sociology conference

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!