SSSI New Website #sssi

The Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction has a new website. Please click HERE or on the image below to visit the site.

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New Book Review: Clayton Childress on Paul Lopes’s “Art Rebels” #sssi #music #art

In symbolic interactionism and our journal there is a long-standing interest in art and music. For example, in 2015 we published Wenchao Lu’s interview with Howard Becker “Sociology and Art” and Lucia Ruggerone’s and Neil Jenkings’s article “Talking About Beauty“, and very recently Amanda Koontz reviewed Gary Alan Fine’s “Talking Art” for us. In the same vein, we now have published Clayton Childress’s review of Paul Lopes’s book “Art Rebels: Race, Class, and Gender in the Art of Miles Davis and Martin Scorsese”.

SSSI Members can download the review by clicking the image below or HERE. To join SSSI and subscribe to Symbolic Interaction from $35 (£30) please click HERE.

Childress-art rebels

If you would like to publish interactionist related material on this SSSI Music blog or if you would like to run the music blog, please do get in touch with me ( ; @dirkvl).

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CfP Special Issue “Celebrating and Interrogating the Blumerian Legacy” #sssi #sociology #SymbolicInteraction

Special Issue Call For Papers

Jacqueline Low and Gary Bowden (Eds.)

Celebrating and Interrogating the Blumerian Legacy


Deadline to Submit Papers: September 30, 2019


As we mark the 50th  Anniversary of the publication of Blumer’s (1969) pivotal work Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method, it is timely to address debates and critical claims central to the status and future of Blumerian interactionism with a special issue of Symbolic Interaction. We envision a mix of papers which both commemorate and critically assess Blumer himself, or Blumerian theory and methodology, as well as substantive papers that add to, or provide a corrective for, Blumerian interactionism.


Among the debates worthy of reassessment is Prus’ (1996:75) assertion, that Blumer “deserves … to be acknowledged as the single most important social theorist of the twentieth century” and Maines’ (2001)  claim  that  symbolic  interactionism  is  at  risk  of  being  subsumed  by  those  who  do  not acknowledge the perspective while still using its concepts and practices.


Ripe for debate as well is Abbott’s (1997) argument that Blumer’s emphasis on the symbolic, intersubjective side of the Chicago approach led him to underappreciate the importance of time, space and context. Similarly, papers might address the Iowa School (Couch 1986); Stryker’s (1980), and other’s claims that Blumerian interactionism is astructural, or Best’s (2006:5) conclusion that Blumer is a “tragic figure” who excelled at criticism and theory but conducted weak empirical research.


Papers might also address whether Blumer was the progenitor of an active and ongoing scholarly tradition that continues to grow theoretically and methodologically. Is the perspective thriving in some ways? Or has symbolic interactionism been reduced to the formulaic application of a set of standardized theoretical and methodological practices? Do interactionists still suffer from “analytic interruptus,” the failure of research to lead to fully developed concepts and theories (Lofland 1970:42-43)? In particular, we invite papers for this special issue on the following topics:

  • Intellectual biographies of Blumer
  • Blumer’s impact on symbolic interactionist theory
  • Blumer’s contribution to symbolic interactionist methodology
  • Sensitizing concepts
  • Generic social processes
  • “Formal” sociology
  • The charge against Blumerian interactionism of astructural bias
  • The current status of the Blumerian legacy for sociology as a whole
  • The future of Blumerian interactionism
  • Substantive research that extends or corrects Blumerian interactionism
  • The integrating of other theoretical approaches into the Blumerian tradition
  • Other related topics proposed by authors


Please submit all papers through the journal’s online portal:


Cover letters should mention that the submission is intended for the special issue commemorating the anniversary of Blumer’s (1969) book.  For more information, contact the special issue editors Jacqueline Low at and Gary Bowden at, or the editor-in-chief at

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SSSI Annual Meetings 2019 – Call for Abstracts and sessions #sssi #sociology

Dear Colleagues and a Friends

Abstract submissions for the 2019 SSSI Annual Meetings in New York City are also due on April 1, 2019.


I have already received some excellent and interesting abstracts and am getting very excited for the summer meetings – I hope to see all of you there!

Best wishes,



Stacey Hannem, PhD

Associate Professor & Department Chair

Vice-President, Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction

Department of Criminology

Wilfrid Laurier University

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SSSI Awards – Call for Nominations #sssi #sociology

Dear Colleagues and Friends, 

This is just a friendly reminder that nominations for the SSSI awards are due on March 30: For more information head over the the SSSI website:

Best wishes,




Stacey Hannem, PhD

Associate Professor & Department Chair

Vice-President, Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction

Department of Criminology

Wilfrid Laurier University

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Couch-Stone Symposium 2019 – Des Moines, Iowa, 16 – 18 May #sssi #conference #CfP


Couch-Stone Symposium

May 16-18, 2019

Des Moines, Iowa


Laurie Linhart, Des Moines Area Community College

David Schweingruber, Iowa State University

How should Symbolic Interactionism be taught in the undergraduate classroom? How can the Symbolic Interactionist perspective improve any college course? How should we be passing along Symbolic Interactionism to the next generations of scholars? How can Symbolic Interactionist research on teaching and learning inform our practice?

We are seeking…

Papers on all aspects of the scholarship of teaching and learning

Proposals to organize panels related to the conference theme

Papers for open paper sessions

Proposals to organize sessions

Submission Deadline: March 15, 2019

Make all submissions to:

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Symbolic Interaction Vol.42/1 – Thematic Issue ‘Technology, the Internet, and Social Media’ #sssi #sociology

We have jus published the latest issue of Symbolic Interaction (Vol 42/1). This issue of our journal is a Thematic Issue concerned with “Technology, the Internet and Social Media”. It includes Scott Harris’ introduction followed by 6 research articles, a review essay by Joel Best and 5 book reviews. The entire issue is open/free access.

Click HERE for access to the issue or in the Full Text/Pdf link for each article/review below.


Introduction to a Thematic Issue: Technology, The Internet, and Social Media

  • Pages: 3-5


Co‐Present Conversation as “Socialized Trance”: Talk, Involvement Obligations, and Smart‐Phone Disruption

  • Pages: 6-26

A video abstract is available at

Smartphones and Face‐to‐Face Interaction: Digital Cross‐Talk During Encounters in Everyday Life

  • Pages: 27-45

Couch Revisited: A Theoretical Treatment of The Information‐Technological Media of Imgur, Reddit, and Twitter

  • Pages: 46-69

Audience Design and Context Discrepancy: How Online Debates Lead to Opinion Polarization

  • Pages: 70-97

A video abstract is available at

Visual Narrative and Temporal Relevance: Segueing Instant Replay into Live Broadcast TV

  • Pages: 98-126

“A Give Grief Kind of Guy”: Help‐Seeking, Status, and the Experience of Helpers at a University IT Help Desk

  • Pages: 127-150


Big Pictures: Three Books on Social Progress

  • Pages: 151-158


Social Interaction via Terminals May Mean Termination of the Self

  • Pages: 159-161

The Medium and the Message

  • Pages: 162-166

Beyond the Sirens and Lights: The Technologically Governed Work of Emergency Medical Services

  • Pages: 167-169

Filipina Migrants and the Maintenance of Families Across Borders and Through Telecommunications

  • Pages: 170-172

The Future as a Sociological Problem

  • Pages: 173-176
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SSSI Notes Vol.47 No. 2

The latest issue of the SSSI Newsletter with information on the 2019 conference and much more can be downloaded HERE.

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2019 Annual Meetings of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction #sssi #sociology

The Program Planning Committee of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction is pleased to call for papers that address this year’s conference theme or that engage with any other aspect of symbolic interaction:

“Power, Structure, and Intersectionality in Symbolic Interaction”

Symbolic Interactionism has long been plagued (fairly or unfairly) with accusations of having an astructural bias and failing to adequately engage with the dynamics of power. Many symbolic interactionist scholars have defended the SI perspective against this charge and some have put forward explicit arguments for interactionist conceptions of both structure and power (see, notably, Fine and Kleinmann, 1983; Prus, 1999; Athens 2015). However, the “myth” of the astructural bias has continued to loom over SI and has had a marginalizing effect on the perspective (McGinty 2016). Current socio-political concerns about identity, representation, and marginality are ripe for analyses rooted in the SI tradition: analyses which attend carefully and explicitly to issues of power, structure, and intersectionalities. Indeed, these concerns involve many of the “underdog” groups that symbolic interactionists, as ethnographers and qualitative researchers of the margins, have long been concerned with. The theme of this year’s annual meeting encourages symbolic interactionists to face the criticisms of astructural bias head-on and to engage with issues of power, diversity, social structure, and conflict as they are interactionally realized and experienced by individuals and groups and implicated in social life.

We encourage the submission of individual papers and complete thematic panels (3-4 papers) that engage with the conference theme including, but not limited to, such topics as:

Gender Relations                                                        Social stratification
Gender Diversity and Identity                                    Power in ethnographic research
Race and Racialization                                               Media and power in discourse
Sexualities                                                                  Stigma and Marginalization
Domination and Subordination                                  Self and Identity in the Context of Power Relations Conflict in social life                                                   Social institutions and power
Agency and constraint

As always, we are also interested in and will accept papers and panels that engage with any and all aspects of symbolic interactionism, including theory, method, pedagogy, and symbolic interactionist analyses of any and all substantive topics.

Submission Process:

Please make your submission to the conference organizers by sending the following information to by April 1, 2019.

Paper Title
Abstract (maximum 250 words)
Author(s) Name(s) and Institutional Affiliation(s)
Contact email and telephone number

If you are submitting a complete thematic panel, please include a panel title as well as individual information for all presenters and their papers.

Inquiries and questions may be addressed directly to Stacey Hannem at shannem@wlu.caor at the email above.
Accommodations and Planning to Attend:

A limited number of rooms has been reserved at the Westin New York at Times Square for conference attendees at a special rate of $255 (single/double occupancy), $285 (triple occupancy), and $315 (quad occupancy). To access this rate you must book your room by July 18, 2019.

Click Here to Book the group rate with Westin Times Square New York


Registration and Membership:

All presenters will be required to be members of SSSI at the time of the conference. Information about Membership and Conference Registration will follow.

Program Planning Committee
Stacey Hannem, Vice President SSSI, Wilfrid Laurier University (Chair)
Thaddeus Muller, Past-Vice President SSSI, Lancaster University
Tim Hallett, Vice President elect SSSI, Indiana University Bloomington
Lisa-Jo van den Scott, Treasurer SSSI, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Thomas DeGloma, Past-President SSSI, Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center

2019 Annual Meetings of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction

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New Book Review: Joe Kotarba on “Designed for Hi-Fi Living” #sssi #music #cct #sociology

Joe Kotarba’s excellent review of ‘Designed for Hi-Fi Living’

Symbolic Interaction (Journal) Blog

We have just published Joe Kotarba’s review of Janet Borgerson’s and Jonathan Schroeder’s ‘Designed for Hi-Fi Living’. Kotarba writes that “[T]heauthorscuratedawell-selectedgroupofmidcentury(1950sand1960s) Americanpoprecordalbums.Theyscouredrecordbins,fromProvidencetoBerkeley,andtheirownextensivecollectionforalbumcoversthattoldstoriesaboutthe Americandreamformiddle-classrespectability.Theauthorsinterpretandcritique themintermofthewaystheyrepresentorindexthemodern,postwarAmerican imagination.Thebookitselfissimplybeautiful.” 

SSSI members can download Kotarba’s review by clicking the image below. To join SSSI and subscribe to Symbolic Interaction from $31 (£23) please click HERE. 

Kotarba on Hi-fi Living

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New Book Review: Lee Blackstone reviews three books on music and wellbeing #sssi #music

An excellent review of three books on music and wellbeing has just been published in Symbolic Interaction.

Symbolic Interaction (Journal) Blog

There is plenty of interest in music and music related topics within interactionist sociology. Save for the large amount of research articles and book reviews in Symbolic Interaction we have the SSSI Music blog where J Sumerau and others explore music with an interactionist lens. Whilst music is largely seen in the context of culture and leisure as well as occasionally in the context of work there is a growing interest in the relationship between music and wellbeing. With regard to this latter discussion Lee Blackstone (SUNY Old Westbury) who recently published “The Aural and Moral Idylls of “Englishness” and Folk Music” in Symbolic Interaction“, has reviewed three books for our journal, “Sounding out Music and Health: Transforming Selfhood and Social Life through Musicking”:

Music Asylums: Wellbeing Through Music in Everyday Life. By Tia DeNora (Routledge, 2016)

How Music Helps in Music Therapy and Everyday Life.  By…

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What’s in a Name

“I don’t know what it’s called,” they say smiling, “But its track four, yeah, track four, this moment is definitely track four!”

“There is something about that song, you know the one with the thing about the elephant, there is something about it that just speaks to me, you know?”

“Oh, I’m like a completely different person when the right song comes on, I mean, I don’t tend to know the names of the songs, but the right ones just hit me and they mean something to me, I guess, something beyond, well, normal.”

Each of the quotes above are taken from interpersonal interactions over the last couple months. Whether talking to me or someone else within the vicinity of where I was, each of them represents an interesting aspect of meaning making via music. While people have talked about the importance of naming things for generating meaning and emotion, each of these cases reminds us that one need not know the given name of something for that social object to have influence upon their mood, experience, or selfhood. Rather, something can be named in any way – such as track four in the first case – by a person who finds meaning in that object.

This leads to an interesting interactionist question – what role does a given name play in processes of meaning making? In some cases, the given name of a song, place, person, or anything else may elicit very strong emotions – both negative and positive – that any other word or label might not generate. In other cases, however, the given name may easily be revised into something different or other in the ongoing confluence of interactional experiences and still offer just as much, if not more, meaning as the given or official name. In both cases, however, we see the attempt to both express the meaning of a given object by labeling it in some way with some kind of language and generate some kind of label or name for a given object once that object represents a meaning for a given person.

This also leads to questions about translation in the process of communication and meaning making in everyday life. When a given object, for example, is renamed or initially named, does that object then need translation to others or is the process of the naming the translational event itself? When one translates a feeling by expressing the way it is generated by an external source – like a song with or without a name – is said one engaging in a bit of symbolic conversation or simply utilizing whatever nearby resource is available to convey an idea or feeling? What if, as could be the case, each of these things and many others are happening at the same time in such interactions? How might we study such dynamics? How might we interpret them?

If we treat the exchange of music or musical references or other cultural artifacts and references to said artifacts as a conversational meaning exchange, what might we learn from systematic study of such exchanges? What might we learn about the names people give themselves and others, this object or that, and other things in their world? What might we learn about the significance of labels and categories and definitions more broadly in the flexibility of interactional experiences across the life course? These, I would suggest, are only a few questions that might be explored by paying attention to the ways people name and narrate references to this or that shared meaning or artifact in daily life.

J. Sumerau is the author of four novels and over 40 peer reviewed articles focused on sexualities, gender, religion, and health. For more information about their writing, visit

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Homecoming Queens & the Soundtracking of a Research-based Novel

After first publishing Cigarettes & Wine (see review in Symbolic Interaction) and later beginning my own independent series of sociological and queer based southern stories with Essence, I released my second research-based novel in the Social Fictions Series earlier this month – Homecoming Queens. Like Cigarettes & Wine and other works in the Social Fictions Series, this novel is a sociological narrative built upon observations and interviews (formal and informal). In this case, these data points come from LGBTQIA people, people of color, and working-class people in the southeastern United States utilized in combination with my own endeavors and formal studies as a sociological, interactionist, and queer mixed-methodological researcher. Written in the dual forms of a southern gothic novel and an observational account from a main character, the novel traces the experiences of a bi+ poly marital trio as they move from a large southern city back to the small town where two-thirds of the marital union grew up in their youth, and traces the ways the past influences and becomes relevant in the present for southern LGBTQIA people, small towns, families, relationships, and patterns of social inequality.

As I did with the release of Cigarettes & Wine, I have found myself thinking a lot about the ways music shaped this composition and release in much the same way it does with everything I write, publish, and / or promote following publication. While I have written about the process of creating the work elsewhere, here I want to return an earlier discussion of the soundtracking of existence – or the ways people may use music to make sense of their lives, creative scientific, artistic, or otherwise works and selves, and experiences over time. In this case, this novel owes largely to the release of Brandy Clark’s second studio album Big Day in a Small Town. While I use musical references to situate experiences throughout the book as I do in other books, in this case, the primary music that played as I took the varied data points and intertwined them into a narrative was this album. I specifically organized every aspect of the novel around homecomings of varied sorts, and this idea came to me initially as I listened to Clark’s song “homecoming queen,” and remembered the story and experience of a homecoming queen I knew from my years on the planet. As I composed the novel, I kept spinning Clark’s album as a kind of soundtrack to the story the same way I have with other records when writing other works.

This brings me back to the discussions on this site earlier in the year about the ways music may serve as a background expectation or illustration of varied feelings, thoughts, and landscapes we experience throughout our lives. Earlier this year, I wrote about this as a process of soundtracking existence in ways that make our narratives and selves more meaningful and emotionally coherent to us as well as more easily translatable to others. In the months since, I have also noted that I have begun some scholarly writing on this idea that I will share more about as it develops over time. The point I wish to return to here is the theoretical and empirical question of the ways people may engage in such tactics, consciously or otherwise, throughout their lives and in relation to whatever musical materials they come in contact with over time. I think these could be fascinating questions for interactionists and broader sociologies to explore concerning the role of arts and music specifically in the social construction and dissemination of who we are, how we do things, what we feel things mean in our lives at a given time or place in the life course. As such, I simply use this post to introduce my latest book, and remind us of a potentially fascinating question that could be explored in many social contexts throughout the world today.

J. Sumerau is an interactionist scholar and novelist, for more information on their novels and research, visit 

Posted in Blog, Book, Dramaturgy, Emotion, Interactionism, Music, music sssi | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Between the Sounds

The other day I did something I have done many times, but I thought about it more than I normally have, likely because I write this blog and occasionally do some music-related scholarly work nowadays. This leads me to regularly reflect on musical patterns I encounter even more than I normally would in case I realize something potentially useful to other scholars, researchers, or writers. It is a practice that has always comforted me, but not one I have ever really thought about all that much.

Simply put, someone will send me music – a mixtape, an album for some reason (they have given many over the years), and / or more recently links to songs online) – and I will respond in kind without necessarily commenting at all. I will send back music – generally in the same form, so a mixtape for a mixtape or a link for a link, for example. Especially if there is no original comment from them or me or however the exchange begins, I generally do not comment on what I send back or on what they send unless they ask explicitly or start commenting themselves. I don’t know, probably due to the lack of commentary in most cases, what they are actually doing or intending in such exchanges. I’ve never really concerned myself about this question, and didn’t really even notice it until I started thinking about the exchange process the other day. In my case, however, I know what I am doing (or at least whatever I am doing consciously that I have access to in my own thinking). I am sending something that reminds me of the them, me, and aspects of both if I start the exchange. If they start the exchange, I am sending back whatever their musical offering reminded me of in relation to them, me, and aspects of both.

For me, this is a fun conversation that takes place between the sounds of the given musical entities exchanged. Especially as someone who rarely understands hints, assumptions, or other forms of implicit communication without a lot of help or effort, it is likely the main form of implicit communication I have ever engaged in within my own life. There is no way to know for sure what they are saying, and there is no way to know for sure what I am saying to them from their perspective or viewpoint. This is, as conversational scholars have long noted, not uncommon in mainstream interaction rituals in modern society, but it is uncommon for someone like me because generally I only catch what someone says directly and only reply in a direct fashion unless I stop myself and think about it for a specific reason (i.e., a boss, a request explicitly made by someone, etc.).

It hit me the other day that no matter what this type of conversation might be, mean, or feel like to others, for me, it is one of the closest ways I get to experiencing the type of “information game” Goffman and others note in the vast majority of interactions between people. The songs give information and give off impressions, but there is no concrete, explicit, discussion. This is the way most discussions in the world take place (i.e., people try to read, guess, or hypothesize what is meant behind the words), but this is the opposite of what I generally experience (i.e., there is nothing behind my words generally and I don’t think to look further into what might be behind the words of others without considerable effort – and years of practice – doing so). Even more so, however, it hits me that sharing music – and the potential meanings between the sounds – could be an interesting metaphor for looking at broader forms of interpersonal interaction and communication between people in varied settings and contexts. This, I would say, might be a fascinating way to explore social interaction via centralization of music, meaning, impression, and interpretation.

J. Sumerau is an interactionist scholar and novelist, for more information on their novels and research, visit 



Posted in Blog, Dramaturgy, Music, music sssi, symbolic interaction | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Into the Great Wide Open

The title of this post refers to two things in my home office right now. First, I am currently listening to a song by this name by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I’m currently on a massive Tom Petty kick in my own listening so playing one of their songs as I get ready for work in the morning is about usual at present. At the same time, the song feels appropriate – probably why I just hit the button to have it play for the third time in a row just now – as I’m currently jumping into a new type of writing for me that is a bit out of my wheelhouse. There is something comforting to me about thinking of this as diving into a wide open possibility, though I have no clue why that is comforting.

This type of thinking is something I’ve written about here before and something that comes up implicitly in my fictional writing – soundtracking life itself. As I’ve noted in interviews, prefaces, and at conferences whenever I’m asked about ideas that lead to this or that research or fiction publication, most of my ideas come from and / or develop alongside music I’m listening to at a given time. At the same time, I often narrate my own life, if only for myself whether or not I share such thoughts with others, in relation to songs because music makes more “sense” intuitively to me than most other languages (i.e., emotions, math, talking, etc.). As such, I thought I would say a few words about the current song rotating on repeat on the stereo as it pertains to the mixture of anxiety and excitement I’m feeling at present.

According to Petty, the song is about getting more and more into a music career, and the ups and downs in between. On some level, the former performer in me can relate to this idea as I know friends who are even more invested in music careers formerly or throughout their lives to date can. At the same time, it feels fitting for the many times we try something new for whatever reason. In this case, I’m currently working on my first scholarly attempts at music-related writing beyond this blog. I only plan for that to include one article, but at the same time, who knows where it might lead over time. Since my research tends to be in fields without much connection explicitly to music and society fields, it is an interesting experience of immersion into literature built from work I have done for fun alongside other research projects, working on this blog, teaching courses on the subject, and with the lucky help of a colleague who primarily focuses in the area.

At the same time, there is a comfort in the endeavor so far that I did not expect. Maybe I should have, but that’s a question for another time. While I am only now taking a stab at writing about music for a scholarly project / outlet, in some ways, I’ve been writing about music my whole life. My novels are organized around music and themes related to this or that feeling evoked in this or that musical domain – whether or not readers ever catch this part of the process for me. People have noted – especially in my adoration of alliteration and different wording choices than the average – that even my academic writing style sometimes holds a lyrical quality. The earliest writing I recall doing in my journals – alongside things about my own life specifically – involved attempts to take apart songs and videos and albums. In graduate school, more than one person who saw the way I organize fieldnotes observed that it seemed like I was using some kind of scale or rhythmic pattern in the organizations (which I’m still unaware of doing consciously, but I admit is likely correct and drawn from musical scales and lyrical structures best I can tell). And my first writing jobs, however little they paid, involved writing about musical acts, products, and experiences in indie magazines. In some ways, I guess it would have been reasonable to think – though I don’t recall doing so – that at some point music itself, so prevalent in so many parts of my life, would become a subject of analysis in some piece of my scholarly work. There is a comfort in this as I work through data and thoughts that have sat on the sidelines of my collected data sets for a while without use thus far.

I don’t know if I have a take home here other than yet again wondering about the various ways we may soundtrack our lives, and wondering about how widespread such efforts are not only among those of us with admitted love affairs with music, but even among those who may do this type of interpretive effort unconsciously when a particular source of sound brings forth a given memory or feeling from a given time. I’m not sure, but I feel like it would be an interesting area of consideration for each of us and maybe a source of self-reflection if we thought about it from time to time.

J.E. Sumerau

Posted in Blog, Music, music sssi, Reflection, Research | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

2017 SSSI Annual Conference in Montreal – Final Program – #sociology

Dear Friends and Colleagues

the Final Program of our conference in Montreal has just been published on our website.

Please follow the link below, have a look at the conference and then join SSSI in Montreal. Beth Montemurro has done a splendid job in putting it together.

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Latest Issue of #SSSI Notes Vol.46(1) – 2017 #sociology

The latest issue of SSSI Notes has been published on our website. Please follow the link below to access the Notes.
Thanks to Will Force for putting the newsletter together once again and to all those of you who have submitted contributions. 

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Gonorrhea on a Gravel Road

Have you ever thought about song lyrics that people mishear?  Have you ever wondered about what such accidental reinterpretations might say?  Have you ever had one of these occasions become an inside joke or other bonding experience?

The title of this post comes from one such bonding experience where a companion of mine misheard Lucinda Williams’ “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” as “Gonorrhea on a Gravel Road.”  This accidental reinterpretation has provided a lot of laughter over time, and sometimes some of us actually sing along this way for the fun of it when the song comes on in a car, coffee shop, or other venue.  As someone who often studies and writes about both relationships and the ways people talk, I find this dynamic – one that I’ve seen play out with many different misheard lyrics over the years – rather intriguing.

This is, of course, only one of numerous ways people have misheard song lyrics and found joy in sharing these experiences.  There are occasional blogs about examples of the phenomenon, and I’ve enjoyed reading more than my fair share of discussion boards where people share examples.  People might talk about Jimi Hendrix saying “excuse me while I kiss the sky,” but being heard as “excuse me while I kiss this guy,” for example, or Pat Benatar’s “Hit me with your best shot” becoming “Hit me with your pet shark,” or Kiss’ “I wanna rock and roll all night, and party every day” might become “and part of every day.”  There are many more, google mondegreens for some fun examples.

While these are often fun on their own, they can become even more fun when tied to specific relationship contexts.  I remember a couple who spoke a set of misheard lyrics to each other at their wedding because the laughter that erupted the first time they both misheard the song was an early moment in their life together they both treasured.  I remember the friends who would turn up the same song when they saw each other every few years, and laugh about the ways they re-wrote it together, intentionally later, accidentally at first, with new lyrics about their lives.  I’ve often wondered what we might learn about relationships by exploring the meanings people attach to these types of moments.

I’ve also often wondered what these experiences might say about us.  Considering that we tend to interpret people, places, things, and anything else based on the experiences, emotions, identities, and memories we hold dear, I wonder what parts of our selves show up in the ways we initially hear – accurately or otherwise – song lyrics.  Do our interpretations, whether misheard or heard as intended, reveal parts of our stories, lives, and experiences that others might not guess, and if so, in what ways?  If so, how does this process work?  What does it say about us and our interpretative endeavors in more serious scenarios?  What does it mean when seven people listen to the same song and hear seven different lyrics at a place in the same song where the vocal is not quite as clear as other places?  I feel like exploring these questions might lead to some interesting answers about meaning, interpretation, and memory.

On the other hand, I might just enjoy driving down the road yelling gonorrhea on a gravel road and laughing so hard I might cry while doing so.  So, what do you think, what  do misheard lyrics mean, and what are your favorite examples?

J.E. Sumerau is an Interactionist assistant professor of sociology and director of applied sociology at the University of Tampa.  They are also the author of over 50 academic works in journals and edited collections as well as the author of two forthcoming scholarly research-based books, and of the novels Cigarettes & Wine and Essence.  For more information, visit their website at or follow them on instagram @jesumerau; Facebook @jesumerau; or twitter @jsumerau.  


Posted in Blog, Music, music sssi, Reflection | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Reminder – #SSSI Annual Meeting in Montreal (August 9th to 13th)

Dear SSSI Colleagues:

If you have not yet had a chance to look at the preliminary program for the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction, I encourage you to do so. You can see it here:—program

We have a dynamic program, including 37 paper sessions, an Author-Meets-Critics session focused on Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman’s book, The Color of Love Racial Features, Stigma, and Socialization in Black Brazilian Families, (University of Texas Press, 2015), and the Distinguished lecture “The Past, Present and Future of G. H. Mead in Symbolic Interactionism,” given by Dr. Jean-François Côté, Université du Québec à Montréal. We also will have a workshop: “Using Grounded Theory for Social Justice Research,” given by: Dr. Kathy Charmaz, Sonoma State University, and featuring special presentations: “Grounded Theory Coding.” Dr. Linda Liska Belgrave, University of Miami “Pragmatist and Interactionist Perspectives on Social Justice.” Dr. Melinda Milligan, Sonoma State University.

The workshop is free for registered meeting participants, but you must sign up in advance.

There will also be a welcome reception on Friday evening. Our banquet and awards ceremony will be Saturday evening, following the distinguished lecture presentation.


To register, purchase banquet tickets, and sign-up for the “Using grounded theory for social justice research workshop,” go to:


Please register in advance and purchase banquet tickets in advance! Also, to make hotel reservations at the beautiful Omni Mont-Royal, please click here:

Reservations must be made by JULY 16, 2017 to receive the group rate.

Look forward to seeing you in Montreal.


Beth Montemurro


Beth Montemurro, Ph.D. Vice-President, Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction Professor of Sociology Penn State University, Abington 1600 Woodland Road Abington, PA 19001 215-881-7566


Posted in #sssi, Announcement, Annual Conference | Leave a comment

Exploring the Meaning(s) of Record Store Day

Right now, I’m sitting on my porch sipping a cup of coffee and listening to the latest release from Brandy Clark – Live from Los Angeles.  I’m especially happy to be doing this because this record is one of the 8 things I picked up while visiting my 10 favorite record stores on Record Store Day 2017.  While Record Store Day is always the only singular holiday I really celebrate or get into each year (I celebrate the NBA and WNBA playoffs, but those go on beyond a single day and I celebrate other holidays with friends and family who find those days important), this year offered more releases I wanted than any other to date.  As I do every year, I spent the entire day roaming from shop to shop, watching all the people and celebrations and musical performances, and blowing up the phones of family members who are kind enough to let me do so with endless details about what they often call my day.

As I was strolling around looking at records this time, I also thought about the symbols and meanings that emerged throughout the day.  One of the most common questions I receive when I say I celebrate one holiday, and then tell people what it is involves something along the lines of “what is that about.”  I usually just answer by saying what it is about for me – a day surrounded by other music lovers, and hours spent collecting special releases and memories in stores I spend a lot of my time in throughout the year.  This year, however, I started paying attention while I did this in hopes of picking out some of the things this day means to others.  Like any other holiday (or holy day, whichever you prefer) interactionists have studied over the years, there are multiple meanings for Record Store Day, and I had a surprisingly good time learning some of them from the sixty or seventy people I spoke to about it this year.

For some folks, the day is almost entirely about the releases.  Many of these are the people that get up in the early morning or late night hours, wait in long lines for especially rare and sought after collector’s items.  These people talk about the importance of their collection, and the chances they get on this day to share that collection (and the love and passion it represents for them) with other people who have similar tastes and passions.  It was interesting for me because I’ve never been willing to get up early or wait in the long lines, and as such, I long guessed why people did it, but had a lot of fun hearing the memories and examples of not only why, but how people did it (i.e., for some it’s a family or long time friend ritual), and what people remembered from doing it over the years (the most fun example was a lesbian couple who met in one of these lines a few years ago and continue to do it together now).

For many of the business owners, the meaning of the day revolves around two things.  First, record store owners typically invest a ton of time, energy, and money to operate such places, and this day often represents a big cushion or carry-over of operating expenses due primarily to the fact that people coming in for the events or special releases will buy a lot of other things in the process.  Second, record store owners generally see the day as a celebration of their passion (i.e., the store they invest in) and a remembrance of the time where it looked like such stores would become a thing of the past.  In such cases, the store owners talked a lot about the ups and downs of owning and working at record stores and with other musical enterprises.  For them, it was more of a celebration than anything else.

For a lot of the artists who perform at these events, however, it was primarily about a combination of promotion and possibility.  Many of them talked about the importance of quality gigs throughout the year, and the ways that playing at a crowded record store (even only a small set on a makeshift stage) could turn people onto them that they may not reach otherwise.  Some of them also talked about hope – the idea that the ability of the stores to bring in so many people at once even if only on special days told them something about the ways people still did appreciate music.  To my surprise, though I think I should have guessed it, this was also the pattern I found in the responses of local businesses who serve food and drinks at the events (often for free to us customers or for donations to local charities).  The day represented an opportunity to maybe catch new customers, and an illustration of people caring about local and independent businesses and arts.

While I could offer a wide variety of meanings from different groups, the other largest contingent of people offered similar interpretations to my own.  These were customers, more casual record collectors, and music lovers who went to the events because these are the places they normally go, these are the places that matter to them, and these are the places where they generally shop, get to know others, and have important memories.  Many of these people were after this or that release from a favorite artists (like the Brandy Clark record I just flipped to side 2 a few minutes ago), but were primarily interested in seeing the stores full, hearing what the local bands were up to, and checking out the discounts, promotions, and same cubbies and stacks they look through fairly regularly (though often with much less people around).

As an interactionist, meaning represents a lot of what I study and seek to make sense of in my work.  This year, primarily due to the curiosity generated within me by others asking about it, I translated that interest into my Record Store Day adventures.  In so doing, I found what I expected – a day that means a lot to different types of people as well as different things to different people who approach, experience, and interpret it from varied positions.

J. Sumerau


Posted in Blog, Interactionism, Music, music sssi, Record Stores, Research, symbolic interaction | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments