The More I Write

An old Hungarian song “the clouds are gathering over the forest”,
Judy Collins “Both Sides Now”, Bob Dylan “Every Grain of Sand”.

Symbolic Interaction Music Blog

“Well if I have one, I’ll have thirteen” is a lyric from a Blake Shelton song called “The More I Drink” from his Pure BS album. Although I do not happen to drink much if at all for the most part, I found myself regularly thinking about this line in my academic life over the past couple years.

The reason I often think about this line is because if you change the word “have” to the word “write” it provides the best answer I have yet to come up with in response to an increasingly common question I receive from colleagues – “how do you write so much.” Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the question itself, and why people ask it so often when they run into me at this or that function. I see nothing wrong with the question, and as someone who regularly contributes to…

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Don’t Say My Name

Don’t say my name

Over the weekend, my life partner and I caught a concert put on by the Sarah Mac Band. The show was quite a bit of fun, and the music – an Americana sound with storyteller style lyrics – was very similar to a lot of my broader collection of tunes. Overall, it was a fun show, the band was in good spirits and celebrating headlining at a venue where they played as an opener earlier in their career, and I had a good time. I could use this space to review the concert itself, the experience in the space, or the night my life partner and I had before, during, and after the show while discussing music and our impressions of the show. Instead, however, I want to focus on a particular song that caught my attention as I drove back to Tampa the following day.

As I often do when I’m enjoying a concert, I spent some time at the merchandise table and picked up a couple new cds of music. On the road the next day, I played these cds as I drove and thought about the week, life, and the show. While I enjoyed the bulk of the music contained on the discs (always a welcome result of blindly buying new tunes), I came across a track on one of their records that I found myself playing over and over again. I honestly cannot recall if the song was played during the show, but it struck a chord in me each time it flowed through my speakers. The song is called “Say my name” and it can found on the band’s album entitled “Florida.” The song caught my attention because the following verse kept getting stuck in my head each time I heard it:

Don’t say my name

            I never gave you

            Any right to

            Call me that

            Don’t say my name

            Its not the same as

            When my mother

            Gave it to me

            When it leaves your lips

            It sounds so brittle and cold

            And unfamiliar 

As someone who does a lot of work on identities, the work people do to define themselves and their situations, and the experiences of sexual, gender, and religious minorities, these words resonated with me, and I found myself thinking of all the many social contexts and experiences they could apply to in a given life. In the song, the person appears to be talking about a failed relationship, but these words speak to wider social processes and definitional endeavors people experience in a wide variety of ways as they seek to claim new selves, adjust existing selves, and / or leave aspects of the self behind.

The experience got me wondering about both (1) the importance of names for given people whether such names are personal monikers, social labels or a combination of the two, (2) the difficulties people face when others call them by labels or names they no longer or never did identify with personally, and (3) the issues, conflicts, and processes that arise when one person’s desire for identification conflicts with the identification practices of other people in relation to that person.

These are each common questions Interactionists wrestle with and analyze in many contexts implicitly and explicitly, but the question I kept returning to involved what might be learned by Interactionist studies about the way people describe and make sense of shifting labels and names over the course of their lives. In what varied situations might the phrase “Don’t say my name” be especially relevant to identity transformations, and what might Interactionists learn from explicit focused attention on such turning points and transformations?

While there has been tremendous focus on such dynamics over time, studies typically focus more on broader labels (i.e., racial, classed, gendered, sexual, religious, and subcultural labels) rather than on actual personalized names.  Especially as more and more people define themselves in fluid terms over the life course, change names for a wide variety of social and political reasons, and experience tensions between how they may appear in a given circumstance and how they see themselves, I wondered what might be gained from Interactionists analyses of times, situations, and circumstances wherein the line in the song – “don’t say my name” – may become especially relevant to personal and social evaluations of given selves and realities.

J. Sumerau

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Gary Alan Fine’s Work

Gary Alan Fine has traditionally published books, each one on a different topic. I had begun to do longer reviews and appreciations of these during 2015: Shared Fantasy (Nov 19th 2015), Morel Tales (3 August 2915), and the introductory post on Fine’s published books (July 27 2015) are the recent posts in My Symbolic Interaction on his work. His interest in Anselm Strauss’ negotiated order theory has particularly inspired me, as I have written on this extensively in the years before I retired.

But Fine’s focus has shifted markedly since then from books to jointly authored articles and he has published a stream of articles on a wide range of topics. The most interesting has been his transformation of Sociometry into Social Psychology Quarterly after a period as editor of Sociometry. See my post of 10 June 2014 on this. Others I will discuss in later posts, which will only be dips into his more recent work. Some of these are:

Fine’s Presidential Address to the Society for the Study of Social Problems on the Chaining of Social Problems.

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Society for the Study of Social Problems

I have been a member of this for many years.

The home of symbolic interaction since 1951, a search for the title of this post on my blog brings up many posts. Below are a few.

Social Constructionism in Housing Research

The Great Society

Symbolic Interaction in Housing Research

Minnesota 1971-1972

Tank Doctrines: a Negotiated Order approach

Paranoia and the Dynamics of Exclusion

Defining Housing Reality: Ideological Hegemony and Power in Housing Research

Symbolic Interaction and Power: structure versus agency

Caroline Sutton on Swedish Alcohol Discourse

Symbolic Interaction in Process: Introduction

Don Martindale’s Book on Minnesota Sociology

Geoff Sharp

I would only add this: Critical criminology takes crime and deviance and examines them primarily through the symbolic interactionist perspective.

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Finding Favorites

Symbolic Interaction Music Blog

As someone who listens to a lot of music, collects a lot of music, and plays a lot of music in various ways, I find myself constantly learning of artists, trying out new and old artists I have missed to date, and searching for the next artist I will enjoy. In a given year, I will listen to hundreds of records or artists that are new to me regardless of when they were released, and I have great fun doing so on a wide variety of formats. As I have noted on the blog before, one of my favorite things to do is go out searching for music.

Like everyone else I have come across to date, I have my favorites as well. While some people I have met have one favorite artist or record, others have 100 or more favorite artists or records. In fact…

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Shared Fantasy

I once wrote the draft of a paper called “Ideology in Board Games”. I tried to show how ideology comes into every aspect of our lives. Board games like those from Avalon Hill Battle of the Bulge, an early form of which was produced in the late 1960s, that I later used to develop my ideas on panzer warfare. This ultimately was published as an article in 1983 (see the abstract), using the concept of negotiated order as a guiding principle. But the underlying purpose of this was to show how ideology permeates every aspect of life. Another game was about stocking a zoo with animals in order to preserve rare animals.

Gary Alan Fine Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds (Chicago University Press, 1983) is a detailed examination of role-playing games. Unconnected to it there is an on-line précis by Samantha Dana in pdf download format here. This is worth reading for its discussion of Shared Fantasy.

Nearly twenty years after Shared Fantasy was reviewed in 2004 in Symbolic Interaction  by Dennis Wascul and Matt Lust. The review was article-length, so my job had been done).

Fine’s book uses participant observation to understand how players construct social worlds out of fantasy role-playing, and then in the course of play generate identities. It is all to easy today to associate such games with computer programmes. But Fine’s book was written in the years 1977-79 before on-line gaming became popular. The 1970s was the era of face-to-face gaming, dominated by role-playing games, when early versions of Dungeons and Dragons were introduced in 1974 and grew in popularity rapidly from the mid-1970s onward.

In any event Fine’s interest is in the way small groups in face-to-face interaction define the unstable reality of the gaming situation that they construct together. Fine uses Erving Goffman’s concept of Frames and the engrossment of players in the game. Fine uses Frame Analysis (1974) in different contexts as well. Anselm Strauss’ concept of negotiated order, first fully elaborated in Eliot Freidson (ed.) The Hospital in Modern Society (Free Press of Glencoe, 1963) was available at the time, I used it in my doctoral dissertation at Gothenburg University in 1977 which applied the concept of negotiated order to the Scottish Highland Clearances – but Anselm Strauss’ work is not used in Shared Fantasy.

There is a good reason for this. Fine’s work has from the start focussed on short-term face-to-face groups whose membership tends to be unstable and often temporary, not on more permanent groups. So, instead, Fine uses Erving Goffman’s early work as the main symbolic interactions source to analyse the processes of interpersonal interaction in the small group that comprised the players of Barker’s game, that Barker himself adjudicated as Game Modulator (GM).

Fine sees these temporary groups as examples of what he terms ideocultures (Fine, 1979), an approach that is a recurring theme in his work. See also Fine (2012).

The process of coming to an agreement is complex and varies in its specifics from game to game. Having been appointed to a tenure-track post in the Department of Sociology at Minnesota University Fine learned of the existence of a fantasy gaming circle at the University that was being run by a Professor of Linguistics in another Department, M. A. R. Barker – who invented a fantasy game Empire of the Petal Throne (Fine, 1983 Preface p.xiii), set in his own invented world of Tekumel.

I have not come across this game before, so know nothing about the details of the game, but it is clear that the dynamics are much like those in Dungeons and Dragons which originated in 1974, using dice to decide outcomes. The Game Moderator (G.M.) sets the framework and participants sometimes negotiate with the GM over their own character’s role and development, as well as with other players.

Shared Fantasy gives a detailed and interesting description of gaming situations in which players identify with their characters so much that if the character dies they sometimes drop out permanently. A new player arriving or an old player dropping out can radically change the interpersonal interaction.

It is not possible to do proper justice to the text without writing a book about it. Any overview will necessarily be an inadequate alternative, so the book itself should be read if at all possible.

Chapter 1 FRP (pp.5-38) outlines Fantasy Role-play Gaming and presents a summary of the kinds that were at the time popular. These include Dungeons and Dragons, Chivalry and Sorcery, RuneQuestAvalon HillStar TrekLord of the Rings and other examples of fantasy role-playing.

Chapter 2, Players, (pp. 39-71) moves on to examine the players who take part in FRP (class, age, gender, etc), their characteristics and their approach to FRP.

Chapter 3 (pp. 72-122) is entitled Collective Fantasy covers the topic of refereeing. The referee, game moderator, is responsible for making decisions about the outcome of events and actions. The referee decides on the purpose of any quest and what the players will meet with on the way.

Chapter 4 (pp. 123-152) concerns the cultural system of the game, and since the author was playing a game both invented and refereed by Professor Barker it was the cultural system of the Empire of the Petal Throne. The longish title of the chapter is in Tsolyani, one of the languages Barker invented. Fine writes of the existence of “striking parallels…between the two fantasy masters, Tolkien and Barker” (pp. 130-152). See also the comparison in Wikipedia. Barker has written five novels based on his invented world. The group that Barker had in Minneapolis and that Fine was a member of was composed of seven other players all in their teens and twenties. It is the ideoculture of this group that Fine studies in Shared Fantasy.

Chapter 5 (pp. 153-180) is on Game Structure. It is here that ideocultures become apparent, with the formation of friendships, neutralities and hostilities. This chapter shows how someone who tried to dominate the game was opposed by other players and began to be defined as “deviant”, and can, if continuing to dominate, become an outcast. Refereeing is the task of an experienced player and is sometimes described as being “god”. Alliances fluctuated with changes in players.

Chapter 6 (pp. 181-204) is on “Frames and Games”, using Goffman, Schutz, and Glaser and Strauss, to develop the concept. This is one of the most interesting chapters in the book, impossible to summarise adequately.

Chapter 7 (pp. 205-228) “Role-playing and Person-playing” is about degrees of identification of the characters people play. The distinction is nowhere near as clear as it might first appear. Some players are very defensive of their characters and become quite upset when their character dies. Others have a more detached attitude. The main issues taken up, by subheading, are “Gaming as an extension of self”, “the construction of character”, “identification”, “overinvolement” Role-Distance”, Referees and Role-Playing”.

Chapter 8 (pp. 229-222) “The Reality of Fantasy” is the concluding chapter. Fine returns to his interest in negotiated orders, and emphasises the negotiated order of fantasy rules (pp. 234-236), illustrating how these are often flexibly interpreted. Chess is a game we often associate with fixed and immutable rules, but it is not so in practice, as Fine discusses. It is worth remembering the film The Thomas Crown Affair, this short u-tube of the theme song, showing the game of chess Fay Dunaway and Steve McQueen  play,  illustrates the point well.

References:

Fine, Gary Alan (1979) “Small Groups and Culture Creation: the ideoculture of Little League baseball teams” American Sociological Review 44 (Oct) 733-45.

Fine, Gary Alan (2012) Tiny Publics: a theory of group action and culture Russell Sage, New York.

Goffman, Erving (1974) Frame Analysis: an essay on the organization of experience Harvard University Press

Wascul, Dennis and Matt Lust “Role-Playing and Playing Roles: The Person, Player, and Persona in Fantasy Role-Playing” Symbolic Interaction 27, 3 (Summer, pp.333-356)

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Morel Tales: the culture of mushrooming

I did not realise the culture of mushrooming in the USA was such a very social activity. But looking up http://minnesotamycologicalsociety.org confirms that it is. Nor did I fully understand that searching for mushrooms was so intensely cooperative.

I have only ever done any mushrooming in Sweden, and always alone. In matters of mushrooms, Swedes are very protective of their local knowledge of where mushrooms grow in abundance. There is a Swedish Mycological Society but is is primarily educative: “a national society aiming to promote the knowledge of fungi”, with a list of societies. Gävle is a city in Southern Norrland, where I lived for many years before retiring, yet I searched in vain for a Gävle Mycological Society. There isn’t one.

In any event, I went mushrooming in the pine forests outside Gävle, getting there by public transport. I am never comfortable in the Swedish forests. They are dense and easy to get lost in, and have lynx, bear and elk. Yet sections are clear-felled and left to grow again. It is often said that the forests are Sweden’s Green Gold.

I only looked for chanterelle mushrooms. And I soon learned where to look – the deep mossy areas are the most promising. After a couple of hours I take them home and go through them, leave them to dry by the oven method.

Fine’s book explores the many ways in which natural and the social interact and relate to one another. There is a book review in Symbolic Interaction August 2000 Vol. 23 Issue 2,  pp. 211-213.

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