Jill Walker Rettberg. 2014 “Seeing ourselves through Technology” Palgrave Pivot.


There is a lot of public and academic discussion about “Selfies” at the moment. When we uncritically follow some of this debate we could believe it is an entirely new phenomenon created by mobile phones equipped with cameras, and maybe selfie-sticks. Jill Walker Rettberg has written an insightful analysis of the ‘selfie-phenomenon’ that situates the photographic selfies we are all familiar with, within the wider social and historic context of past and present technologies and techniques used to create representations of the self, including self-portraits, auto-biographies, and more recently quantified modes of self-logs and activity trackers.

Having situated “Selfies” Walker Rettberg moves on to discuss how “filters” are being used and create distinct version of self-representations. These filters can be technological, such as Instagram filters, or cultural. Whilst the former can be deployed to create images of our selves that show us how we want to be seen by others, the latter are those filters we deploy in response to the socio-cultural environment we inhabit; they guide for example the section of images that we create, collect and display.

A “Selfie” rarely occurs in isolation but often are produced in a series. By examining series of selfies, such as changes of profile pictures over time Walker Rettberg can show how the way in which people present themselves over time changes. As in previous chapters Walker Rettberg manages to link her analysis with knowledge about art history and art theory.

The emergence of Selfies is closely linked to the growing trend of tracking applications and logs. Walker Rettberg illuminates this linkage between these two phenomena and explicates the growing automation of the tracking and its relationship to the earlier discussion about filters. One strength of this chapter is the elaboration of this relationship between, for example the quantified self, the use of automation in the data collection and analysis and the filtering of information in the process. Walker Rettberg further elaborates on the quantified self movement in a separate chapter.

All the developments Walker Rettberg examines and discusses in her book throw in the open issues of surveillance and privacy that every now and again create a media hysteria without being properly dealt with. In her final chapter Walker Rettberg explicates some of the privacy issues related to selfies and possible consequences of the self-logging for people.

Overall, the book provides a very good analysis of the Selfie phenomenon and offers plenty of food for thought on possible further research on related phenomena, such as quantification of the self, automation etc.

Two or three years ago, I met Gary Alan Fine, the ethnographer and sociologist who wrote such wonderful books on restaurant kitchens, young orators in high school debating societies, mushroom collectors and many more. We came to talk about varieties of ethnography and one of its German variations: “Phenomenology-based Ethnography”. This form of ethnography pervades German qualitative sociology but is less well-known in Anglo-Saxon sociology. It has been developed by the late Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler together with other  German sociologists and ethnographers of whom a good number studied with Thomas Luckmann, the famous student of Alfred Schutz, at the University of Konstanz (Germany). Gary Fine wondered whether it was possible to put together a Special Issue and encouraged me to approach the editor of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Charles Edgley, with the idea. With the wonderful support of Charles Edgley this Special Issue edited by myself and Ronald Hitzler, has now been produced and is in the process of being published, first on OnlineFirst of JCE.

Journal of Contemporary Ethnography – Special Issue: Phenomenology-based Ethnography

Table of Content

Dirk vom Lehn and Ronald Hitzler – Phenomenology-based Ethnography: Introduction to the Special Issue


The article provides the background and rationale for the Special Issue. It explains the origins of phenomenology-based ethnography in Alfred Schutz’s analysis of the life-world and points to some recent development in this approach that is of particular importance in sociology in German-speaking countries. It finishes with a brief introduction to the articles of the issue.

Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler – Life-World-Analytical Ethnography: A Phenomenology-Based Research Approach


Life-world-analytical ethnography aims to investigate the subjective perspective—the life-worlds—of other people. Life-world-analytical ethnography is based on the premise that any world which is not apprehended as a life-world—that is, as the totality of a world that is subjectively experienced—is a fiction. For we do not, in fact, have any knowledge of a world that is not subjectively experienced—of the world per se, as it were. The investigation of one’s own life-world is a difficult program in itself, a program that mundane phenomenology, in particular, endeavors to pursue. However, the investigation of the life-worlds of other actors calls for numerous additional precautions and measures. This article discusses the origins and foundations as well as particular challenges of life-world-analytical ethnography.

Thomas S. Eberle – Exploring another’s subjective life-world: A phenomenological approach


Regarding the relationship between phenomenology and the social sciences, significantly different traditions exist between German-speaking countries and the Anglo-Saxon world, which create many misunderstandings. Phenomenology is not just a research method; in its origin, it is a philosophy and has epistemological and methodological implications for empirical research. This essay pursues several goals: First, some basic tenets of Husserl’s phenomenology and Schutz’s mundane life-world analysis are restated. Second, an approach of “phenomenological hermeneutics” is presented that complies with the postulate of adequacy and aspires to understand other people’s life-worlds more profoundly than the widely accepted research practice of treating interview transcripts as data. The methodical procedure is illustrated using selected pieces from a case study of a patient who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and became severely disoriented. Third, some crucial implications of such an approach are discussed in regard to a phenomenology-based ethnography.

Siegfried  Saerberg – Chewing accidents: A phenomenology of visible and invisible everyday accomplishments


This article compares two variations of bodily practices and bodily-grounded orientations and systems of relevance: the blind and the sighted life-worlds. Blindness is conceptualized as a particular style of perception being in no way a deficit but on equal footing with sight. Comparison will show differences and commonalities that may give a deeper insight into how bodily and sensory orientation and practice work in a mundane situation. This situation is feeding behavior and in particular its failure in “Chewing Accidents” focusing on three variations: tongue biting, swallowing a wasp, and biting on a cherry pit. Data are taken from participant observation, focused interviews, and online sources such as blogs and medical forums. By virtue of a detailed phenomenological description of chewing behavior, the article shows that blindness is not the contradiction of sight and vice versa. Invisibility is an element of the everyday life-world, with the latter being dependent on dark areas.

Michaela Pfadenhauer and Tilo Grenz – Uncovering the Essence: The Why and How of Supplementing Observation with Participation in Phenomenology-Based Ethnography


Participation in phenomenology-based ethnography is about involvement and “doing-it-yourself,” which generates data derived from immediate experience that can contribute to the reconstruction of the internal viewpoint by uncovering the essence of a phenomenon. This phenomenological orientation is the main focus of interest of the present paper. Based on reflections on the ethnographer as a participant who voluntarily assumes the role of the stranger, we demonstrate how observation can be supplemented with participation. We exemplify it with an ongoing research project on the deployment of a so-called social robot in dementia care. Our aim is to show that a subjective perspective, which does not claim to be superior but rather to be of value in its own right, increases the knowledge yield.

Dariuš Zifonun – Posttraditional Migrants: A Modern Type of Community


This article analyses the participation of migrants in sport. Based on the case study of a Turkish soccer club in Germany, it scrutinizes the structural and processual features of ethnic self organization. The club responds to the problems of social order in modern complex societies—problems emanating from the pluralization of social life-worlds—by employing a number of characteristic answers. Among them are the segmentation into sub-worlds, the composition of an integrative ideology of friendship as well as the creation of a soccer style. In processes of legitimation and delegitimation, questions of belonging and recognition are being negotiated. All of this allows for the management of ambivalence in everyday life and contributes to the distinctively posttraditional character of community. The article suggests that a sociology of social worlds approach can substantially contribute to the study of the interactive social structures of society.

Hubert Knoblauch and Bernt Schnettler – Video and Vision: Videography of a Marian Apparition


In this article, we sketch the field of qualitative video-analysis and locate videography within this. Instead of presenting the methods of videography formally, we illustrate the application of this method in a particular field: Marian apparitions occurring in a German town in 1999, captured live on video. The presentation of the method in this paper follows a general methodological structure. (1) We first outline the ethnographic context of the setting in which the video-recordings were made. This context includes actors, religious associations, and locations as well as some aspects of the apparitional events’ historical genesis. (2) We then turn to look at the performance of the Marian vision as recorded in the video. By applying sequential analysis, we roughly identify a temporal order to the event, which exhibits an interesting deviation from earlier forms of apparitions due to the way it takes a subjectively “spiritual” form. This finding leads us to finally (3) address the role of the subjective perspective that, as we argue, is a further essential dimension of videography. It is on this level that we are made aware of the relevance of the life-world as a methodological background for the kind of interpretive social science that takes the actor’s perspective into account.

Paul Eisewicht & Heiko Kirschner – Giving in on the Field: Localizing Life-World Analytic Ethnography in Mediatized Fields


This article proposes a differentiation of ethnographic research by theoretical paradigm, methodological stance, and scientific purpose. Following these categories, we specify life-world-analytical ethnography as originating from the (subject-centered) action theory with an emphasis on observational participation, an affirmative–descriptive attitude toward the research, as well as the implementation of data gathered by personal experience and its interactive verification within the field. Furthermore, we address the challenges ethnographers are facing when conducting their research in mediatized fields and illustrate the advantages of a life-world analytical approach on our case of online-livestreams and videogaming. We thereby introduce the concept of passing to methodologically expand this approach.

There is plenty of debate about the ‘quantitative/qualitative divide’ in the social sciences. Howard Aldrich has written an excellent piece arguing to abolish the distinction, and thereby reinvigorated the debate, for example on OrgTheory and Work in Progress.  A quick look at Google’s Ngram viewer is quite interesting. For “qualitative research” it shows


and for the distinction “qualitative/quantitative”


Without having pursued any further research into this, the latter graph might be indicative of Aldrich’s argument. It will be interesting to see if Lia Pearce’s forthcoming chapter will shed light on this.

Pearce, Lisa D. (Forthcoming). Thinking Outside the “Q” Boxes: Further Motivating a Mixed Research Perspective. In Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy & Johnson, R. Burke (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Mixed and Multimethod Research. New York: Oxford University Press.

Great to see so much interest in Howard Becker’s work. Becker’s recent interview with Les Back resonates very well with two recent articles in Symbolic Interaction. Only last year, Clinton Sanders published his “Recollections of working with Howard Becker“, an article that was accompanied by an interview that Tom DeGloma conducted with Sanders. Currently, Symbolic Interaction publishes Thaddaeus Müller’s article that traces the development of Becker’s famous articles collected in the book “Outsiders”. Taken together the two articles and Back’s interview make up for an excellent starting-point to go back to Becker’s Outsiders and his other works that has come out of his studies at the University of Chicago and his discussions and email exchanges with Robert Faulkner.

See for example

Robert Faulkner & Howard S. Becker. 2009. ‘Do you know?’ The Jazz Repertoire in Action. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

or most recently

Howard S. Becker 2014. What about Mozart? What about Murder? Reasoning about Cases. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


If anybody is interested in reviewing this latest book of Becker for Symbolic Interaction, please get in touch with me.





In the social sciences as well as media and communication studies there is an increasing interest in everyday technologies, like the cellphone and the webcam. Already in 2004 Paul Levinson, Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC, student of Neil Postman, and author of science fiction novels, published his book “Cellphone. The Story of the World’s Most Mobile Medium and How It Has Transformed Everything!“. The book situates the cellphone that in the UK is called “mobile phone” or simply “mobile” and in Germany “handy” within the development of other media before and alongside this highly mobile communication tools. At the centre of this highly readable volume are the new forms of communication and the mobility that the “Cellphone” enables. These characteristics of the mobile phone  have given rise to a number of opportunities and challenges that Levinson discusses, not without comparing them to the emergence of other media, such as the radio and television or the desktop computer.


Levinson highlights in particular that in the age of the mobile personal communication we have the possibility to reach out to others wherever we are whilst at the same time being reachable by others all the time. In fact, we expect of each other to be reachable at any point in time and have to account for moments in which we do not pick up our cellphone. The further advancement of the cellphone technology that has turned the “handy” into a highly mobile personal computer with access to email and social networking sites has increased the expectation of permanent reachability. Not surprisingly therefore people report that work increasingly interferes in private lives, work email is checked at family dinners and the Internet is being searched for news in sometimes inappropriate situations. Moreover, Levinson discusses the opportunities offered by video-cameras built into cellphones and its potential impact on news reporting, an impact that in recent years, we have seen being played out when news channels increasingly use video-clips shot with cellphone cameras by people present at events such as the  London riots or the London bombings in 2007.

Although Levinson’s ‘Cellphone’ is more than 10 years old it still is very relevant. It could do with an update that reflects the increasingly wide distribution of smart phones, includes research on cellphone use in social situations and discusses some of the solutions that people have developed to deal with the problem of omni-reachability, i.e. the use of multiple-phones for different purposes, phone stacks, digital etiquettes and technology shabbaths.


Die zunehmende Bedeutung von Videodaten in den Sozialwissenschaften in den vergangenen 30 Jahren wurde ueberraschenderweise nicht von technischen Entwicklungen begleitet, die dem Sozialwissenschaftler dabei helfen, mit der Komplixitaet des Datenmaterials umzugehen. Dies ist ueberraschend, da andere Benutzer von Videodaten, wie beispielsweise Trainer von Athletn und Fussballern, schon seit laengerem (semi-)professionelle Softwarepakete zur Analyse ihrer Daten verwenden.

Christine Moritz, die selbst das System Feldpartitur entwickelt hat, hat nun ein Buch herausgegeben, in dem Sozialwissenschaftler ihre sehr unterschiedlichen Vorgehensweisen und Praktiken zur Transkription von Video- und Filmdaten darstellen und erklaeren. Ihr Band “Transkription von Video- und Filmdaten in der Qualitativen Sozialforschung” beinhaltet drei Beitraege, die sich mit forschungsmethodologischen Ueberlegungen zur Analyse von Video- und Filmdaten in den Sozialwissenschaften auseinandersetzen, sowie 17 Kapitel, in denen Autoren erlaeutern, wie sie mit ihrer spezifischen forschungsmethodologischen Einstellung Video- und Filmdaten transkribieren und welche Bedeutung ihr Transkript fuer die Datenanalyse und -praesentation hat.

Mehr Informationen ueber den Band finden sich hier.

Das Inhaltsverzeichnis kann hier runtergeladen werden.

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 AtkinsonGreg SmithRandall 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