interaction ritual

Le Moyne Lacrosse: Interaction Ritual and the Sacred

Yesterday afternoon I attended the Le Moyne versus Merrimack lacrosse playoff game that took place at Le Moyne’s Ted Grant Field. Unfortunately for Le Moyne, we lost a close contest in the last 5 seconds. The game, however, was very exciting, and significantly more enjoyable than the one other lacrosse game I’d previously attended 5 years ago or so. As I watched the game I was thinking about what made the experience more exciting this time around.

In general, I find lacrosse quite boring, and the main reason I went was because I wanted to support a few lacrosse players I’ve had in classes this semester. I know my boredom is primarily because I really don’t understand what I’m looking at. To me, it appears to be a bunch of folks running around, beating each other up, and throwing a ball past a goaltender with little to no reasonable chance to make a save (even though the Merrimack tender did seem to make a lot of stops today). As a baseball fan, however, I suspect that most folks who say baseball is boring really don’t know the game very well. Once you know what’s ‘really’ happening out there, you see a lot more going on during those times it appears most of the players are just standing around. I have to assume, therefore, that I just don’t have the stock of lacrosse knowledge to make sense of, and therefore enjoy, lacrosse. This was still true today. I watched nearly the whole game, and at any point I would have been hard-pressed to explain what I was watching. Clearly, it wasn’t my knowledge of the game that made it more fun today.

Fortunately, as I wandered over to the fence to watch the game, I ran into some colleagues who had done the same. They aren’t the colleagues I hang out with the most often, but I know each of them is a sports fan. There were also a few other faculty and college staff, including our president, who joined us for a while as the game progressed. A good crowd of students, only a few of whom I recognized, were also gathered around the fence and in the stands. I can’t say if it was a more well attended game than normal, but it was a playoff game, so probably there were others like me who came just to check it out. I was watching the game with folks who were chatting with one another about the game and some other college issues, and we were all part of the larger crowd focused on the game.

So, can any of these details help explain why I had a more enjoyable time at the game than I expected. First, I did have a connection to a few of the players. I know these students off the field after spending a semester with them in class. So, they weren’t just numbers and face masks, but rather people I’ve cultivated relationships with. I wanted them to win because I knew they’d be proud and happy, and I’d experience just a little bit of those positive emotions if they did.

The folks I was with certainly added to the fun of the experience. Part of that was because I could draw on their stock of lacrosse knowledge to resolve the regular confusion I experienced about the game play. Why did the game stop? Because he stepped across that line. Why was that a penalty when otherwise hitting with sticks seems perfectly legitimate in this game? Because he hit him in the wrong place. Oh, ok. Nobody likes being confused, and I was less confused than if I’d been there on my own. But, it was more than just lacrosse talk making the game fun. We also commiserated about avoiding grading, congratulated one another on accomplishments, and learned more about colleagues we only knew a little. We were engaging in friendship rituals, and it made us happy, despite the fact the game really was never going Le Moyne’s way.

Beyond our group, the larger crowd, not all of whom were cheering for Le Moyne, helped produce my enjoyment too. The excitement, and even the dread, were contagious. It’s fun to be around people having fun, and sharing an emotional connection, even a relatively negative emotion, with a large, loud crowd can help produce a sense of community with people you’ll never get to know personally. This definitely happened, and it’s not a stretch to say that at Le Moyne the lacrosse field is sacred ground. We have a pretty good team, after all, and the men’s lacrosse team in particular has brought a lot of positive attention to the school. That was the background of these sports rituals we enacted, the school’s reputation beyond campus and shared spirit of supporting the team.

I’d say that I enjoyed the game mostly because of all the positive emotional energy that surrounded us, even in defeat. It was a few hours of solidarity and fun, shared with some friends, some acquaintances, and a lot of strangers.

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The Pledge of Allegiance and Interaction Ritual

Per Smith wrote a short response to a Salon article about a court case in Massachusetts challenging the inclusion of ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance. Per is right to note that ritual is about action and the solidarity it potentially creates. I believe the arguments about ritual and solidarity, and in this case I believe the Pledge of Allegiance can effectively foster an imagined national community (if it did or does is another question). I believe it probably fails for a lot of people who don’t feel particularly included or excluded, that it actively excludes a good number of others, and that the 1950’s addition of ‘under God‘ made the ‘indivisible’ that follows a happy irony for anyone teaching sociology of religion in this day of increasing ‘nones.’

One of my favorite exercises when I teach sociology of religion is to have the students recite the Pledge as they know it, including “under God,” and then in its pre-1954 language, without the phrase. Some students do hesitate. It makes them uncomfortable. The thing is sacred, after all, and I’m asking them to profane it (for science!). Once we’ve done it, we then talk about how this national prayer establishes religion in our culture, and about how it is potentially as divisive as it is unifying.

I’m not even sure why, but yesterday in my Research Methods course I started to recite the Pledge from somewhere in the middle, right before indivisible (oh right, we were talking about the individual as an indivisible unit of analysis). I said something like, “you know what indivisible means, right, like in the Pledge of Allegiance, one nation, something, something, indivisible…” Probably half of the students gave me a funny look and said, “under God!” One student, I think joking, said to me, “that’s un-American!”

Per suggests we focus on the efficacy of the Pledge rather than its meaning, and argues that daily recitation bound generations of Americans into national community. I agree*, and here I want to apply his argument about the efficacy of the ritual to the interaction ritual I just described. All those years of reciting that pledge, of saying “under God” in the context of affirming patriotism resulted in our classroom interaction. The student didn’t say, “what are you, an atheist?” She said, “that’s un-American.” My skipping over “under God” started our own little interaction ritual because of the meaning she (as a joke or not) attributed to my mumble. I focused on the student, the class focused on us, and I riffed for a minute or two from my sociology of religion lecture about the addition of that divisive phrase. But this was a Methods class, so I assure you we got back to our discussion of units of analysis right away (i.e. This is no dispatch from the front lines of the culture war).

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*l also think we need to focus on the contested meanings of rituals, especially of those rituals supported by the state. I doubt very much that Per would disagree with me on that point as he was arguing against those who might call ritual meaningless, which it clearly isn’t (hence the court case).

 

I’m a man, man: Failed sex categorization in daily life

I’m a man who is quite regularly mistaken for a woman. It has been happening for years, it happens every six months or so, and it happened again just last Friday at the dining hall here at Le Moyne as a female colleague and I paid for our lunch. The cashier was a bit occupied and, seeing the two of us approach said, “I’ll be right there ladies.” She noticed and said sorry; we paid and went on our way. My sociologist colleague and I threw around some possible reasons that I’m so regularly confusing: I’m short; my hair is curly to the point it’s a natural perm; I was with a woman and the cashier saw her first. I don’t recall the first time it happened and I’d guess it probably bothered me, but it happens enough now that when somebody does it I often turn into a field sociologist and ask them why they thought I was a woman. Nobody ever gives a very clear answer, and almost everybody is fairly flustered by their called out sex miscategorization. I may never know why this happens, but it makes me think about some fun sociological questions too: How does it affect the interaction? Why do people say sorry? Can I learn anything about gender identity in daily life?

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Politely in the way: an awkward door holding ritual

Today I was sitting in a sandwich shop. Yes, it was Subway. I eat there almost as much as Jared. I chose a small table near the door because I was just one person and didn’t think I should take a booth, even though the table was so small it made it hard for me to do the reading I planned on. Perhaps this is why I ended up watching people as they entered more than I read. I’ve always been interested in ‘door opening’ behavior, and today I saw an interaction that got me thinking about obedience to civility norms and how they directly coerce our embodied behavior.

Outside, a male/female couple with a baby carrier approached the door from the right, while a lone man approached from the left. The man got to the door an instant before the female member of the couple, and opened the door from left to right so that she was now effectively behind it. Noticing the woman, the lone man stepped close to the door, standing inside it but not going into the shop. He held the door so the woman and the man could enter before him. He was, however, in the way so that the man and woman had to adjust their path to get around him. He was, at once, being polite and standing in the way. It was a polite, but awkward exchange.

The lone man could have very easily walked through the door he had opened, and the woman could have reached out and held it while waiting to go through. They had both taken straight line paths to door up until their meeting, being very efficient about entering. But, once they were at the door, the paths became less efficient in the service of civility. Not to mention that the lone man lost the spot in the sandwich line to which he had a justifiable claim. He got there first, after all. Now, the cost of his civility was being in the way, and being 2 further spots away from his 11 inch ‘foot-long’ sub.

The sketch below illustrates what I saw. A,B are the couple, and C is the lone man. Straight lines indicate ‘efficient’ paths, and curved lines indicate walking around an obstacle (in this case the door, and the polite, lone man).

Sketch of door holding ritual

Sketch of door holding ritual

Here’s my card, and I’m sorry

Thanks to the timing of the two sessions I was a part of, I spent the better part of the last 4 days at the meetings of the Eastern Sociological Society. When I saw that I had a 3:30 session on Thursday and a 1:45 on Sunday, I was a little upset at the inconvenience. In the end, however, I spent more time at this conference than I have at any for several years, and I enjoyed it a lot. If you don’t believe me, see my numerous tweets about it, which seemed to earn me some followers and drive some away. The twitterverse is fickle!

My Sunday presentation was titled “Command Performance: Narrative, Institutions, and Performing Obedience.” In it, I’m trying to say something helpful about the nexus of interaction, institutions, and culture as it applies to action. I’m interested in why we do things that reflect moralities we disagree with, and I think institutional and interaction orders have a lot to do with it. As I was actively writing my talk most of the weekend (yep), I was hearing most of the presentations through that amplifier, and seeing most of the activity of the conference through that lens. There was a mini conference on institutions that was very good and helpful for my thinking, and there were great sessions on crime and inequality too, at which I learned a great deal.

I think the most interesting thing I saw, however, was a brief interaction between two graduate students who were meeting each other for what appeared to be the first time. I wasn’t part of it, I just happened to be sitting right next to their conversation about shared research interests. They were excitedly sharing their interests, and planning on following up during the conference for the classic ‘let’s have a drink’ interaction ritual. As one of the students handed the other a business card he said, to paraphrase, ‘I know this is cheesy, but it’s got my info on it.’ In this exchange I saw so much of what I want to understand. He was following the norm of the discipline to make connections and share contact info, but at the same time he was judging his own behavior by indicating that there was something unseemly about efficiently sharing contact info. Is it because it was a business card, which does seem a bit old school in these days of email and Twitter? Did he feel that it was too utilitarian and ambitious during an interaction that included the friendly ‘let’s get a drink’ routine, even though ‘let’s get a drink’ clearly meant let’s talk about our work? I don’t know, but I do know he was doing something many of us do to serve the interests of our careers within this profession, using an institutionalized practice, and judging his own behavior as somehow ‘less than ideal’ as he did it. That’s fascinating!