Sociology of Everyday Life 2012

[The sociologist's] own life, inevitably, is a part of his [/her] subject matter.

Peter Berger, Invitation to Sociology p. 21.

Why do we eat sardines yet never goldfish, ducks yet never parrots? Why does adding cheese make a hamburger a "cheese burger" whereas adding ketchup does not make it a "ketchupburger"? … How do we figure out which things that are said at a meeting are to be considered "off the record" and officially ignored? And how do we come to "remember" things that happened long before we were born?

Eviatar Zerubavel, Social Mindscapes

Course Description

from the course catalog

This is a course in microsociology with a structural slant. In this course we examine the ways in which seemingly private and personal realm of the self is structured by our being always already in a social world. Topics include saving face, embodiment and movement, the lived experience of time, stage fright, gender and management, multiple realities, how to survive social gatherings, how to work a room, why little girls and little boys throw differently, the social bases of thinking, managing spoiled identities. Authors to be considered include G. Simmel, A. Schutz, E. Goffman, G. H. Mead, W. James, I. Young, O. Sacks, M. Natanson, P. Berger & T. Luckmann, and E. Zerubavel.


Goffman, Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
Goffman, Interaction Ritual
Berger & Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality


The written work for this course will consist of several short assignments (reading reactions and the like) and a semi-major essay for each section of the course and a final exam. Attendance and participation taken for granted. Insufficient participation "costs" 5 and exemplary participation "earns" 5. Credit breakdown between assignments and essays is approximate.

Section Task Percentage Task Percentage
Self Assignments* 4 Essay (9/28) 10
Action Assignments 4 Essay (10/19) 10
Interaction Assignments 4 Essay (11/9) 10
World Assignments 4 Essay (11/30) 10
Course Journal 14 Final Exam (12/17) 30
* Assignments will include rotating duty as class note-taker and poster of notes

Each missed class beyond two will result in a deduction of 3% of the total possible course grade. Late assignments may be submitted for half-credit; instructor reserves right to provide no feedback on late assignments.

Academic Integrity

Customary academic standards academic integrity (including proper bibliographic citation) apply.  It is your responsibility to know what these are and to follow them.  Collaborative learning is encouraged, but work that is submitted under your name as a demonstration of your skills and competence must represent YOUR work.  Plagiarism, as defined under the Mills College Honor Code, will be cause for, at a minimum, a failing grade in this course. Please consult with instructor if you have any questions, or even the slightest doubt, about how to follow these requirements. When in doubt, cite.


Every effort will be made to make this class accessible for students regardless of disability. Students with needs for accomodation should contact for Students with Disabilities (Cowell Building, x2130) and inform the instructor in order for access to be arranged adequately and promptly.



Th 30-Aug: Course Introduction — What is water?

In other words.
To Do (after this class but before the next)

  1. Assignment #1: Exercise "I am Preedy"
  2. Access course website at
  3. To verify that you can get online readings, download Brekhus, 1998. "A Sociology of the Unmarked: Redirecting our Focus, Sociological Theory, 16:1 (Mar., 1998), pp. 34-51. from JSTOR
  4. You might want to listen to or read David Foster Wallace's commencement address.

In Class.   

Instructor. Course. Everyday Life. Water. Roles. Masks. Sincerity.

T 4 Sept:The Taken for Granted as an Object of Study

Everyday life is easy to study because it is right here, all the time.  Everyday life is difficult to study because it is right here, all the time.
To Do (before this class)
(1) look over syllabus and books, (2) read first few pages of PSEDL, (3) draft exercise 1 essay, (4) access (and perhaps start to read) Brekhus article

In Class.   

(1) Discussion about being Preedy. (2) Some pointers about being an observer of Everyday Life.

Th 6 Sept:The Unmarked, the Non-obvious, and the Taken-for-Granted

The "water" of everyday life goes by various names as seen in the title of today's class. The one we will use the most is "taken-for-granted" (TFG). Associated with the TFG is what Schutz called "the natural attitude (of everyday life)" — the normal stance we take in which things are, until further notice, what they seem to be and today is anticipated to be like yesterday. One theme of this course is the exploration of this natural attitude and its alternatives. One might say that the "sociological attitude" is one that involves a "snapping out" of, and active examination of, the natural one.

To Do (before this class)

  1. Read Brekhus, 1998. "A Sociology of the Unmarked: Redirecting our Focus, Sociological Theory, 16:1 (Mar., 1998), pp. 34-51. JSTOR
    • You may want to work through these leading questions to be sure you understand the article and have learned the new vocabulary
  2. Read Collins, Randall. 1998. "The Sociological Eye and Its Blinders." Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Jan., 1998), pp. 2-7.JSTOR
  3. Schutz, Alfred. 1970. "The Lifeworld," pp. 72-76 in On Phenomenology and Social Relations. (DL or GoogleBooks)

In Class. We'll talk about ways of turning the ordinary around and asking questions that get the world to show us it's non-obvious side. You might want to work through some exercises before class. We will revisit them in class and you should journal about them after and/or before class.
Discussion Notes

The Self

NOTE: You should start reading Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life if you have not already.

Journal Check-in #1 Tuesday 11 September

Tu 11 Sept:The I and the Me and the Social Self.

The individual is our starting point but we do not take it as given or simplistically unitary. Here we discarding the stand-alone self in favor of a self as a socially generated thing and that is simultaneously subject and object.
To Do (before this class)

Start your reading with this excerpt from George Herbert Mead's Mind, Self, and Society and then read a few pages from Simmel's essay "How is Society Possible?" We are especially interested in his first "a priori": humans can never whole know the other. Then use Wikipedia for a quick introduction to Cooley and his "looking glass self" and a review of Mead's I/me.

  1. Mead, George Herbert. 1934. "The "I" and the "me" as phases of the self", Section 25 in Mind Self and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (Edited by Charles W. Morris). Chicago: University of Chicago (1934): 192-200.
  2. Read pp. 377.3-381.6, look at 381.7-387.8 in Simmel, Georg. 1910. “How is Society Possible?” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 16, No. 3. (Nov.), pp. 372-391. JSTOR
  3. Wikipedia Editors. looking glass self
  4. Wikipedia Editors. Cooley
  5. Wikipedia Editors. Mead
  6. Wikipedia Editors. I/me

In Class.   
Discussion Notes

Th 13 Sept:The Imperfect, Less than Rational, Self

Humans are neither perfect nor omnipotent processors of information about the world around them. The everyday world as we know it is distorted by "natural" biases and social lenses. Today we'll hear about cognitive bias, social perception, and typification. And we'll wrap up with some suggestions about how to read Goffman
To Do (before this class)

Read over the "cognitive bias" article in Wikipedia. Pick 10 you find intriguing (you might also consist the list article) and document a recent case where each of first five has afflicted YOU and each of second five has afflicted someone else.

Typification reading TBA

In Class.   

Discussion Notes

Tu 18 Sept:Role and Performance

The behavioral expectations we have of others (and how we understand their behavior) and the scripts we follow in our own behavior are rooted in the shared language of role.
To Do (before this class)

  1. Theordorson & Theodorson. n.d. Dictionary of Sociology entries on "role" (DL)
  2. You have finished "Peformances" (1-76) in PSEDL and have at least a look at "Discrepant Roles" and "Communication Out of Character."

In Class.   

if time allows:Memory and the Self

Can the self live only "in the moment"? What is the role of memory in the constitution of the competent social self?
To Do (before this class)

  1. Sacks, “The Lost Mariner” partial text at Google Books
  2. Borges, J.L. 1942.  "Funes the memorious" in Ficciones. (DL)
  3. See also, perhaps, Ryan's blog entries, "Technologically Induced Social Alzheimers," "Information Rot," "No Such Thing as Evanescent Data."

In Class.   

Th 20 Sept:The Embodied Self

The social self is "always already" in a body in the world. Rather than reading an abstract treatise on this (we'd pick M. Merleau-Ponty if we did), we will read an excellent article, "Throwing Like a Girl," by the feminist political theorist Iris Marion Young. In TLAG Young phenomenologically dissects the common stereotype/observation that girls throw balls differently from boys. Her analysis goes far beyond gender and sports to provide a powerful theory of the embodied social self. While reading this piece you will encounter some useful ideas derived from existentialism and, hopefully, make connections between these and Mead's I and me.
To Do (before this class)

  1. Read Young, I. M .  1990.  "Throwing Like a Girl,"  pp. 140-159 in Throwing Like a Girl.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press. (DL).  You may find the "Throwing Like a Girl" Glossary useful.
  2. As you are reading, answer these leading/reading questions" in your journal.
  3. If the topic is intriguing, you might be interested in "Throwing Like a Girl" by James Fallows. The Atlantic Monthly, August 1996. 

In Class.   

Tu 25 Sept:Bad Faith

In TLAG we met the concepts "immanence" and "transcendance." The section concludes with further thoughts about self as subject and object, empowered and constrained.
To Do (before this class)

  1. Sartre, J. P. "Sincerity," excerpt from Being and Nothingness. (DL)
  2. Bad Faith (in Sartre's existentialism) (Wikipedia)
  3. TBA

In Class.   


Self Essay DUE 11pm Friday 28 Sept

Action and Identity.

Living in the social world as an activity.

Th 27 Sept:Performance and Impression Management

To Do (before this class)

  1. Goffman, E. 1959. Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,

In Class.   
With essays due tomorrow, we will use this class to review the rest of Goffman's book in the context of our works-in-progress.

Journal Check-in #2 Tuesday 2 October

Tu 2 Oct:Coolness and Stagefright

The stage of everyday life can be a scary place.
To Do (before this class)

  1. Lyman & Scott, “Coolness in Everyday Life,” pp. 90-97 in Sociology of the Absurd (DL)
  2. Katz, Jack. Selections from "Ways of the Badass" in Seductions of Crime (DL)

In Class. (class notes)

Lecture/Discussion: "Coolness in Everyday Life"  

Th 4 Oct:Accounts

Explaining oneself as a social act.
To Do (before this class)

  1. Lyman & Scott, “Accounts” pp. 133-55 in Sociology of the Absurd or American Sociological Review, Vol. 33, No. 1, Feb., 1968 (JSTOR)
  2. Mills, C. Wright . 1940. “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive.” American Sociological Review, Vol. 5, No. 6. (Dec.), pp. 904-913.(JSTOR)
  3. Schutz, A. Selection from On Phenomenology and Social Relations on because/in-order-to motives, pp. 126-128. (DL)
  4. Gresham M. Sykes and David Matza "Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency" American Sociological Review Vol. 22, No. 6 (Dec., 1957), pp. 664-670. JSTOR

In Class. (class notes)  

Lecture/Discussion: "Accounts, Reasons, and Excuses"  

Tu 9 Oct:Routine

To Do (before this class)

  1. Chambliss, Chapters 1-2 of Beyond Caring Excerpt 1
  2. Palmer, Nathan 2011. "Steve Jobs and the Routinization of Charisma" on the SocietyPages Blog.
  3. Selections on routinization

In Class.   
Notes on Routinization

Th 11 Oct:Doing Identity

To Do (before this class)

  1. Brekhus, W. Selections from Peacocks, Chameleons, and Centaurs. 2003. Chicago: [WWW University of Chicago Press
  2. Brekhus, Peacocks, Chameleons, and Centaurs Chapter 1
  3. Brekhus, Peacocks, Chameleons, and Centaurs Chapter 7
  4. Brekhus, Peacocks, Chameleons, and Centaurs references
  5. "Gay Suburbanites," pp. 1-34 WWW 1-25 on GoogleBooks
  6. "Vegan Peacocks, Christian Chameleons, and Soccer Mom Centaurs: Identity Grammar beyond Gay Identity," pp. 137-156.
  7. Mullaney, Jamie. Selections from Everyone is Not Doing It

In Class.   

Tu 16 Oct:Embarrassment and Risk

DJR Notes
To Do (before this class)

  1. Goffman, “Embarrassment and the Social Order,” p. 97-112 in Interaction Ritual
  2. Goffman, “Stigma and Social Identity,” pp. 1-40 in Stigma (plus the half page preface) (ScribD)
  3. Richards, Pamela “Risk,” pp. 108-120 in Becker’s Writing for Social Scientists how to start and finish your thesis, book, or article (DL)
  4. Lyman & Scott, “Stage Fright and the problem of Identity,” pp. 69-89 in Sociology of the Absurd (DL)

In Class.   

Action Essay DUE 11pm Friday 19 Oct


Th 18 Oct:Facework

Ground zero in the study of the interaction order. The self's social world is a world of others with whom we interact. Face: Having, Giving, Losing and Saving
To Do (before this class)

  1. Goffman Interaction Ritual 5-45 (“On Facework”),
  2. For next time47-95 (“The Nature of Deference and Demeanor”)

In Class.   

Journal Check-in #3 Tuesday 23 October

Tu 23 Oct:Gatherings

How do they work? How and why do they fail?
To Do (before this class)
In Class.   

Th 25 Oct:Relationships and Intersubjectivity

Beyond just encountering other selves, the self can "connect" with them.
To Do (before this class)
In Class.   

Tu 30 Oct:Social Distance, homophily

To Do (before this class)
In Class.   

Th 1 Nov:Types and Typification

Constructing social types is both an analytical tool and a part of the "natural attitude" of everyday life.
To Do (before this class)

  1. Klapp, O. The Fool as Social Type." The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 55, No. 2 (Sep., 1949), pp. 157-162 (DL)
  2. Murray S. Davis and Catherine J. Schmidt "The Obnoxious and the Nice: Some Sociological Consequences of Two Psychological Types" Sociometry Vol. 40, No. 3 (Sep., 1977), pp. 201-213 JSTOR
  3. Schutz on typification (DL)
  4. Berger/Luckmann c p 60
  5. Mary F. Rogers Sociology, Ethnomethodology and Experience "Experience, Meaning, and the Self" read available pages between 32 and 46.

In Class.   

TBA:Technology and EDL

Does anything change everything?
To Do (before this class)

  1. Turkle, S., selections
  2. Maria Bakardjieva Internet Society: The Internet in Everyday Life (see chapter 3)
  3. Mary Chayko, selections
  4. Chris Nippert-Eng, selections

In Class.   

Interaction Essay DUE 11pm Friday 9 Nov

The World of Everyday Life

Tu 6 Nov:Space

Everyday life fills space and space is what gives everyday life its multiplicity (i.e., space is what keeps everything from happening in the same place).
To Do (before this class)

  1. Goffman Excerpts from “The Territories of the Self,” pp 28-61 in Relations in Public
  2. E T Hall, Excerpts from The Hidden Dimension pp 113-129, 131-148
  3. S Lyman & M Scott, “Territoriality,” pp. 22-34 A Sociology of the Absurd (DL)
  4. R Somer, Selections from Personal Space, pp 111-119, 132-144, 58-73
  5. Goffman, E. 1959. "Regions and Region Behavior" 106-40 (35) in Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.
  6. Lyman & Scott. "Territoriality, " except from Sociology of the Absurd. Pp. 22-34 WWW Excerpt at Google Books

In Class.   

Th 8 Nov:Time

Being in the world means being in time.
To Do (before this class)

  1. Lyman & Scott, “On the Time Track,” pp. 35-51 from A Sociology of the Absurd (DL)
  2. Schutz, A. "Musical Communication," pp. 209-217 in Phenomenology and Social Relations. (DL)
  3. (optional) Schutz, A. "Anticipating and Projecting," pp. 137-145 in Phenomenology and Social Relations.

In Class.   

Journal Check-in #4 Tuesday 13 November

Tu 13 Nov:Honor, Status, and Prestige

Our egalitarian ideology may make us shun talking about it, but everyday life is shot through and through with a strong field of value and worth. In fact, it is a dominant dimension along which the world spreads out. We have already talked about it in terms of the moral assessment of the self in Goffman's account of face to face interaction. Here we look at the issue across scales.
To Do (before this class)

  1. Weber: "Class, Status, and Party"
  2. Goffman: "Deference and Demeanor" in Interaction Ritual
  3. Garfinkel, H. "Conditions of Successful Degradation Ceremonies." American Journal of Sociology , Vol. 61, No. 5 (Mar., 1956), pp. 420-424 (JSTOR)
  4. Wikipedia Editors, Ascribed vs. Achieved status
  5. Varshney on violence and honor

In Class.   

Th 15 Nov:Memory and the World

Early in the course we noted the importance of memory to the existence of the self and we challenged the idea that memory is a purely personal phenomenon. Now we scale this up to "world" size and consider the question of collective memory and the construction of reality.
To Do (before this class)
Readings on collective memory TBA
In Class.   

Tu 20 Nov:open

To Do (before this class)

In Class.   

Th 22 Nov:open

To Do (before this class)

In Class.   

Tu 27 Nov:The Construction of Social Reality

One of the most important concepts in mid-20th century social theory is the "social construction of reality."
To Do (before this class)

  1. Read Berger, P. and T. Luckmann. 1967. The Social Construction of Reality.

In Class.   

Th 29 Nov: Thanksgiving, No Class

World Essay DUE 11pm Friday 30 Nov
Journal Check-in #5 Tuesday 4 December

Tu 4 Dec:The Sociology of Information as the Study of Everyday Life

Th 6 Dec:Everything else depends on this

To Do (before this class)

In Class.