to change – albeit slowly. For my part I would try to help this change along by ensuring that during my period as Founding Editor I would contribute articles, reviews, and debates on the social constructionist perspective in urban research. It was too early to expect the orientation of the journal to change overnight but I hoped it would happen eventually, perhaps long after my editorship, when symbolic interactionism would become more widely established in Scandinavia.

This is a chicken-egg dilemma, but I did not know at the time that I had less than 2 years before I would need urgent open heart surgery to replace a mitral valve that ceased to function in late 1998. In retrospect, I also under-estimated the debilitating effects of such a major operation on my health, and returned to work far, far, earlier than I should have.

Never the less I managed to publish two interactionist book reviews:

David L. Altheide’s book Terrorism and the Politics of Fear (1996) Housing, Theory and Society (2011, No. 4 pp. 433-434). He has a very complete Wikipedia page. His work has strong elements of critical criminology, especially the earlier work on the media and how they distort events (Altheide, D. (1976). Creating Reality: How TV News Distorts Events. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage)

Gary Fine’s book ‘Authors of the Storm’ Housing, Theory and Society, (2010, Vol. 7 issue 3 pp. 276-278).

I also published an article on symbolic interaction and housing research as my response to the debate conducted over what kind of theory is best – Realism or Constructionism. I still held firmly to the position that symbolic interaction is my preferred perspective: “Reinventing the wheel comment: the interactional basis of constructionism” Housing, Theory and Society (2002, Vol. 19 No. 3 pp. 140-141):

“The tradition of research anchored in interpersonal interaction originated as a direct challenge to Parsonian structural functionalism in the 1950s, as an abstract systems theory without anchoring in the everyday. Its earlier representatives included Goffman and more particularly Blumer (1969) who coined the term symbolic interaction. In the 10960s it reached a full flowering through the work of symbolic interactionists such as Becker, Strauss, Scheff, Douglas, Denzin and Cicourel in applications to a host of “real life  contextual settings”, notably in medical sociology and deviance. It continues today across the entire spectrum of social science research but notably in studies of organisations, social movements, social problems, criminology, media studies, the sociology of science, and in studies of innovation.”

In the three following paragraphs, I then put the case for a Straussian negotiated order theory as a compromise.

I have to say that although I hoped the symbolic interactionist perspective would become a regular part of articles, book reviews, debates etc. in Housing, Theory and Society, in retrospect that was probably somewhat optimistic. Symbolic Interactionism is slowly growing in housing and urban sociology but sociology is only one of the disciplines covered by the journal, there will always be others (like political science), so I have never held imperialist ambitions that claim symbolic interactionism covers them all.

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