Keeping a Journal

If (as is the case) the main goal of this course is to encourage students to bring an intellectual perspective to bear on mundanity, then it seems reasonable (to me) to require as the main visible product of the term an intellectual journal of which more will be said during the term. Consult C. Wright Mills "On Intellectual Craftsmanship," an appendix in The Sociological Imagination for suggestions.

Daniel F. Chambliss, September 1977


A large part of the work for this course will be writing about everyday life. Like other forms of sociological writing, this one requires research, data collection, etc. as preparation for the production of finished essays, papers, and reports. Unlike other forms of sociological writing, the sociologist of everyday life is "in the laboratory" all the time. Learning to "do" the sociology of everyday life means learning to be observing and recording it and thinking about it all the time. That's what we'll use the "journal" for. Here are some sample entries from my journals over the years. On occasion, I will distribute "exercises" which are meant to inspire journal entries. You "submit" the exercise by writing it up in your journal.


The intellectual journal we have in mind here is not a diary. It is also not a collection of reading notes. Rather it is something you carry around with you all the time, jotting down the curious things you notice about the world. Snippets of conversation. Behaviors you see but don't understand because you missed some of the contextual clues (perhaps you arrived late or couldn't hear what people were saying). Interactions you have where you get a sudden glimps of the taken for granted. Descriptions of "social types" that you come to realize are a part of your way of lumping and splitting the world. Distinctions you make that are not based on "nature." Distinctions you do not make but that others do. Boundaries you cross as you make your daily round and how you prepare for the crossing or feel about its execution.
One model of the everyday life journal would be that it is a collection of materials quite like those that Zerubavel or Goffman or Garfinkel or Simmel or Schutz or Natanson might have used as raw material for one of the books or articles we'll read.

Most of all, it reflects your growing consciousness of the social textures of the world around you.


The root of the world journal is "day" and that's when you are expected to write in it. Every day entries about everyday life. A journal cannot be "done later." It is the height of intellectual dishonesty and ridiculousness to post date entries. If you fail to write anything for a few days, write something about why that might be so.

Practical Hints

Avoid spiral bound notebooks for journals — pages fall out and that's a tragedy. The old sewn-binding marble covered copybooks are often a great way to start. They're cheap, nicely sized for carrying around, and they don't fall apart. Fancy-schmancy leather bound diary type journals that you get for Christmas from great aunts are sometimes a bad idea. Page format too small, artsy-fartsy binding inspires poetry rather than raw observations, and they drive me nuts when they make a pile of journals fall over in my office! Some folks like to carry a little tiny notebook (the kind we used to have for our assignments in gradeschool and that fit in a shirt pocket) for instant jottings. That's a good idea. Not so good, however, when you use such a notebook for your whole journal. It discourages extended observations and freewriting because you have to turn the page every five words.
Date all entries. Use space liberally. The point of a journal is that you can go back later and read what you've written, perhaps annotating it or commenting on it. This material is the raw material, remember, for your papers.

Treat your journal as sacred. These are your ideas and your observations of your world.

SEE ALSO: Sample Journal Entries