Urban interaction ritual: Strangership, civil inattention and everyday incivilities in public space

Mervyn Horgan

Abstract

Most encounters between strangers in urban public spaces involve the ritual of civil inattention (Goffman 1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar). Generalized diffusion of this ritual upholds the urban interaction order. This article outlines a typology of infractions of the ritual of civil inattention, and focuses on two types: uncivil attention and uncivil inattention. Drawing on interviews (n = 326) about participants’ most recent encounter with a rude stranger in urban public space gathered by the Researching Incivilities in Everyday Life (RIEL) Project, variations between verbally, physically, and gesturally initiated incivilities are examined. Data suggests a correlation between types of initiating move and subsequent verbal exchange. Analysis demonstrates the value of ritual framing for understanding interactional conflict between strangers, and indicates that the broader concept of incivility can supplement and extend existing impoliteness research by encompassing both linguistic and non-linguistic forms of interactional conflict.

Keywords:
Publication history
Table of contents

1.Introduction

The copresence of multitudes of persons unknown to one another in urban public spaces provides fertile terrain for analysts of interaction. Generally, strangers in large North American cities do not explicitly interact with one another. For everyday urban life to proceed in ways that appear ‘normal’ and relatively orderly requires complicity between copresent strangers to not explicitly interact.

In Behavior in Public Places, Goffman famously posits that strangers enact the ritual of civil inattention (1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar, 83–88), “the slightest of interpersonal rituals… that constantly regulates the social intercourse of persons in our society” (84). Through this ritual individuals can reasonably expect to provide to strangers, and to be provided with by strangers, a minimal kind of recognition. This form of ‘just-enough’ recognition – sufficient say, to avoid bumping into one another on a busy sidewalk – is what Goffman calls the “minimal courtesy of civil inattention” (1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar, 86). The ritual of civil inattention is key to upholding the urban interaction order (Horgan 2017a 2017a “Interaction, Indifference, Injustice: Elements of a Normative Theory of Urban Solidarity.” In Interrogating the Social: A Critical Sociology for the 21st Century, ed. by F. Kurasawa, 61–94. Heidelberg: Springer Berlin. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), that is, the endogenous interactional organization of collective life amongst copresent strangers in public spaces. The urban interaction order, then, is a highly ritualized moral order. That said, mutual observation of the ritual of civil inattention is not guaranteed: it is discarded in rude encounters between strangers.

Building on conceptual foundations that Goffman (1967) 1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar developed out of Durkheim’s (1995) 1995The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar analysis of the sacred character of ritual, this article revisits and re-examines Goffman’s formulation of civil inattention in light of emerging ritual research in im/politeness studies (Kádár 2012Kádár, D. 2012 “Relational Ritual.” In Handbook of Pragmatics, ed. by J.-O. Östman and J. Verschueren, 1–40. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) and developments in contemporary cultural sociology (Alexander 2006 2006The Civil Sphere. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Taking civil inattention as “the slightest of interpersonal rituals” (Goffman 1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar, 84), this article focuses on uncivil encounters between strangers, which I treat as breaches of the ritual of civil inattention (often reported using the general formula, ‘I was just minding my own business when …’). Using a modified form of Smith et al’s (2010)Smith, P., T. L. Phillips, and R. D. King 2010Incivility: The Rude Stranger in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar ‘everyday incivilities’ approach, I report data from the Researching Incivilities in Everyday Life (RIEL) Project, treating as rude any encounter subjectively interpreted as rude by at least one interactant.

The RIEL dataset comprises 326 short interviews with adults about participants’ most recent encounters with rude strangers in public space in Canada’s most urbanized region.11.Participants were drawn from the Canada’s Greater Golden Horseshoe region, a highly urbanized area incorporating several cities with a total population of 9.2 million and projected to grow to 11.5 million by 2031 (Statistics Canada 2016; Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure 2013Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure 2013Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Toronto: Ministry of Infrastructure. https://​www​.placestogrow​.ca​/content​/ggh​/2013​-06​-10​-Growth​-Plan​-for​-the​-GGH​-EN​.pdf). This area constitutes about 0.2% of Canada’s territory, yet houses over 25% of the total population. Analysis of post-event interview data (Kádár and Haugh 2013) indicates that framing such encounters as interaction ritual infractions opens up new insights and new avenues of research that both complement and extend existing work on im/politeness. The analysis draws out some specifics of the RIEL data, and aims to illuminate the previously unlit corner where im/politeness studies, urban sociology, and cultural sociology meet. Thus, I make a specific kind of contribution to the study of ritual in im/politeness research by wedding it to contemporary research in cultural sociology. My argument underpins the analytic promise and value of a ritual approach to the study of im/politeness and closely related phenomena.

I begin by briefly reviewing sociological research on stranger interactions, and relevant work in im/politeness research. Then a short discussion of complementarities between ritual theory in sociology and research on ritual in im/politeness research follows. I suggest that attention to the ritual of civil inattention opens up a larger class of phenomena than those analyzed in existing im/politeness research. Drawing on underexplored possibilities of civil sphere theory in cultural sociology (Alexander 2006 2006The Civil Sphere. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), I outline a basic typology of urban interaction ritual, honing in on two main types of breaches of the ritual of civil inattention: uncivil attention and uncivil inattention. From there, I turn to the RIEL dataset to describe variations between uncivil encounters that are initiated in different ways, focusing in particular on uncivil encounters that are verbally initiated and physically initiated. To conclude, I suggest that, in light of the RIEL data, the possibilities of a ritual focus in im/politeness studies open the subfield up to new insights from urban sociology and cultural sociology.22.Before more fully situating the present research in the extant literature, a quick note on nomenclature. Like most fields of social scientific research, terminological debates proliferate in impoliteness research (Bargiela-Chiappini 2003Bargiela-Chiappini, F. 2003 “Face and Politeness: New (Insights) for Old (Concepts).” Journal of Pragmatics 35: 1453–1469. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Bousfield and Culpeper 2008Bousfield, D., and J. Culpeper 2008 “Impoliteness: Eclecticism and Diaspora.” Journal of Politeness Research. 4(2): 161–168. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Kienpointner 1997Kienpointner, M. 1997 “Varieties of Rudeness: Types and Functions of Impolite Utterances.” Functions of Language 4: 251–287. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Limberg 2009Limberg, H. 2009 “Impoliteness and Threat Responses.” Journal of Pragmatics 41: 1376–1394. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). While the term impoliteness is in more general usage in pragmatics, in this article I favor the broader term incivility (see also Sifianou 2019Sifianou, M. 2019 “Im/politeness and In/Civility: A Neglected Relationship?Journal of Pragmatics, 147: 49–64. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). This is for three main reasons. First, to make explicit reference to Goffman’s (1963) 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar concept of civil inattention; second, to hew close to the everyday incivilities approach (Smith et al. 2010Smith, P., T. L. Phillips, and R. D. King 2010Incivility: The Rude Stranger in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) which falls under the broader rubric of contemporary cultural sociology; and third, to incorporate a wider range of phenomena than those analyzed in existing research on impoliteness between copresent persons. Each of these justifications will become clearer as the argument develops. Another manuscript under preparation develops fuller justification for this conceptually consequential terminological shift.

2.Cities, strangers, and im/politeness

2.1The distinct realm of urban interaction

“Social interaction can be identified narrowly as that which uniquely transpires in social situations, that is, environments in which two or more persons are physically in one another’s response presence” (Goffman 1983 1983 “The Interaction Order.” American Sociological Review 48: 1–17. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2).

The particularities of collective life in cities provide analysts of social interaction with a rich vein to mine. Almost a century ago, sociologist Louis Wirth noted that urbanism is a “distinctive mode of human group life”, offering a “minimal definition” of the city “as a relatively large, dense, and permanent settlement of socially heterogeneous individuals” (1938Wirth, L. 1938 “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” American Journal of Sociology 44: 1–24. http://​www​.jstor​.org​/stable​/2768119, 8). Where this “minimal definition” of urbanism’s “distinctive mode of human group life” (1938Wirth, L. 1938 “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” American Journal of Sociology 44: 1–24. http://​www​.jstor​.org​/stable​/2768119, 8) overlaps with Goffman’s attunement to what “uniquely transpires” (1983 1983 “The Interaction Order.” American Sociological Review 48: 1–17. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2) when persons are copresent, we find that slice of intersubjective reality termed the “urban interaction order” (Horgan 2017a 2017a “Interaction, Indifference, Injustice: Elements of a Normative Theory of Urban Solidarity.” In Interrogating the Social: A Critical Sociology for the 21st Century, ed. by F. Kurasawa, 61–94. Heidelberg: Springer Berlin. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; 2019Horgan, Mervyn 2019a “Everyday Incivility and the Urban Interaction Order: Theorizing Moral Affordances in Ritualized Interaction.” Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict, 7(1), 32–55. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Like the interaction order in general, the urban interaction order is a “substantive domain in its own right” (Goffman 1983 1983 “The Interaction Order.” American Sociological Review 48: 1–17. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2).

This distinct realm of urban interaction between strangers animates much of Goffman’s work (1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar, 1971 1971Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order. New York: Harper Row.Google Scholar). “To grasp some aspects of urban secular living” (1967 1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar, 95), he employed “a version of urban ethnography” (Goffman and Verhoeven 1980Goffman, E., and J. Verhoeven 1980 “An Interview with Erving Goffman.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 26: 317–348.Google Scholar, 318). In this spirit, interactionally attuned sociologists emphasize the particularity of the interactional dynamics characterizing types of social contact between strangers in urban public spaces (Duneier and Molotch 1999Duneier, M., and H. Molotch 1999 “Talking City Trouble: Interactional Vandalism, Social Inequality, and the ‘Urban Interaction Problem’.” American Journal of Sociology 104: 1263–1295. http://​www​.jstor​.org​/stable​/10​.1086​/210175; Lofland 1973Lofland, L. 1973A World of Strangers: Order and Action in Urban Public Space. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar; Morrill et al. 2005Morrill, C., D. A. Snow, and C. H. White (Eds.) 2005Together Alone: Personal Relationships in Public Places. Berkeley: University of California Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Raudenbush 2012Raudenbush, D. T. 2012 “Race and Interactions on Public Transportation: Social Cohesion and the Production of Common Norms and a Collective Black Identity.” Symbolic Interaction 35: 456–473. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).

While recent work in pragmatics and related fields has also developed new methods for analysis of public interaction between strangers (Mondada 2009Mondada, L. 2009 “Emergent Focused Interactions in Public Places: A Systematic Analysis of the Multimodal Achievement of a Common Interactional Space.” Journal of Pragmatics 41: 1977–1997. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Smith 2017Smith, R. J. 2017 “The Practical Organisation of Space, Interaction, and Communication in and as the Work of Crossing a Shared Space Intersection.” Sociologica 2: 1–19. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), as discussed below, encounters between copresent persons with no prior knowledge of one another outside of institutional or service settings have largely escaped the attention of im/politeness researchers.

2.2The relative absence of copresent strangers from im/politeness research

Impoliteness research began to cohere within a decade of Brown and Levinson’s (1987)Brown, P., Levinson, S. C. 1987Politeness: some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar foundational work on politeness with Culpeper’s (1996)Culpeper, J. 1996 “Towards an Anatomy of Impoliteness.” Journal of Pragmatics 25: 349–367. CrossrefGoogle Scholar delineation of the “anatomy of impoliteness”. Since that time, impoliteness research has grown remarkably with great variation in focus (Bousfield 2008 2008Impoliteness in interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; 2010 2010 “Researching Impoliteness and Rudeness: Issues and Definitions.” In Interpersonal Pragmatics, ed. by M. Locher and S. Graham, 101–134. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar; Bousfield & Culpeper 2008Bousfield, D., and J. Culpeper 2008 “Impoliteness: Eclecticism and Diaspora.” Journal of Politeness Research. 4(2): 161–168. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Bousfield & Locher 2008Bousfield, D., and Locher, M. 2008Impoliteness in language. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Culpeper 2011 2011Impoliteness: Using language to cause offence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Culpeper et al. 2017Culpeper, J., M. Haugh, and D. Z. Kádár (Eds.) 2017The Palgrave Handbook of Linguistic (Im)politeness. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Locher & Graham 2010Locher, M. & Graham, S. 2010Interpersonal Pragmatics. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Terkourafi 2012Terkourafi, M. 2012 “Politeness and Pragmatics.” In The Cambridge Handbook of Pragmatics, ed. by K. Allan, and K. Jaszczolt, 617–637. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Watts 2009Watts, R. J. 2009Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar). Though the body of research on impoliteness is now both extensive and diverse, many arenas of social life – including impoliteness between copresent strangers – remain underexplored.

For Leech, “conflictive illocutions tend, thankfully, to be rather marginal to human linguistic behaviour in normal circumstances” (1983Leech, G. 1983Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman.Google Scholar, 105; see also Watts 2009Watts, R. J. 2009Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar, 5).33.Contextual cues facilitating Leech’s “banter principle” (1983Leech, G. 1983Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman.Google Scholar) may not be fully operational the urban interaction order, as banter depends primarily on at least loosely bounded groups with some sort of explicitly shared bond (for example, on friendship groups, see Vergis and Terkourafi 2015Vergis, N., and M. Terkourafi 2015 “The Role of the Speaker’s Emotional State in Im/politeness Assessments.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 34: 316–342. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; on “mock impoliteness” between familiars, see Dynel and Poppi 2019Dynel, M., and F. Poppi 2019 “Risum teneatis, amici?: The Socio-Pragmatics of RoastMe Humour.” Journal of Pragmatics 139: 1–21. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Similarly, Culpeper reports that impoliteness “casts a much larger shadow than its frequency of usage would suggest … Behaviours and expressions considered impolite are more noticed and discussed than politeness” (2010 2010 “Conventionalised Impoliteness Formulae.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 3232–3245. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 3239). RIEL data digs down on this apparently marginal class of phenomena, adopting the everyday incivilities approach to analyze these often minor annoyances that are part of the humdrum of everyday urban life. Uncivil encounters are likely much less frequent than civil ones, but this does not mean that uncivil encounters are rare; over a quarter of RIEL participants reported an uncivil encounter with a stranger within the previous week, and well over a half within the previous four weeks.

Research focused exclusively on copresent strangers is underrepresented in im/politeness research, though related research focuses on linguistic differences. For example, Barros García and Terkourafi (2014)Barros García, M. J., and M. Terkourafi 2014 “First-Order Politeness in Rapprochement and Distancing CulturesPragmatics 24: 1–34. CrossrefGoogle Scholar treat strangers as those who do not share a language. and Mondada (2018) 2018 “Greetings as a Device to Find Out and Establish the Language of Service Encounters in Multilingual Settings.” Journal of Pragmatics 126: 10–28. CrossrefGoogle Scholar examines how initial greetings establish what language will be used in multilingual settings (see also Culpeper 2010 2010 “Conventionalised Impoliteness Formulae.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 3232–3245. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Similarly, im/politeness research tends to focus on settings where there is an explicit social connection – whether affective or instrumental – such as in workplaces, or in institutional and service circumscribed exchanges (Bousfield 2007Bousfield, D. 2007 “Beginnings, Middles and Ends: A Biopsy of the Dynamics of Impolite Exchanges.” Journal of Pragmatics 39: 2185–2216. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; 2018 2018 “Face(t)s of Self and Identity in Interaction.” Journal of Politeness Research 14: 225–243. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Incivilities occurring in workplaces and in the everyday functioning of institutions may differ from those occurring between strangers in public space, where rules of behavior between physically copresent others are less institutionally circumscribed.44.For example, Bousfield (2007)Bousfield, D. 2007 “Beginnings, Middles and Ends: A Biopsy of the Dynamics of Impolite Exchanges.” Journal of Pragmatics 39: 2185–2216. CrossrefGoogle Scholar provides an astute analysis of the problems traffic wardens face in public interaction. Additionally, recent im/politeness research has seen a significant shift from a focus on face-to-face interaction towards online and technologically mediated interaction (Bou-Franch & Blitvich 2014Bou-Franch, P., and Garcés-Conejos Blitvich, P. 2014 “The Pragmatics of Textual Participation in the Social Media.” Journal of Pragmatics, 73: 1–3. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Graham 2019Graham, S. L. 2019 “Interaction and Conflict in Digital Communication.” In The Routledge Handbook of Language in Conflict, ed. by M. Evans, L. Jeffries, and J. O’Driscoll, pp. 310–327. New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Jay 2018Jay, T. 2018 “Swearing, Moral Order, and Online Communication.” Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict 6: 107–126. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Locher 2010Locher, M. 2010 “Introduction: Politeness and Impoliteness in Computer-Mediated Communication.” Journal of Politeness Research 6(1): 1–5. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Parvaresh and Tayebi 2018Parvaresh, V., and T. Tayebi 2018 “Impoliteness, Aggression and the Moral Order.” Journal of Pragmatics 132: 91–107. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). While this is important research, the interactional worlds populated and produced by copresent persons remain vast and underexplored.

Attention to uncivil encounters between strangers beyond institutional and service provision encounters expands the orbit of im/politeness studies. In the spirit of eclecticism and curiosity that characterize im/politeness research (Bousfield and Culpeper 2008Bousfield, D., and J. Culpeper 2008 “Impoliteness: Eclecticism and Diaspora.” Journal of Politeness Research. 4(2): 161–168. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), this article widens the lens from impoliteness to incivility (Sifianou 2019Sifianou, M. 2019 “Im/politeness and In/Civility: A Neglected Relationship?Journal of Pragmatics, 147: 49–64. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), shedding new light on familiar phenomena.

2.3Stranger interactions beyond im/politeness research

Im/politeness research is not alone in overlooking the distinctiveness of interactions between copresent strangers. Stranger interactions prove analytically troublesome in many areas. For example, foundational studies of initial interaction in work groups and institutional settings relied on hypothetical situations and on interactions leading to ongoing contact rather than one-off encounters (Berger and Calbrese 1975Berger, C. R., and R. J. Calabrese 1975 “Some Explorations in Initial Interaction and Beyond: Toward a Developmental Theory of Interpersonal Communication.” Human Communication Research 1: 99–112. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Some research in pragmatics examines phatic talk between strangers, though this tends to be under experimental conditions (Flint et al. 2019Flint, N., M. Haugh, and Merrison, A. 2019 “Modulating Troubles Affiliating in Initial Interactions: The Role of Remedial Accounts.” Pragmatics 29(3): 384–409. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), or in institutional rather than public spaces (Edmondson and House 1981Edmondson, W. and J. House 1981Let’s Talk, and Talk about It: A Pedagogic Interactional Grammar of English. München: Urban u. Schwarzenberg.Google Scholar; House 2013House, Juliane 2013 “Developing Pragmatic Competence in English as a Lingua Franca: Using Discourse Markers to Express (Inter)Subjectivity and Connectivity.” Journal of Pragmatics 59: 57–67. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Other work on encounters between strangers focuses on the intentional search for connection – in speed dating, for example (Korobov 2011Korobov, N. 2011 “Mate-Preference Talk in Speed-Dating Conversations.” Research on Language & Social Interaction 44: 186–209. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Stokoe 2010Stokoe, E. 2010 “ ‘Have You Been Married, or …?’: Eliciting and Accounting for Relationship Histories in Speed-Dating Interaction.” Research on Language & Social Interaction 43: 260–282. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) – or on encounters oriented towards future cooperation (Svennevig 2014Svennevig, J. 2014 “Direct and Indirect Self-Presentation in First Conversations.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 33: 302–327. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Beyond sociology there is little research on interactions between strangers in public spaces who remain as strangers.

In social psychology related research on rudeness has also grown significantly over the last two decades, tending to connect rudeness and aggression (Hamilton 2012Hamilton, M. A. 2012 “Verbal Aggression: Understanding the Psychological Antecedents and Social Consequences.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 31: 5–12. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), or focusing on predicting rudeness by way of personality traits, often through analysis of interaction in the laboratory rather than naturally occurring interaction (Ickes 2009Ickes, W. J. 2009Strangers in a Strange Lab. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Ickes et al. 2012Ickes, W., A. Park, and R. L. Robinson 2012 “F#!%ing Rudeness: Predicting the Propensity to Verbally Abuse Strangers.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 31: 75–94. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). There also exists an extensive literature on workplace incivility (Leiter 2013Leiter, M. 2013Analyzing and Theorizing the Dynamics of the Workplace Incivility Crisis. New York: Springer. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).

Overall, research on uncivil encounters between strangers has been given short shrift. Studies of interaction between strangers tend to treat it as a precursor for the development of stronger ties and/or a shared task orientation. Fleeting encounters between strangers in public space who continue as strangers to one another remain under-analyzed.

While im/politeness research has advanced our understanding of linguistically mediated interactional conflict, the RIEL data reported below suggests that not all interactions between strangers are linguistically initiated or mediated (Sifianou & Tzanne 2010Sifianou, M., & Tzanne, A. 2010 “Conceptualizations of Politeness and Impoliteness in Greek.” Intercultural Pragmatics, 7(4): 661–687. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). So, while the properties of linguistic incivilities are well described (and debated) in im/politeness research, my analysis differs in several ways by;

  • examining uncivil encounters between copresent strangers beyond institutional settings and service encounters in urban public spaces,

  • treating impoliteness as linguistic incivility, a subset of incivility more generally

  • not assuming continued post-encounter contact

  • taking seriously ritual dimensions of stranger interactions

While focusing on the particularity of uncivil encounters between strangers in public space is a very specific subset of impoliteness in general, as I show here, examining everyday incivilities between strangers opens broader classes of interactional phenomena to analysis.

Since civil inattention is here treated as interaction ritual (Goffman 1967 1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar), a focused discussion of ritual is warranted.

3.Ritual dimensions of expressive social activity

“[R]itual is not a type of activity that can be set off from the rest of the world for special investigation. It is a dimension of all social activity” (Wuthnow 1989Wuthnow, R. 1989Meaning and Moral Order. Berkeley: University of California Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 101, emphasis in original).

Rituals both “evoke and communicate meanings” (Wuthnow 1989Wuthnow, R. 1989Meaning and Moral Order. Berkeley: University of California Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 99). They provide means for assigning meaning to persons and relations. As forms of expressive social activity, successful rituals communicate the communal value or worth of persons and relations (Durkheim 1995 1995The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar). Shared willingness to abide by ritual forms – to enact and sustain ritual smoothness and consistency – expresses common values (Collins 2005Collins, R. 2005Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar; Alexander 2004b 2004b “Cultural Pragmatics: Social Performance between Ritual and Strategy.” Sociological Theory 22: 527–573. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) and affirms individual status and worth (Goffman 1967 1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar).

Following Wuthnow, we move from a restricted view of ritual as formal rite separate from everyday life, towards understanding ritual dimensions of all social interaction. This shifts us from a conception of ritual as a formally bounded activity to a broader view using ritual framing in everyday social interaction. This approach is clear in work on interaction ritual (Goffman 1967 1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar), more recently elaborated in interaction ritual theory, focused on ritual’s “emotional ingredients” (Collins 2005Collins, R. 2005Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar, 105), especially mutual entrainment, in the ritual production of collective effervescence. While it is the strongest ritually generated expression of collectivity, it is unnecessary to go so far as the intensity of Durkheim’s collective effervescence to find mutuality in ritual: mutuality is central to ritual dimensions of all interaction (Horgan 2017b 2017b “Mundane Mutualities: Solidarity and Strangership in Everyday Urban Life.” In Place, Diversity and Solidarity, ed. by Oosterlynck, S., Schuermans, N., and Loopmans, M., 19–32, New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).

Mundane manifestations of ritual have long exercised students of social interaction. For some, deviation from ritual form signifies abnormality. For example, in diagnostic settings, Laing notes that “[r]itualization is a formal patterning of the encounter” (1966, 334) between psychiatrist and patient. Because ritual is expressive, it centers on meaning, and so, in the therapeutic encounter, provides patients with opportunities for “destructuring…the usual social structure of communication”, toppling the ritual form by refusing to use “socially shared signals” (1966, 332; on ritual affronts see also Goffman 1967 1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar, 89; Culpeper 2010 2010 “Conventionalised Impoliteness Formulae.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 3232–3245. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).

Ritual, then, is expressive and provides a means for willful symbolic denigration of another person. While the meta-communicative dimensions of ritual affronts are beyond the purview of the current study, of value is recognition that shared reference points can be mobilized to deny mutuality. Without mutual commitment from interactants, common ground is easily discarded. Thus, interaction rituals have a social contractual basis – albeit an informal one – and by not questioning the arbitrary nature of ritualized conventions in interaction, the business of everyday life gets done (Collins 2005Collins, R. 2005Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar, 104; Garfinkel 1967Garfinkel, H. 1967Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar; Terkourafi and Kádár 2017Terkourafi, M., and D. Kádár 2017 “Convention and Ritual (Im)politeness.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Linguistic (Im)politeness, ed. by J. Culpeper, M. Haugh, and D. Kádár, 171–195. Basingstoke: Palgrave. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Strangers in public space usually offer one another civil inattention, and in most cases this offer is mutually honored. Nonetheless, the ritual dimensions of encounters between strangers make ritual infraction an ever-present possibility.

3.1Civil inattention as urban interaction ritual

As a widely experienced form of urban interaction, civil inattention occurs with more regularity than the “mere exchange of friendly glances” (Goffman 1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar, 101). Indeed, civil inattention is “the most frequent of our interpersonal rituals” (1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar, 101, emphasis added), involving a restricted range of attentional adjustment whereby “one gives to another enough visual notice to demonstrate that one appreciates that the other is present (and that one admits openly to having seen him [sic]), while at the next moment withdrawing one’s attention…so as to express that he does not constitute a target of special curiosity or design” (Goffman 1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar, 84). So, while civil inattention “is perhaps the slightest of interpersonal rituals…[it is] one that constantly regulates the social intercourse of persons in our society” (1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar, 84). Our core thematic concern, then, is ritualized urban interaction – here termed, urban interaction ritual.

Shared commitment to civil inattention through the mutual indifference of strangers makes ordinary everyday urban life amongst strangers possible (Durkheim 1964Durkheim, É. 1964The Division of Labour in Society. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar; Horgan 2017a 2017a “Interaction, Indifference, Injustice: Elements of a Normative Theory of Urban Solidarity.” In Interrogating the Social: A Critical Sociology for the 21st Century, ed. by F. Kurasawa, 61–94. Heidelberg: Springer Berlin. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; 2017b 2017b “Mundane Mutualities: Solidarity and Strangership in Everyday Urban Life.” In Place, Diversity and Solidarity, ed. by Oosterlynck, S., Schuermans, N., and Loopmans, M., 19–32, New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Simmel 1971Simmel, G. 1971On Individuality and Social Forms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar). My analysis delineates variations in the ways that basic breaches of the ritual of civil inattention play out. While I am mindful of and have much to say about them, I leave aside entirely more macro and ontogenetic questions about the relationship between interactional ritual and moral order more generally.55.For an outline of the normative foundations underpinning stranger interactions – ‘moral affordances’ – and a basic conceptual schema for delineating the relationship between interaction ritual and moral order, see Horgan (2019)Horgan, Mervyn 2019a “Everyday Incivility and the Urban Interaction Order: Theorizing Moral Affordances in Ritualized Interaction.” Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict, 7(1), 32–55. CrossrefGoogle Scholar. Before outlining the typology, the next section considers the place of ritual in im/politeness research and cultural sociology.

3.2Ritual at the intersection of im/politeness research and cultural sociology

While pragmatics in general, and im/politeness research in particular, find conceptual footing in general social theory, connections between them are under-elaborated.66.For example, while Brown and Levinson draw upon the work of Giddens to justify their interest in the “triviata of everyday life” (Giddens 1973, 15 cited in Brown and Levinson 1987Brown, P., Levinson, S. C. 1987Politeness: some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 239), they do not delve into how Giddens’s interest in such ‘triviata’ connects to his broader theory of structuration. Similarly, they reference Durkheim’s conception of the sacred, but leave aside the fact that his theory of collective life hinges on the concept (Horgan 2019bHorgan, M. 2019b “Review of ‘Politeness, Impoliteness and Ritual: Maintaining the Moral Order in Interpersonal Interaction’”. Contemporary Sociology 48, 318–320. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Recent research on ritual in im/politeness studies provides opportunities for enhanced connections, though work in this vein too replicates some of the oversights of im/politeness research noted above. For example, Kádár (2013) 2013Relational Rituals and Communication. Basingstoke: Palgrave. CrossrefGoogle Scholar focuses on ritual breaches or ‘destructive rituals’ in formalized or in-group contexts. Stranger interactions remain underscrutinized, and since they rely upon minimal common ground, they pose an important analytic challenge.

Throughout Goffman’s oeuvre, public conduct – particularly stranger encounters – appears as a morally loaded domain of interaction, where the sanctity of persons manifests and is affirmed (see especially, 1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar; 1971 1971Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order. New York: Harper Row.Google Scholar). For Goffman, this sanctity is made and renewed through interaction ritual. Following Durkheim, Collins notes that “rituals are the source of the group’s standards of morality” (2005Collins, R. 2005Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar, 39): it is within ritual that a sense of what is civil and what is uncivil is made manifest. It is here that cultural sociology enters the fray.

In connecting ritual and social order, cultural sociologists foreground some problems confronting ritual in the context of complex social organization where little common ground might be shared (Alexander 2004b 2004b “Cultural Pragmatics: Social Performance between Ritual and Strategy.” Sociological Theory 22: 527–573. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Alexander et al. 2006Alexander, J. C., B. Giesen, and J. L. Mast (Eds.) 2006Social Performance: Symbolic Action, Cultural Pragmatics, and Ritual. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Like Goffman, Alexander bases his conception of ritual on Durkheim’s (1995) 1995The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar late work.

Rituals are episodes of repeated and simplified cultural communication in which the direct partners to a social interaction, and those observing it, share a mutual belief in the descriptive and prescriptive validity of the communication’s symbolic contents and accept the authenticity of one another’s intentions … Contemporary societies revolve around open-ended conflicts between parties who do not necessarily share beliefs, frequently do not accept the validity of one another’s intention, and often disagree even about the descriptions that people offer for acts.(Alexander 2004b 2004b “Cultural Pragmatics: Social Performance between Ritual and Strategy.” Sociological Theory 22: 527–573. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 527)

Alexander suggests that successful ritual performance is increasingly difficult in societies characterized by higher degrees of social and cultural complexity. Thus, contemporary multicultural urban environments – animated by density and heterogeneity along multiple axes of social difference – provide fertile ground for examining ritual dimensions of interaction between strangers.

My micro-application of civil sphere theory (Alexander 2006 2006The Civil Sphere. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; see also Alexander 2004aAlexander, J. C. 2004a “Rethinking Strangeness: From Structures in Space to Discourses in Civil Society.” Thesis Eleven 79: 87–104. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2004b 2004b “Cultural Pragmatics: Social Performance between Ritual and Strategy.” Sociological Theory 22: 527–573. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) shows how everyday actors’ interpretations of one another’s conduct operate through a basic symbolic classification of action into a discursive binary of civil/uncivil. As Alexander demonstrates, “the civility of the self always articulates itself in language about the incivility of the other” (2006 2006The Civil Sphere. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 50). Along these lines, ritual breach precipitates lay adjudication of when and how civil inattention becomes uncivil (see Table 1 and Figure 1).

4.Urban interaction ritual: A typology

To ring-fence interactional phenomena of analytic interest, we are concerned with violations of codes of civility (Alexander 2006 2006The Civil Sphere. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) and “attentional norms” (Zerubavel 2015Zerubavel, E. 2015Hidden in Plain Sight: The Social Structure of Irrelevance. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 59). Framed using the ritual of civil inattention, we generate four basic types of stranger encounter, organized into an urban interaction ritual typology. These four types are: civil inattention, civil attention, uncivil inattention, and uncivil attention (see Table 1 below).

Table 1.Urban interaction ritual typology: Four types of interaction between strangers in urban public spaces.*
Civil Uncivil
Inattention Mutual indifference; stabilized urban interaction order; norm of conduct between strangers (Goffman 1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar) Non-mutual indifference; non-person treatment; generalized carelessness, with payload, for example, or barging in a lineup (Goffman 1959Goffman, E. 1959The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar; Lankenau 1999Lankenau, S. 1999 “Panhandling Repertoires and Routines for Overcoming the Nonperson Treatment.” Deviant Behavior 20: 183–206. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Smith et al. 2010Smith, P., T. L. Phillips, and R. D. King 2010Incivility: The Rude Stranger in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 181–182)
Attention Acceptable requests for assistance; legitimate use of access information; civil sociability (Anderson 2011Anderson, E. 2011The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life. New York: Norton.Google Scholar; Kendrick and Drew 2016Kendrick, K., and P. Drew 2016 “Recruitment: Offers, Requests, and the Organization of Assistance in Interaction.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 49: 1–19. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) Unsolicited commentary; leering; explicit directed threat or violence; illegitimate use of access information (Gardner 1980Gardner, C. B. 1980 “Passing by: Street Remarks, Address Rights, and the Urban Female.” Sociological Inquiry 50: 328–356. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 1988Gardner, C. 1988 “Access Information: Public Lies and Private Peril.” Social Problems 35: 384–397. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 1995 1995Passing by: Gender and Public Harassment. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar)
*While others also use the terminology in this table (e.g. Smith 1997Smith, G. 1997 “Incivil Attention and Everyday Intolerance: Vicissitudes of Exercising in Public Places.” Perspectives on Social Problems 9: 59–79.Google Scholar; Sznaider 2001Sznaider, N. 2001The Compassionate Temperament: Care and Cruelty in Modern Society. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar), my usage of the terms ‘attention’ and ‘inattention’ aligns with Zerubavel (2015)Zerubavel, E. 2015Hidden in Plain Sight: The Social Structure of Irrelevance. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar.

Here I provide a brief summary of each type, before focusing in particular on uncivil inattention and uncivil attention.

1.
Civil inattention

While dealt with extensively above, to briefly recap, civil inattention refers to the interaction ritual between strangers who implicitly agree to not engage in focused interaction (Goffman 1963 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar, 135; 1967 1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar, 144–145). This ritual permeates the urban interaction order, and is the most frequent kind of interaction between strangers in public space.

2.
Civil attention

Civil attention extends from diffuse mutually aware recognition between copresent persons (e.g. giving an approaching stranger room to pass on a sidewalk) to more explicit breaches of civil inattention, where mutual respect is demonstrated and maintained. For example, A attends to B in a way that is helpful, or in response to a request for assistance (Kendrick and Drew 2016Kendrick, K., and P. Drew 2016 “Recruitment: Offers, Requests, and the Organization of Assistance in Interaction.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 49: 1–19. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Wesselman et al. 2012Wesselmann, E., F. Cardoso, S. Slater, and K. Williams 2012 “To Be Looked at as Though Air: Civil Attention Matters.” Psychological Science 23: 166–168. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Examples here include desisting from barging in a crowd, legitimate use of access information like providing a stranger with directions, or assisting someone with payload. It may also extend to convivial interactions between strangers (Jackson et al. 2017Jackson, L., C. Harris, and G. Valentine 2017 “Rethinking Concepts of the Strange and the Stranger.” Social & Cultural Geography 18: 1–15. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Valentine 2008Valentine, G. 2008 “Living with Difference: Reflections on Geographies of Encounter.” Progress in Human Geography 32: 323–337. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), in the ‘cosmopolitan canopy’ (Anderson 2011Anderson, E. 2011The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life. New York: Norton.Google Scholar). Key here is that the interaction is mutually legitimated, and so does not constitute an uncivil act.

3.
Uncivil inattention

Uncivil inattention refers to generalized rather than directed uncivil conduct. In cases of uncivil inattention, A acts without regard for B’s presence. Mutual indifference is thrown off-kilter, and the indifference of one interactant impinges on another’s right to use public space unencumbered, through ‘non-mutual indifference’ (Horgan 2017a 2017a “Interaction, Indifference, Injustice: Elements of a Normative Theory of Urban Solidarity.” In Interrogating the Social: A Critical Sociology for the 21st Century, ed. by F. Kurasawa, 61–94. Heidelberg: Springer Berlin. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 78). Examples include queue skipping, barging, or carelessness with payload (Smith et al. 2010Smith, P., T. L. Phillips, and R. D. King 2010Incivility: The Rude Stranger in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), and may extend to cases where A initiates interaction with B and B fails to engage, such as in cases of ignoring requests for assistance. For our purposes, whether or not such conduct is deemed to be uncivil is a matter of how it is interpreted by one who is infringed upon.

4.
Uncivil attention

This type incorporates most of the interactional phenomena lay persons might consider rude or impolite. Here A violates the ritual of civil inattention by explicitly making B their focus of attention, and B views this as uncivil. Here the offender is an unwelcome participant in interaction, who directs their attention to a stranger who would otherwise reasonably expect the ritual of civil inattention to be maintained. An example of uncivil attention is gendered street harassment, particularly “unsolicited commentary” (Gardner 1995 1995Passing by: Gender and Public Harassment. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar; see also Smith 1997Smith, G. 1997 “Incivil Attention and Everyday Intolerance: Vicissitudes of Exercising in Public Places.” Perspectives on Social Problems 9: 59–79.Google Scholar).77.With respect to uncivil attention, there is an entire set of historical cases that are worthy of scrutiny in their own right, particularly in terms of the political uses to which lay adjudications of action are put in service of discriminatory practice. While I cannot do justice to the intricacies of these phenomena here, on the historical uses of ritual and racialized judgements of civility in the US South, for example, see Harris (1995)Harris, J. W. 1995 “Etiquette, Lynching, and Racial Boundaries in Southern History: A Mississippi Example.” The American Historical Review 100: 387. CrossrefGoogle Scholar.

Two types of breaches of the ritual of civil inattention concern us here: uncivil attention and uncivil inattention. In the RIEL dataset, the threshold between civil and uncivil conduct – the point where conduct slips from one side to the other – is an interpreted one. How, then, do we determine what an uncivil encounter is and, how do we gather data on such interactional phenomena? These are questions that the RIEL Project addresses directly.

5. Researching Incivilities in Everyday Life (RIEL) project data

5.1Data and methodology

“Data is a major problem for impoliteness research” (Culpeper 2010 2010 “Conventionalised Impoliteness Formulae.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 3232–3245. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 3241). Naturally occurring data is notoriously difficult to collect, and this may partly explain the tendency in im/politeness research to seek out impoliteness phenomena in publicly available online interactions and in contrived situations on television (for example. Culpeper 2005 2005 “Impoliteness and Entertainment in the Television Quiz Show: The Weakest Link.” Journal of Politeness Research. Language, Behaviour, Culture 1: 35–72. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Parvaresh and Tayebi 2018Parvaresh, V., and T. Tayebi 2018 “Impoliteness, Aggression and the Moral Order.” Journal of Pragmatics 132: 91–107. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Existing research on strangers in public space tends to rely on observation and analysis of naturally occurring interaction (Lofland 1998 1998The Public Realm: Exploring the City’s Quintessential Social Territory. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.Google Scholar; Smith 2017Smith, R. J. 2017 “The Practical Organisation of Space, Interaction, and Communication in and as the Work of Crossing a Shared Space Intersection.” Sociologica 2: 1–19. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), rather than on how interactants interpret the conduct of others. As subjectively interpreted phenomena, uncivil encounters are not amenable to objective measurement through naturalistic observation or video data of naturally occurring interaction.

To address this shortcoming, RIEL Project methodology builds upon the ‘everyday incivilities’ approach developed by Smith et al. (2010)Smith, P., T. L. Phillips, and R. D. King 2010Incivility: The Rude Stranger in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar in the Everyday Life in Australia Survey (ELIAS). ELIAS researchers accessed “civil relations in public” (14) by conducting telephone survey research to examine demographic, spatio-temporal, and emotional aspects of everyday experiences of incivility. Adapting and extending this methodology, RIEL researchers systematically solicited accounts of uncivil encounters with strangers in Canada’s most urbanized region through short face-to-face interviews (n = 326).88.Interviews were conducted under the author’s supervision by sociology students trained in qualitative research methods as part of a multi-step course assignment which included transcribing the interviews verbatim. All elements of data gathering were approved by the University Research Ethics Board. Thus, RIEL Project data consists of post hoc accounts that provide details of the genesis and content of specific uncivil encounters.

Interview guides were initially piloted in 2014, and interview data was then collected in four waves between 2015 and 2018. Interviews begun with questions to gather participants’ demographic information. Participants ranges in age from 18 to 72, with an average age of 27. 66% of participants identified as women. Demographic questions were followed by detailed questions about participants’ ‘most recent encounter with a rude stranger in public space’,99.Three types of encounters between strangers in public spaces were excluded: (1) encounters where both parties were drivers were excluded due to the “limited expressive equipment” (Katz 1999Katz, J. 1999How Emotions Work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar) afforded to interactants by automobiles; (2) provider-client service encounters were omitted as service roles circumscribe the course of such encounters, particularly their inherent – and often automatic – asymmetry that builds subordination and superordination into ascribed provider-client roles. They thus lack the presumption of interactional equality that pertains, at least in principle, between strangers in public settings (Horgan 2012Horgan, M. 2012 “Strangers and Strangership.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 33: 607–622. CrossrefGoogle Scholar); (3) also excluded were artistic interventions explicitly engineered to disrupt quotidian urban life (Bourriard 2002Bourriard, N. 2002Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les Presses du Réel.Google Scholar; Liinamaa 2014Liinamaa, S. 2014 “Contemporary Art’s ‘Urban Question’ and Practices of Experimentation.” Third Text 28: 529–544. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 533). including basic spatio-temporal data on the uncivil encounter (e.g. physical location, time of day, duration), and open-ended questions designed to solicit detailed accounts. Interviews ranged in length from 10 to 30 minutes. Transcriptions generated a corpus of over 500,000 words, and were coded by the author and one research assistant. A random sample of 15 interviews were cross-checked for inter-coder reliability. Numerical data from the survey-type questions (demographics, time of day, number of turns) was categorized and tabulated, while qualitative data was coded and analyzed to examine patterns and types of uncivil interactions.

5.2The civil/uncivil line: Interpreting interaction ritual breaches

In general, breaching the ritual of civil inattention means crossing a culturally proscribed – thus also historically and situationally variable – line from civil to uncivil. The in situ lay classification of conduct aligns with culturally available meanings organized around a basic sacred/profane binary (Alexander 2004aAlexander, J. C. 2004a “Rethinking Strangeness: From Structures in Space to Discourses in Civil Society.” Thesis Eleven 79: 87–104. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Durkheim 1995 1995The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar). This binary provides a system of classification through which everyday actors can interpret the actions of others (Alexander 2006 2006The Civil Sphere. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Simply put, civility is deemed sacred and threats to it profane. Because conduct is interpreted, the breaches dealt with here are specific instances where at least one party in an encounter deems another’s conduct to be uncivil.

In the spirit of ‘second-wave’ im/politeness research (Eelen 2001Eelen, G. 2001A critique of politeness theories. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar; Watts 2009Watts, R. J. 2009Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar), the everyday incivilities perspective (Smith et al. 2010Smith, P., T. L. Phillips, and R. D. King 2010Incivility: The Rude Stranger in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), and cultural sociology more generally, an act is treated as uncivil if it is interpreted as such by an interactant. In fleeting conduct between strangers in public space, intention cannot necessarily be determined, but rather is socially ascribed (Blum and McHugh 1971Blum, A. F., and P. McHugh 1971 “The Social Ascription of Motives.” American Sociological Review 36: 98–109. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Mills 1940Mills, C. W. 1940 “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive.” American Sociological Review 5: 904–913. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Scott and Lyman 1968Scott, M. B., and S. M. Lyman 1968 “Accounts.” American Sociological Review 33: 46–62. http://​www​.jstor​.org​/stable​/2092239). In this formulation, the intention behind an uncivil act is of less relevance than its interpretation (Culpeper 2011 2011Impoliteness: Using language to cause offence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 23; Locher & Watts 2005Locher, M., Watts, R. 2005Politeness Theory and Relational Work. Journal of Politeness Research 1, 9–33. CrossrefGoogle Scholar): no encounter is in itself inherently uncivil, rather it must be interpreted by one or more consociates (Schutz 1970Schutz, A. 1970On Phenomenology and Social Relations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar) as uncivil. Thus, we treat as uncivil, stranger encounters where at least one party to the encounter interprets some behavior as crossing from civil to uncivil conduct.

All incivilities cross a civil/uncivil line, and many also cross an attentional line. The two ways that civil inattention can be breached are represented in Figure 1.

Figure 1.Incivilities crossing civil and attentional lines
Figure 1.

In the context of an encounter between two or more strangers in urban space where norms of civil inattention prevail, an incivility is any act – whether verbal, gestural, physical, or any combination of these – adjudicated by one or more copresent persons to be outside the bounds of conduct deemed civil. While incivility may include a verbal exchange, not all uncivil encounters do. Thus, incivility is (1) interactionally produced, (2) evaluative, and (3) incorporates – but is neither exclusively rooted in, nor reducible to – linguistic exchange.

In 30% (n = 97) of reported cases, participants’ most recent encounter with a rude stranger involved an encounter coded as uncivil inattention (see Table 2 below). These cases involve conduct that participants reported as rude which was not directed – initially at least – at another individual in particular. Such conduct reported in the data includes, for example, carelessness with payload (such as backpacks on public transit), shoving in crowded spaces, use of profane language within earshot of young children, and loud conversation about sexual exploits on public transit. Of these 97 cases, 12% began as an incident of uncivil inattention, and then became an incident of uncivil attention, or, put more simply, such cases involved incidents where a stranger’s conduct was uncivil in general before being directed to a particular person.

Table 2.Frequency of type of uncivil conduct
Frequency %
Uncivil attention 229  70
Uncivil inattention  97  30
Total 326 100

Thus we find that while cases where strangers direct their uncivil attention towards a particular person constitute the majority (70%) of cases, almost one third of cases involve general – that is, non-directed – incivilities best understood as uncivil inattention.

While the RIEL data provides dozens of other dimensions for comparison and correlation, in the remaining space I highlight core observations from a slice of the data that has direct bearing on im/politeness research, namely, variation between types of incivilities initiated in different ways.

6.Initiating moves in uncivil encounters

The genesis of uncivil encounters remains poorly understood, so here I attend to similarities and differences between verbally and non-verbally initiated incivilities. The initiating move refers to the type of opening move – whether verbal, gestural, physical, or any combination of these – that RIEL participants reported in their most recent uncivil encounter with a stranger.

Verbally initiated incivilities involve opening moves that are verbal. Those reported in RIEL interviews include strangers directing racial slurs at passers-by, cat calling, and unsolicited commentary. Physically initiated incivilities involve forms of encroachment where the initial incivility results from physical contact, including allowing a door to close in someone’s face or and bumping into someone without apology. Gesturally initiated incivilities do not involve physical contact, but include eye-rolling, prolonged staring, and dirty looks. Examples of incivilities that were simultaneously initiated verbally and physically included pushing and shouting in crowded spaces, and aggressively using a baby stroller while yelling. Table 3 reports the distribution of different types of initiating moves across the RIEL data.

Table 3.Distribution of types of initiating moves
Initiating move Count %
Verbal 146  45
Physical 104  32
Verbal + Physical  44    13.5
Gestural  24   7
Other combination   8     2.5
Total 326 100

While verbally initiated incivilities – the main focus of impoliteness research – are the most frequently occurring, in 40% (n = 129) of reported incivilities, initiation was non-verbal, that is, gestural and/or physical. Thus, many instances of reported incivility were initiated without words. This suggests that the existing linguistic focus of impoliteness research may miss important data.

6.1From initiation to escalation

From here, the next question is whether or not the type of initiating move appears to relate in any way to subsequent moves in the encounter. We asked RIEL participants to describe any escalation in the encounter, and specifically to recount any verbal exchange that ensued following the initiating move.

Table 4.Prevalence of reported verbal exchange by initiating move
Initiating Move Exchange % (frequency) No exchange % (frequency)
Verbal  65% (95)  35% (51)
Physical  40% (42)  60% (62)
Gestural  42% (10)  58% (14)
Verbal & physical  82% (36) 18% (8)
Other combination* 75% (6) 25% (2)
Total   58% (189)   42% (137)
*Given their relative infrequency these cases are omitted from the analysis that follows

Here we see that 58% of reported incivilities involved subsequent verbal exchange following the initial uncivil act, while 42% involved no subsequent exchange. Examples of the latter include rude comments that go unanswered, unchallenged queue-jumping, and leering that is ignored. Significantly, the type of initiating move appears to be related to the likelihood of exchange. Incivilities that are either physically or gesturally initiated are the least likely to generate any form of verbal exchange (40% and 42% respectively), while 65% of those that were verbally initiated led to further exchange. Over one-third of verbally initiated incivilities involve no verbal exchange. Notably, those encounters that appear most likely to escalate are those that are initiated both verbally and physically, with 82% of such incivilities involving some subsequent verbal exchange. For example, a shouting queue jumper appears to invite more verbal response than a silent one. In terms of the likelihood of escalation, then, the initiating move appears to be impactful.

When we dig down into this data, some interesting patterns emerge. Taking a slightly different tack, we scrutinized the extent of exchange following the initiating move. To do this we asked participants to recall as much detail about any form of verbal exchange that occurred in their most recent encounter with a rude stranger. As reported in Table 5 below, when there were verbal exchanges, most were very brief. For example, one participant recounts a verbally initiated incivility that involved no subsequent exchange when she accidentally dropped her books while walking through a doorway into a public building:

there was a person behind me … I guess they were in a hurry … The guy just said, “what are you doing, get out of my way” … I thought it was rude because he either could have gone around me or help me pick it up … I just picked up my books and … just got out of the way and let him through(RIEL#18016)

Another participant recounts walking in a pedestrianized area early in the morning:

I walked past someone, I was texting on my phone, and we came pretty close to knocking into each other. And he yelled at me to watch where I was going and then continued on his way … I yelled … back at him … “go ‘f’ yourself”.(RIEL#16040)

While these exchanges were short, others were more protracted. For example, in another case of verbally initiated incivility, a white woman reports walking through a shopping mall with her Mexican partner:

we had a man come up to us and he looked at us and he said he was disgusted that me, being a Caucasian, could be with someone of a different background, and that I should be with someone who is a Caucasian … I told the man that he should keep his views to himself … and he shouldn’t walk up to random strangers and basically verbally abuse them … I told him to ‘have a nice day, carry on as you will, like we’re not affecting you, we aren’t doing anything other than what two Caucasians would be doing’, and he … scoffed at me.(RIEL#18066)

Another example, of more extensive and intense escalation happened as a young white man left a busy downtown bar:

it was a weekend so obviously there was people drinking and everything … there was two guys as I was walking to my truck … and in passing they started saying vulgar things, rude things, egging me on trying to start fight and it escalated to pushing, shoving, them being again very vulgar and then, I sort of de-escalated it and walked back to my truck where I had 3 friends of mine waiting … As we went to pull away, these guys came back … they started kicking the truck and hitting it … Eventually we got fed up, we all stepped out of the truck and … again at first, trying to de-escalate the situation, these guys were just not cooperating at all. They were trying to mouth off and everything and so one of my larger friends … decided to get physical with him and just shoved him away and pushed him and eventually they just backed off …

In an example of a physically-initiated incivility, a group of white women are waiting in a lineup at a bustling bar:

there was nowhere to move, and there was this guy that was standing in front of us…He was pushing us and shoving us, and we had like nowhere to go and he was just being very physical with us…at first we didn’t really do anything, like there was nothing that we could really do…there was nowhere we could move, we were being pushed from behind, and I was pushing this guy, but it wasn’t me it was everyone behind me. So I was trying my best to not push him but he was just pushing back so hard, so I let it go for 10 minutes, but then it was getting ridiculous, he was using so much unnecessary force, and then he ended elbowing my friend in the face and I was like ‘okay this is enough, like you need to relax’…he actually told us to ‘fuck off’ so…he had like no remorse at all.

These examples illustrate that some incivilities involve brief and minor escalation, while others are more extended and serious. Data reported in Table 5 shows the distribution of initiating moves by extent of subsequent verbal exchange. Here, initiating moves are categorized into the four most frequently occurring types: verbal; physical; gestural; verbal & physical.1010.Eight cases – making up 3% of the total – involve other combinations and are omitted from the following analysis due to their relative infrequency.

For coding purposes, number of turns refers to the total number of turns involved in the exchange following the initiating move. Thus, the column headed None includes all cases where there was only an initiating move, with no further response; One includes all cases involving a single verbal response to the stranger’s initiating move by the participant; Two includes all cases where exchange ended with the initiator verbally replying to the participant’s response; Three includes all cases where exchange ended with the participants’ second response. Subsequent responses beyond two turns each are collapsed into the column labeled Four+.1111.Because we rely on participants’ capacity to recall details of any verbal exchange, in piloting our interview guides we found that participants had difficulty recounting precisely what was said beyond the fourth turn, and so instances of four or more turns are grouped together.

Table 5.Type of initiating move by number of subsequent verbal turns*
None One Two Three Four+ Total
Verbal 35% (51) 20% (29) 12% (18)  3% (4) 30% (44) 100% (146)
Physical 59.6% (62) 12.5% (13) 16.3% (17)  2.9% (3)  8.7% (9) 100% (104)
Gestural 58% (14) 21% (5) 13% (3)  0% (0)  8% (2) 100% (24)
Verbal & Physical 18% (8)  7% (3) 16% (7) 18% (8) 41% (18) 100% (44)
All cases 42% (135) 16% (50) 14% (45)  5% (15) 23% (73) 100% (318)
*Due to rounding, not all rows sum to 100%.

Here we see that, when they occur, verbal exchanges in physically and gesturally initiated incivilities tend to be short, with only 8.7% and 8% respectively extending to four or more turns. In contrast, almost one third of verbally initiated uncivil encounters extend to four or more turns, while 41% of encounters initiated verbally and physically involve such protracted series of verbal exchange. In the RIEL data then we find that initiating moves that combine verbal and physical elements tend to correlate with longer verbal exchanges.

Clearly, further research into these variations is merited if we are to develop a fuller picture of the landscape of uncivil encounters between strangers in public spaces. The opportunities for future research here are wide ranging. As a beginning, this article offers an empirically grounded understanding of how linguistic and non-linguistic forms of incivility differ from one another. This warrants further scrutiny, especially given that non-verbally initiated incivilities make up 40% of the RIEL data.

It would seem pertinent then to investigate further where the formal similarities between linguistic and non-linguistic incivilities begin and end. The prevalence of non-verbally initiated incivilities may warrant that research on ritual in im/politeness research be complemented also by research on multimodal interaction.

7.Conclusion

Drawing on the possibilities of ritual research in impoliteness research, this article adopted and modified the everyday incivilities framework to examine uncivil encounters between strangers in urban public spaces. Beginning with a brief examination of the realm of interaction between persons unknown to one another in public space as a distinctive interaction order – one underscrutinized in im/politeness research – I showed how the urban interaction order is maintained through strangers’ mutual commitment to the interpersonal ritual of civil inattention. Then, I discussed how failures in maintaining civil inattention can be fruitfully analyzed as ritual infractions. Drawing on conceptual tools from cultural sociology, I developed a typology of urban interaction rituals, organized around breaches of civil and/or attentional norms.

Empirically grounding this conceptual work, I reported RIEL Project data, outlining the prevalence of two types of incivility: uncivil attention and uncivil inattention, showing the former to be over twice as prevalent as the latter. From there I demonstrated how the type of initiating move in uncivil encounters appears to correlate with the likelihood of escalation and verbal exchange, finding that physically initiated incivilities are much less likely than verbally initiated ones to involve verbal exchange. Perhaps most interestingly, over four out of five uncivil encounters that are simultaneously physically and verbally initiated involve verbal exchange.

Opportunities for further research are legion. Considering the broader palette of ways that interactional conflict between strangers emerges, flares up, and recedes will contribute new insights in linguistic approaches to conflict resolution (Bousfield 2007Bousfield, D. 2007 “Beginnings, Middles and Ends: A Biopsy of the Dynamics of Impolite Exchanges.” Journal of Pragmatics 39: 2185–2216. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Evans et al. 2019Evans, M., Jeffries, L., & O’Driscoll, J. (Eds.) 2019The Routledge Handbook of Language in Conflict. New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). This also fits well with increased attention to context in im/politeness research (Bousfield and Culpeper 2008Bousfield, D., and J. Culpeper 2008 “Impoliteness: Eclecticism and Diaspora.” Journal of Politeness Research. 4(2): 161–168. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 161; Culpeper & Terkourafi 2017Culpeper, J., Terkourafi, M. 2017 “Pragmatic Approaches (Im)politeness,” in: The Palgrave Handbook of Linguistic (Im)Politeness, ed. by Culpeper, J., Haugh, M., Kádár, D. 11–39, London: Palgrave. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Additionally, while not dealt with in this article, discerning how various kinds of social category membership (gender, race, and class, for example) figure in stranger interactions would be valuable (Khan 2019Khan, K. 2019 “Hate Crimes: Language, Vulnerability and Conflict.” In The Routledge Handbook of Language in Conflict, ed. by M. Evans, L. Jeffries, and J. O’Driscoll, 417–432. New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). This would require focused and sustained research that attends to how and for whom specific category membership figures in the character and course of stranger interactions gone awry.

Interactions between strangers of the more storied kind – from love at first sight, to violent encounter – exercise the public imagination (Jackson et al. 2016), but those interactions of the more minimal sort that Goffman draws our attention to warrant further scrutiny. As a cultural sociologist, my proclivities are to resist the desire to find a natural order to interactional conflict between strangers; variations cross-culturally and across contexts suggest that a focus on universals of human interaction could blinker us to the ways that something so simple as the basic spatio-temporal features of an interactional environment or the initiating move, and as complex as the socially ascribed characteristics of interactants, might form both encounters and their interpretations.

The richness of insight into mundane interaction that may be drawn by close inspection of breaches of the ritual of civil inattention suggests that much work is to be done in this domain. This is to say nothing of the urgency of a more fulsome understanding of urban interaction ritual in light of the speed and intensity of planetary urbanization (Brenner 2013Brenner, N. 2013 “Theses on Urbanization.” Public Culture 25: 85–114. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) and the consequent ubiquity of stranger interactions. On a rapidly urbanizing planet, questions around the situated production of social order in a world of strangers become ever more pressing.

Funding

This work was supported by grants: SSHRC (43020120833), (43520180730) awarded to Mervyn Horgan.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for funding this research through the Insight Program. Thanks also to my University of Guelph colleagues Profs. Ryan Broll, Saara Liinamaa, Patrick Parnaby, David Walters, and Carolyn Yule for their valuable feedback. Jordan Daniels provided outstanding research assistance. Special thanks to student interviewers and participants.

Notes

1.Participants were drawn from the Canada’s Greater Golden Horseshoe region, a highly urbanized area incorporating several cities with a total population of 9.2 million and projected to grow to 11.5 million by 2031 (Statistics Canada 2016; Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure 2013Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure 2013Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Toronto: Ministry of Infrastructure. https://​www​.placestogrow​.ca​/content​/ggh​/2013​-06​-10​-Growth​-Plan​-for​-the​-GGH​-EN​.pdf). This area constitutes about 0.2% of Canada’s territory, yet houses over 25% of the total population.
2.Before more fully situating the present research in the extant literature, a quick note on nomenclature. Like most fields of social scientific research, terminological debates proliferate in impoliteness research (Bargiela-Chiappini 2003Bargiela-Chiappini, F. 2003 “Face and Politeness: New (Insights) for Old (Concepts).” Journal of Pragmatics 35: 1453–1469. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Bousfield and Culpeper 2008Bousfield, D., and J. Culpeper 2008 “Impoliteness: Eclecticism and Diaspora.” Journal of Politeness Research. 4(2): 161–168. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Kienpointner 1997Kienpointner, M. 1997 “Varieties of Rudeness: Types and Functions of Impolite Utterances.” Functions of Language 4: 251–287. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Limberg 2009Limberg, H. 2009 “Impoliteness and Threat Responses.” Journal of Pragmatics 41: 1376–1394. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). While the term impoliteness is in more general usage in pragmatics, in this article I favor the broader term incivility (see also Sifianou 2019Sifianou, M. 2019 “Im/politeness and In/Civility: A Neglected Relationship?Journal of Pragmatics, 147: 49–64. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). This is for three main reasons. First, to make explicit reference to Goffman’s (1963) 1963Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar concept of civil inattention; second, to hew close to the everyday incivilities approach (Smith et al. 2010Smith, P., T. L. Phillips, and R. D. King 2010Incivility: The Rude Stranger in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) which falls under the broader rubric of contemporary cultural sociology; and third, to incorporate a wider range of phenomena than those analyzed in existing research on impoliteness between copresent persons. Each of these justifications will become clearer as the argument develops. Another manuscript under preparation develops fuller justification for this conceptually consequential terminological shift.
3.Contextual cues facilitating Leech’s “banter principle” (1983Leech, G. 1983Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman.Google Scholar) may not be fully operational the urban interaction order, as banter depends primarily on at least loosely bounded groups with some sort of explicitly shared bond (for example, on friendship groups, see Vergis and Terkourafi 2015Vergis, N., and M. Terkourafi 2015 “The Role of the Speaker’s Emotional State in Im/politeness Assessments.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 34: 316–342. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; on “mock impoliteness” between familiars, see Dynel and Poppi 2019Dynel, M., and F. Poppi 2019 “Risum teneatis, amici?: The Socio-Pragmatics of RoastMe Humour.” Journal of Pragmatics 139: 1–21. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).
4.For example, Bousfield (2007)Bousfield, D. 2007 “Beginnings, Middles and Ends: A Biopsy of the Dynamics of Impolite Exchanges.” Journal of Pragmatics 39: 2185–2216. CrossrefGoogle Scholar provides an astute analysis of the problems traffic wardens face in public interaction.
5.For an outline of the normative foundations underpinning stranger interactions – ‘moral affordances’ – and a basic conceptual schema for delineating the relationship between interaction ritual and moral order, see Horgan (2019)Horgan, Mervyn 2019a “Everyday Incivility and the Urban Interaction Order: Theorizing Moral Affordances in Ritualized Interaction.” Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict, 7(1), 32–55. CrossrefGoogle Scholar.
6.For example, while Brown and Levinson draw upon the work of Giddens to justify their interest in the “triviata of everyday life” (Giddens 1973, 15 cited in Brown and Levinson 1987Brown, P., Levinson, S. C. 1987Politeness: some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 239), they do not delve into how Giddens’s interest in such ‘triviata’ connects to his broader theory of structuration. Similarly, they reference Durkheim’s conception of the sacred, but leave aside the fact that his theory of collective life hinges on the concept (Horgan 2019bHorgan, M. 2019b “Review of ‘Politeness, Impoliteness and Ritual: Maintaining the Moral Order in Interpersonal Interaction’”. Contemporary Sociology 48, 318–320. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).
7.With respect to uncivil attention, there is an entire set of historical cases that are worthy of scrutiny in their own right, particularly in terms of the political uses to which lay adjudications of action are put in service of discriminatory practice. While I cannot do justice to the intricacies of these phenomena here, on the historical uses of ritual and racialized judgements of civility in the US South, for example, see Harris (1995)Harris, J. W. 1995 “Etiquette, Lynching, and Racial Boundaries in Southern History: A Mississippi Example.” The American Historical Review 100: 387. CrossrefGoogle Scholar.
8.Interviews were conducted under the author’s supervision by sociology students trained in qualitative research methods as part of a multi-step course assignment which included transcribing the interviews verbatim. All elements of data gathering were approved by the University Research Ethics Board.
9.Three types of encounters between strangers in public spaces were excluded: (1) encounters where both parties were drivers were excluded due to the “limited expressive equipment” (Katz 1999Katz, J. 1999How Emotions Work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar) afforded to interactants by automobiles; (2) provider-client service encounters were omitted as service roles circumscribe the course of such encounters, particularly their inherent – and often automatic – asymmetry that builds subordination and superordination into ascribed provider-client roles. They thus lack the presumption of interactional equality that pertains, at least in principle, between strangers in public settings (Horgan 2012Horgan, M. 2012 “Strangers and Strangership.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 33: 607–622. CrossrefGoogle Scholar); (3) also excluded were artistic interventions explicitly engineered to disrupt quotidian urban life (Bourriard 2002Bourriard, N. 2002Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les Presses du Réel.Google Scholar; Liinamaa 2014Liinamaa, S. 2014 “Contemporary Art’s ‘Urban Question’ and Practices of Experimentation.” Third Text 28: 529–544. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 533).
10.Eight cases – making up 3% of the total – involve other combinations and are omitted from the following analysis due to their relative infrequency.
11.Because we rely on participants’ capacity to recall details of any verbal exchange, in piloting our interview guides we found that participants had difficulty recounting precisely what was said beyond the fourth turn, and so instances of four or more turns are grouped together.

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Address for correspondence

Mervyn Horgan, PhD

Associate Professor

University of Guelph

Department of Sociology & Anthropology

50 Stone Rd. E.

Guelph, ON N1G 2W1

Canada

mhorgan@uoguelph.ca

Biographical notes

Mervyn Horgan is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at the University of Guelph (Canada) and a Faculty Fellow of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University (USA). He has published widely on strangership, solidarity, cultural sociology and public space. His current projects include research on convivial interactions between strangers in mundane public spaces, delineating the civil sphere in Canada, and theorizing processes of stigmatization.