Trying to understand the major problems of our times, or enduring problems of the human condition? Consider very carefully social interaction: the theme of this OOPS course. Classical sociology, the sociology of the founders of the academic discipline of the late 19th and early 20th century, offered competing visions of the workings of society and the modern world, the world of capitalism, industry, the metropolis, and the modern state and the modern arts and sciences. The most influential theorists emphasized that society is more than the sum of its parts, a kind of moral organism, the position of Emile Durkheim, and that types of meaningful actions and their institutionalization constitute the social orders, the position of Max Weber. Indeed, Talcott Parsons’ work on social action and systems theory, the preeminent sociological theory of the post war era well into the 1970s, was largely a synthesis of these two positions. Although there were alternatives all along, and the conservative implications of the Parsonian synthesis came to be broadly criticized, it was still the case that when addressing major social problems the perspectives of choice included various forms of macro and structural analysis, informed by Durkheim, Weber and Parsons, or informed by a critique of their positions. In this seminar, we explore an alternative, considering the proposition that it is in interaction where the action is. This is a distinct tradition in sociology, the study of social interaction. Our starting point is with Durkheim’s theoretical rival, Gabriel Tarde, moving on to the sociological investigations informed by him and by Georg Simmel, and by John Dewey and George Herbert Mead.

We had our first session of the course last Thursday. I originally did not plan to make this seminar an OOPS course. I thought it would be straightforward disciplinary course in sociological theory and research, not one that is particularly politically engaged. But then, and interestingly in the interactions among the participants, we decided to turn ours into an Open Online Public Seminar, inviting people beyond the four walls of our classroom in, addressing them as our disciplinary concerns have broader significance, both as our work considers enduring human problems and pressing issues of the day. Their contributions will come out of the assignment to write three responses to assigned readings and seminar discussions during the semester.

We came to our decision after I provided an overview of the class, and they introduced themselves and their reasons for taking the course. Some of the participants indicated a disciplinary interest in the subfield, but others had more specific interests: styles of gender presentation, the interaction that form the inequalities of marginalized and subordinated groups, micro-aggressions, total institutions, informal economies, private spaces in public accessible spaces (creating small localities within big cities), and the social construction of health and illness, post truth politics, and the problem of belonging in multicultural world.

I know that I am going to judge much of their work from the perspective I developed in The Politics of Small Things, but I also know that the seminar participants each will develop their own perspectives drawing upon a great, if not the hegemonic, tradition in sociology. Here: a brief course description and the reading schedule; coming soon: their and my reports on the progress of our work together, and we welcome questions, criticisms and observations from  beyond our class.


In this course, we will explore major approaches to and studies of social interaction. We will start by examining classical works that map out social interaction as the primary domain of sociological investigation. We will turn to an overview of the study of mediation and interaction, to sensitize us to the fact that interaction is not confined to face to face encounters. We then will consider a variety of different investigations of interaction, focused on consensus, agency, conflict and change. Special attention will be given to how interaction occurs within different public and media forms and on the ways in which embedded within the web of social interactions are the dilemmas of “the social condition.

I. Social Interaction as the primary domain of sociological investigation

  1. Tarde, “Sociology,” Sociology, Social Psychology and Sociologism” and “A Debate with Emile Durkheim”
  2. Simmel, “The Problem of Sociology?” “How is Society Possible?” “The Stranger”
  3. Mead, Mind, Self and Society, especially “Self.”
  4. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems, especially chapter 1.

II. Mediation and the Social Condition

  1. Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place
  2. Dayan and Katz, Media Events
  3. Dayan, selected papers
  4. Goldfarb, The Politics of Small Things, chapter chapter 5 or “The Politics of Small Things,” The Communication Review
  5.  Tavory and Goldfarb on the Social Condition.

III. Consensus (meaningful action)

  1. Weber, “Fundamental Concepts of Sociology” (from Economy and Society)
  2. Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System,” “Ideology as a Cultural System”
  3. Arendt, “Ideology and Terror”
  4. Fine, “The Performance of Ideology” (from Tiny Publics)

IV. Agency and Order

  1. Blumer, Symbolic Interaction
  2. Goffman, *The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,; Deference and Demeanor
  3. Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology
  4. Latour, Reassembling the Social (Introduction and Conclusion)
  5. Collins, Interaction Ritual Chains, “On the Micro Foundations of Macro Sociology”
  6. Ikegami, “A Sociological Theory of Publics”
  7. Becker, “Art as Collective Action,” “Arts and Crafts,” “The Making of a Marihuana Smoker”
  8. Fine, “Tiny Publics as Social Order” (from Tiny Publics)
  9. West and Zimmerman, “Doing Gender”
  10. Young, “Throwing Like a Girl”
  11. Goodman, “Black, White and Hispanic”
  12. Alice Goffman, “On the Run”

V. Conflict

  1. Simmel, “Conflict,” “Prostitution”
  2. Scott and Lyman, “Accounts”
  3. Wright Mills, “Situated Actions and the Vocabulary of Motive”
  4. Boltanski and Thevenot, “The Sociology of Critical Capacity”
  5. Pacifici, The Restlessness of Events”
  6. Schilt and Westbrook, “Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity”

VI. Change

  1. Goldfarb: The Politics of Small Things, Reinventing Political Culture
  2. Havel, “The Power of the Powerless”