A Book is a Negotiated Order
First Published in jimsresearchnotes 5 Sept 2012
This post was published in the spring but taken offline to edit and develop it – which I did, but then I just forgot to post the revised version.
A few months ago, I remembered I had written something in Housing and Social Theory (1992) about books never being finished, only abandoned. I spent some time recently searching in the preface, and acknowledgements and introduction, but was puzzled that I couldn’t find it.
In the end I found it in the Conclusions, and re-reading it, I remembered I had used the concept of a negotiated order developed by Anselm Strauss to understand how a book is written. It is only the author’s work in a narrow sense and is better understood as being the result of a long process that includes the help of many others as a negotiated order, in process. But it is captured in a book, always incomplete but “frozen in a moment in time”. In the quote below I have put the last part of the quote in italics for emphasis.
“In these concluding words I want to look beyond this book and to consider possible ways forward for a theorised housing studies. If I am to follow my own suggestions concerning the need for greater reflexivity, the starting point must be a critique of my own argument. The maxim that ‘books are never completed – they are abandoned’ is particular apt in this case. Theorising is a process of interaction, with oneself and with other people in the form of both an internal dialogue and a dialogue between one’s own written words and reflections on them. A book of this sort therefore represents a tiny negotiated order frozen in a moment in time. Even while the last changes are being made, the dialogue goes on and the grounds of the debate change as the ‘final’ text constitutes the starting point for further development in which new perspectives are introduced and old ones toned down or abandoned in the course of both interpersonal and ‘text-mediated’ interaction.” (Chapter 10, Conclusions, Housing and Social Theory (Routledge, 1992 p.166).
The point of this is that the author needs to be self-critical and reflexive in assessing how satisfactory the book is as writing progresses. It is also important to be open to critical comment that is constructive as well as those that are negative. The end result is the book accepted by the publisher then revised again for text and grammar. Then come more seminars, as well as book reviews and further debates. This part of the negotiated order is very visible, being public. The interaction continues with further rounds and perhaps leading to possibly a revised and updated edition or even to another book. Or it may be the spur to the publication of books written by others – also with their own negotiated orders with more or less significant others.
It is my view that the work of Strauss can be usefully applied to many areas of interaction, not just different kinds of formal organisations. See also this website dedicated to the work of Anselm Strauss which is also one of the items under the Page of Interactionist Links.
I would be even more specific. For the study of the meso level of analysis, the negotiated order has wider applicability to our understanding of processes of interpersonal interaction. The 22 Jan 2011 Research Note Sociometry and the two Social Psychologies contains the clue through the remarkable success of the founder of Sociometry, both the form of analysis and the journal of the same name that Jacob Levy Moreno was founder editor of for the first 20 years of its existence.
Tags: Symbolic Interaction, Anselm Strauss, Micro-Macro, Negotiated Order, Sociometry, two social psychologies, Housing and Social Theory, Micro-Macro