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


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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

Soundtracking Existence

After dreaming of doing so for most of my life, two weeks ago I released my first novel – Cigarettes & Wine, for purchasing information please visit  The novel is a sociological narrative built on over two decades of observations and interviews (formal and informal) with LGBTQIAP people in the southern United States as well as the past decade of sociological and interactionist research I have done concerning these populations.  Written in the form of a personal narrative from the perspective of a bisexual, non-binary teenager growing up in the Bible Belt in the 1990’s, the novel traces the lives of an interrelated group of mostly LGBTQIAP characters while highlighting the ways relationships, meanings, and both negative and positive experiences shape the people we become over time.  Not surprisingly, the release of this book – and the actualization of a lifelong dream in the process – has dominated my thoughts of late.

In the process of thinking about, answering questions about, and promoting the book’s release, I kept coming back to the ways I used musical references to capture feelings and times in the book, and the ways music – as well as other elements of arts and popular cultures – invoke specific times and places in our minds.  In the case of the book, for example, I was intentionally invoking aspects of 1990’s, and did so by pulling songs, artists, and events in that decade that allowed me to set the time without having to spell out the time and context within the narrative in a more direct fashion.  In a similar case, a commenter on the previous post about teaching with music noted the ways one can use music to invoke or set the tone for a class focused on a specific decade, and an earlier comment on another post long ago noted the ways childhood can be invoked for readers and listeners when certain instruments, sounds, smells, and forms of art are used to set a tone in writing or in person.  For whatever reason, this also got me thinking about colleagues – and myself too on occasion – who often used music as a background sound when students did in class writing assignments and / or at the opening of classes (whether or not such sounds were discussed in the class).  It hit me that I still associate a specific subject with 80’s pop songs because the class I took on the subject in college always started with such music playing in the background and we knew it was class time when the professor cut off the music even though we never discussed the music in relation to the class material or during the class.

As I’ve noted in other posts related to other topics, these types of thoughts circle around what I have casually referred to as the processes wherein we soundtrack our lives, cultures, settings, and experiences whether we realize it or not.  In my case, for example, there are two albums – no matter when or where or how I hear them – that always remind me of my life partner because they were newly released albums that became favorites of mine when we met.  There are similarly albums and songs and even more broader sounds I associate – often without realizing it at first – with other people, places, and events in my life that carry symbolic weight for me.  I often wonder what systematic studies of the soundtracks of people’s personal, collective, cultural, and national existence and experience might tell us about said people, cultures, and nations.  As such, I simply wanted to raise that question today because while I have yet to find the time to study it, I really would love to see what people might come up with in such studies.

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Teaching Sociology with Music…Some Examples

A few months back, I spoke on a conference panel about using music in the classroom.  Both before and after that talk, I chatted with a handful of people interested in examples I used in classes to cover various concepts.  I shared some examples with them, and then I found myself having similar conversations in the months since online, at other meetings, and in other ways.  As a result, I thought it might be useful to share some of the examples I use in classes a bit more broadly (i.e., here) in case they are useful for other teachers.

I would like to note that I’m not claiming any particular pedagogical expertise related to the examples I share below as I’m certain there are many other examples and ways people utilize music in classrooms.  In fact, I’ve been the student beneficiary of other examples and used many more examples than I will list here over the years.  Put simply, I’m not suggesting these examples are necessarily better or worse than others, and I welcome others to share their own examples via comments below, social media forums where we all often share teaching tips, and even in guest posts on this blog if anyone would like to do so (simply send me an email if you’re interested in doing a guest post on this or any music related topic).  All I’m doing here, put simply, is sharing some of the current examples I use that tend to work rather well for students in my classes just in case they are helpful to anyone else covering similar topics.

I would also like to note that the list below is by no means exhaustive even in my own toolkit of examples I use in classes regularly or from time to time.  I simply chose some of the concepts and topics I often illustrate with music (and other examples from the arts, sciences, and public media offerings) for the purpose of sharing.  I am more than willing to share others with anyone who wants to get in touch with me to ask about suggestions related to this or that topic, concept, theory, or other aspects of course content.  Like many other teachers I know, I pick up examples from a wide variety of sources (i.e., other scholars, students themselves, teaching support sites, etc.), and I personally appreciate how willingly many of us share techniques and examples that work in our classes and like any chance I can contribute the same.  In fact, if I continue to get questions about this practice, I will likely post other sets of examples in the future.

With the above noted, here are a few examples that work well in my classes when I seek to use music to illustrate a specific concept, theory, point, or other social pattern (see also this previous post on using musicals to teach sociological theories).  Usually, I do this by sharing the example after having covered readings and / or other outlines of concepts, and then students have to write about the musical example from the perspective of whatever reading or concept or theory we are covering and then we debate these things in class.

  • In medical sociology, my students and I cover a wide variety of medical experiences in order to create personal resonance with the broader patterns we are discussing and reading about throughout the class. In some cases, I accomplish this with narratives, memoirs, personal videos, and autoethnographies covering health experiences and interactions with medical authorities.  In other cases or alongside these examples, I also use songs that tell stories about medical experiences and have students write about the songs in relation to the scholarly readings and other examples.  Here are some that have worked really well:
    • Jason Isbell – Elephant (about loving someone with a chronic condition)
    • The Ramones – I wanna be well (about addiction)
    • Andrew McMahon – Bloodshot (as Jack’s Mannequin) (about living with chronic illness, we also look into his experiences with medicine and survival)
    • Death Cab for Cutie – what sarah said (about dying and grief and hospitals)
    • TLC – waterfalls (about drug abuse, HIV/ AIDS)


  • When covering suicide in courses on counseling, sociological theory related to Durkheim’s book, or in other courses related to other materials, I often have students listen to and view videos for songs about suicide from different decades and seek to situate these artifacts into the arguments or studies we are reading (for example, which forms of suicide outlined by Durkheim fit this or that song). Here are some songs that have worked well for this:
    • Billie Holiday – gloomy Sunday
    • Billy Joel – you’re only human
    • Pearl Jam – Jeremy (also useful for talking about gun violence and school shootings)
    • Brandi Carlile – that year


  • When discussing police brutality, racism over time, racialized violence, racial justice movements, and other aspects related to violence and inequalities, I often use songs about violence and inequalities over time to demonstrate just how consistent this issue has been – even in popular culture captured by the arts – over the past few decades. To this end, I generally have students look at / listen to songs from different decades going back at least to the 1970’s that all have very similar storylines concerning violence and inequalities (especially related to police and race).  Here are some examples I have used to demonstrate this similarity over time (note that I intentionally use songs that got some mainstream exposure, which I can then have students look at and discuss and I intentionally use songs from different genres so students see the same argument coming from different groups or social locations in society):
    • 1970’s – Gil Scott Heron – no knock, Junior Murvin – Police and Thieves
    • 1980’s – the Clash – Know your rights and the Violators – Summer of 81
    • 1990’s – 2pac – Trapped, Sinead O’Connor – Black boys on mopeds, Pearl Jam – WMA, Rage against the machine – Killing in the name, KRS One – Sound of da Police, Ice Cube – Who got the camera, and Bruce Springsteen – American Skin (41 shots)
    • 2000’s – Dead Prez – Cop Shot, G Unit – Straight outta Southside, Talib Kweli – the Proud, and Chamillionaire – Ridin’
    • 2010’s – Killer Mike – Don’t die, Lauryn Hill – Black Rage, Beyonce – Formation, Usher – Chains, Run the Jewels – Early


  • Throughout my gender class and classes about the social construction and experience of gender in society, I often have students listen to songs that tackle questions about gender we are covering in our readings and compare the songs to the scholarly literature. I have used too many songs to count for this over the years, but here are some I’ve been using of late (I also use this to lead into discussions of gender and music related to who does and who does not get mainstream attention among artists as well as what topics do and do not often get much mainstream attention in music):
    • Neko Case – man
    • Mindy McCreedy – Guys do it all the time
    • Ani Defranco – not a pretty girl
    • Alice Cooper – only women bleed
    • Arie – video
    • Soko – who wears the pants
    • Antony and the Johnsons – for today I am a boy
    • Dolly Parton – just because I am a woman
    • Nina Simone – four women
    • Beyonce – Flawless
    • Jenny Lewis – Just one of the guys
    • Neko Case – Margaret versus Pauline




Posted in Blog, Discussion, Music, music sssi, Teaching | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

CfP SSSI Annual Meetings 2017

The Call for Papers for the 2017 SSSI Annual meetings has just been published on our website. For the call, please go here:

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The best albums of 2016 in my opinion

With the new year approaching, I look forward to many new posts concerning the intersection of music and society on this blog.  At the same time, I wanted to close out the year by simply doing what almost every other media and commentary source about music does every year at this time.  As such, here are my own best albums (limited to 25 and only to new releases) of the year presented without comment for anyone’s interest or consideration.  See you all here in the new year, j

  1. Sturgill Simpson – A sailor’s guide to earth
  2. BJ Barham – Rockingham
  3. Miranda Lambert – the weight of these wings
  4. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from here…thank you 4 your service
  5. Various Artists – Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here Symphonic
  6. Amanda Shires – My piece of land
  7. Mavis Staples – Living on a high note
  8. Against Me – Shape Shift with me
  9. Alicia Keys – Here
  10. Wilco – Schmilco
  11. Beyonce – Lemonade
  12. The Head and the Heart – Signs of Life
  13. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
  14. Nice as Fuck – Eponymous
  15. PJ Harvey – The hope six demolition party
  16. Usher – Hard II Love
  17. Lady Gaga – Joanne
  18. Garth Brooks – Gunslinger
  19. Norah Jones – Day Breaks
  20. Leonard Cohen – you want it darker
  21. KT Tunstall – KIN
  22. Lucinda Williams – the Ghosts of Highway 20
  23. Tegan and Sara – Love you to death
  24. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  25. Metallica – Hard wired to self destruct
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Event Specific Playlists

In recent weeks, I have enjoyed a series of posts people have made in various corner of the internet sharing playlists they have created for processing the results of the recent U.S. Presidential election.  Roaming around online, I have seen such playlists show up from people on the left, people on the right, and moderates alike, and though the contents – not surprisingly – of the playlists differ greatly between these groups, each seeks to use music to make sense of the event and what may follow it.  I have also noticed quite a bit of variation between individuals’ – even with similar political and other demographic leanings and statuses – and enjoyed the varied ways people utilize different musical tastes to express similar points and reactions.  As someone who rarely spends much time at all without music playing nearby, I’ve really enjoyed both remembering songs I haven’t listened to in a while and even learning new ones to try while reading these shared and otherwise posted playlists.

At the same time, the amount of people sharing such lists following the U.S. Presidential election led me to start thinking about what I would call, for lack of a better term, event specific playlists and the roles such list might play in our emotional and cognitive processing and experiences.  I think about people I’ve seen post “wedding day playlists,” “final exam playlists,” “anniversary playlists” (related to various kinds of anniversaries), and a wide variety of other examples.  On my own computer every day, I have a “fiction” playlist that contains the main musical numbers I listened to when crafting each of my novels because sometimes I listen to them when I’m struggling with a story.  I’ve also seen people post playlists for various recreation activities, such as “Going to the River Songs” and “Girls Night Out Playlist” at times over the years.  I’ve also seen playlists posted online or shared between friends that remember specific things, people, places or events – “Songs that take me back to Georgia” or “Remembering Mama Playlist,” for examples.  In all such cases, people experience or process specific events in the life course with the use of songs that, at least for them, speak to those events.  Simply put, these playlists represent people’s attempts, best I can tell and I admit I do it to, to create soundtracks for their lives, emotions, and concerns.

Especially as I’ve been studying and becoming more active in arts-based research throughout this year, this strikes me as an interesting question that could be examined by interactionists focuses on relationships between music and society.  How do people narrate their lives through the use of songs and albums?  What playlists might people form to explain their reactions to varied life events like elections, graduations, breakups, first loves, and many other major moments?  What might we learn about the influence of art on identity and narrative creation, and what might we learn about broader patterns of narrative and identity creation from such studies?  What lessons might we learn about events and the ways people experience them by examining the playlists created by this or that group (and especially those shared widely) after such events?  I don’t know what the answers might be, but I think this could be an interesting line of inquiry.

Alongside the questions above, I think I’ll close this post by sharing some of the songs I have most often listened to following the recent election, and in so doing, potentially share some of the enjoyment I’ve gotten reading and thinking about the lists shared by others.  Alongside the songs listed below, I’ve found myself listening to a couple of complete albums fairly regularly in the last few weeks – “We got it from here…thank you for your service” by A Tribe Called Quest and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen.  Alongside those two albums, here are some of the other songs (I limited it to ten) I listen to these days when I think about the recent election:

American Skin (41 Shots) – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me

Pray to Jesus – Brandy Clark

Don’t Die – Killer Mike

Crucify – Tori Amos 

Not Ready – Dixie Chicks 

Formation – Beyonce 

Bend before it Breaks – Brandi Carlile 

We’ve been had – Uncle Tupelo 

Inside Job – Pearl Jam 







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