This American Life, "There's Something about Mary" story


H2O Berkman Center Social Theory List
Norms and Coordination : Social Kissing

The Monkey and the Thought Neuron

Spilling Coffee

Rob Willer

  1. Experiments
  2. Cognitive Biases
  3. Conformity
  4. Obedience
  5. Roles & Identity
  6. Status
  7. Stereotypes
  8. Automaticity
  9. Immune Neglect
  10. Happiness
  11. Relationships

nice overview of social psychology
Jessica Collet's OpenCourseware course at Notre Dame

  • Goffman, "Role Distance" in Encounters
  • Merton "The Role-Set…" Brit J Soc 1957
  • Bates, "Position, Role, and Status: A Reformulation of Concepts," Social Forces 1956.

Exercise:role/position comes with value/prestige/honor - present pairs that differ on this dimension while being similar in other dimensions. Police officer vs. security guard.

Exercise. Analyze an instance of what Goffman (1961: 96) calls a "situated activity system" (e.g., "[t]he performance of a surgical operation …. the playing-through of a game; the execution of one run of a small-group experiment; the giving and getting of a haircut.")

Could the course be built around the general theme of "practical applications of social psychology to everyday life"? What sorts of insights are available that are relevant to the ordinary everyday life in which all the "big" stuff (matters of consequence, someone once called it) is embedded.

*What do we take for granted?*

  1. The physical world
  2. The unseen parts of objects (and biographies)
  3. Institutions
  4. Shared categories
  5. Definition of the situation

Course Components ("I live in a social world")

Self, world, interaction.
Self (roles, identity, subject/object, performance, embarrassment and shame, shyness, attitude, body, bad faith, excuses/reasons/motives, time)
Interaction (reciprocity of perspectives, non-solipsism, comparison)
World (social construction, categories, physical world, norms, time/space, perception)

Can we organize in terms of nested concepts. For example, top level might be self/world/interaction and then within each we have time/space/person

Motives and Reasons

  • techniques of neutralization
  • Mills on situated actions
  • nudge/freakonomics/Ariely
  • bounded rationality?
  • Sartre on bad faith
  • Lyman & Scott on accounts

Values, worth, moral dimension

  • Goffman from "On Facework"
  • degradation ceremonies (Garfinkel)
  • Weber class status party
  • Something else on prestige, honor?
  • embarrassment

Typification, etc.

  • suppression of details (Schutz, others?)
  • Zerubavel on attention
  • comparison
  • stereotypes
  • figure and ground
  • routinization
  • ROLE here too?


  • presentation of self
  • performance
  • backstage
  • roles
  • identity / shyness
  • ritual chains, social energy
  • embarrassment


  • body in space - I M Young
  • Straus "Forms of Spatiality"
  • network distance?
  • Hall (personal space)
  • Sommer (personal space)
  • architecture and design
  • Lyman/Scott territoriality


  • Lyman/Scott "Time Tracks"
  • Cultural variations
  • Zerubavel reckoning time
  • Social rhythms
  • Time use studies


  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Young
  • subject/object i/me
  • role distance


  • boredom
  • multitasking
  • civil disattention
  • markers and uniforms
  • practice/mundanity of excellence/habit/changing self (connect to responsibility and bad faith?) talent?
  • notification/information/communication
  • intersubjectivity. empathy. motor neurons.
  • phenomenology — description from the inside vs. description from the outside.


Simmel "How is society possible?"
Mills "Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive"
Somer on personal space
Hall on personal space?
?? on time — cross cultural. Canada guy on time usage?
Chambliss, "Mundanity of Excellence"