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Conceptual Difficulties and Promises of Interaction Ritual Theory

Enku MC Ide SOC 646 University of Kentucky

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Ide, Enku SOC 646: Collins Paper

Through his theory of interaction rituals (IR), Dr. Randall Collins lays the foundation for a totalizing theory of radical microsociology based in Durkheimian concepts of ritual and solidarity. This theory is helpful in sensitizing social movement theories to the emotional qualities of building solidarity, collective identities, and polarization. However, the microsupremacy of the theory may go beyond IR theorys utility and may better be used as one way, among others, of seeing the social world. After laying out the bases of the theory and discussing possible limitations, I relate IR theory to social movements and graduate employee unions specifically. Dr. Collins notes that we can take ritual as the missing link between group structure and group ideasit is in rituals that a group creates its symbols (2004: 26). Rituals are group processes including bodily co-presence and mutual focus that leads to emotional entrainment which creates and re-creates emotional energy (EE) which can imbue both persons and symbols. To the degree that persons and symbols at the heart of rituals are given collective attention or mutual focus, the emotion of the community carries each participant along with the emotional cohesion of the group. Thus, persons with high EE are seen as charismatic and powerful; likewise, symbols charged with large amounts of EE become emotional rallying points. Dr. Collins strengthens this model with empirical evidence showing that human bodies in close proximity subtly mimic one when mutual focus (either on the other in the interaction, on a group leader or on a symbol) is sustained. Through this model, Dr. Collins seeks to explain all social behavior, describing IR theory as very generally applicable (Collins 2004: 15). The basic premise is that humans seek to maximize pleasure through increasing EE through both formal and mundane rituals. The longterm and macrosocial implications are that EE is built up over time, through IR experiences, thus

Ide, Enku SOC 646: Collins Paper

building the larger social world from emotional attachments formed in microlevel interactions. Thus, situational micro-level rituals are the nodes of social structure (Collins 2004: 26) and take theoretic precedence over macrosocial observations. While solidarity is formed in the immediate ritual process of mutual focus and emotional entrainment, long-term solidarity is produced by repeating such rituals regularly. Turning to social movement theory, framing claims gain resonance and increase frame alignment if they are easily accepted by the wider society (Snow et al. 1986). To increase framing resonance, therefore, movements adopt symbols and frames which already carry significant EE in the wider society. For example, movements that rely on religious symbolism are more likely to gain constituents to the degree that possible adherents accept these framing attempts, based in culturally stored-up EE in these symbols. One emotional component to framing can be seen in ubiquitous concepts of justice/injustice. According to Collins, all highly politicized protest movements tend to be moralistic (2004: 341). This is in line with Snows insight that social problems must be framed as injustice (rather than as misfortune) if mobilization is to occur (1986: 466). Dr. Collins puts great stock in the explanatory power of EE. This model may be subject to several of the critiques of the framing perspective laid out by Benford, especially that of circular logic in declaring causality (1997). Whereas controlled studies provide evidence of emotional entrainment leading to increased cohesion, this seems difficult to study in the field. Without greater awareness of these processes, we may fall into measuring EE based in the outcomes of group solidarity, leading to ambiguity in the causal relationship. It may be easier to discuss IR chains through the language dialectical relationships between individuals and groups.

Ide, Enku SOC 646: Collins Paper

According to Benford, most framing studies have focused on case studies that may be limiting. Collins attempts to build a universal theory of IR Chains but uses many anecdotal and disconnected observations as evidence that micro-ties of our networks are no longer relevant (2004: 293). This leads to some strange conceptual turns throughout the book. For example, while recognizing macrosocial aspects of smoking and anti-smoking movements that are translated into the situational experiences of individuals, he later says that micro-situational order has come loose from the macro-order (2004: 289). Those social theorists who place causal importance in macrosocial factors are dismissed as either mechanistic as in the case of Bordieu (2004: 288) or as conveying an inaccurate picture of the main trend of modern history, as in the case of Habermas (2004: 291). Following this line of thought, Collins critiques contemporary sociology as having failed to be perceptive of microsocial encounters and the situational stratification that is for participants often the most salient dimension of everyday life (204: 338). To illustrate this point, he provides several examples where structural stratification is situationally inversed causing as members of the majority group (specifically white, middle class men) to feel uncomfortable. An analysis which seeks balance between the structural and the situational may explain these encounters confronting structural inequality, but Collins radical microsociology leads him to cast these incidents as undermining the social facts of systems of inequality. Key to Collins microsociology is the idea that categorical identities, often the benchmarks of contemporary sociological analyses and the basis of many New Social Movement (NSM) Social Movement Organizations (SMOs), have become unimportant in our egalitarian age. Thus, it seems that his theory would have difficulty explaining the persistence of structural inequalities including the gendered and racialized glass ceiling in the economy and

Ide, Enku SOC 646: Collins Paper

government power structures, the second shift of womens work in the home and on the job, or racial and class disparities in health and life expectancy. When taking a global perspective, this becomes much more problematic. For example, explaining differentials between high and low income nations (the Global North and the Global South) through a lack of EE in the Global South may prove deeply unsatisfying. The IR formulation of solidarity is seen charging collective symbols with EE. However, this EE can also be applied to the group or community itself through the formation of collective identities as movement adherents internalize their group commitments. Through NSMs, many structurally marginalized communities have formed such identities. According to Collins, this is less likely to occur among situational subordinates whose position is weak. These individuals are unlikely to build collective identity because to do so would be an acceptance of their marginalized place and heighten dishonor (Collins 2004: 332). Thus, NSMs have created safe spaces where structurally marginalized communities can gain situational superiority. For example, radical feminist groups often emerged among activists who were marginalized within other social movements, including the civil rights movement and the socialist movement. Structural categorical identities are re-formulated through social and cultural movements to challenge the dishonor associated with particular identities, particularly Black Pride and Gay Pride. If these categorical identities had subsided, such movements would find it difficult to attract adherents. Social movements are not detached from society and their identity claims impact the larger society. Collins claim that categorical identities are no longer important may simply be relational, reflecting that such identities were more important in earlier epochs or this claim may reflect the current cultural milieu of privilege where categorical identities are less salient in that they are normalized and naturalized.

Ide, Enku SOC 646: Collins Paper

Although asserting that [c]ategorical identities have largely disappeared, replaced by pure local representations, Collins admits that black / white ritual standoffsare one of the few remaining bases for categorical identities (2004: 284). This problematic aspect becomes fully apparent in Collins discussion of Dr. Elijah Andersons The Code of the Street, which details socialization processes of Black inner-city residents. Dr. Anderson clearly explains that the socialization of the street is based in underemployment, racism, and alienation from mainstream society. Divorcing this socialization process from economic structures and larger cultural systems, Dr. Collins reduces the complexity of inner-city life to racialized ritual standoffs. This is directly contrasted with Collins discussion of tobacco use. In Collins application of IR to tobacco use, however, he incorporates more macro-claims and the cultural history of tobacco use and the anti-tobacco movements. These macro-social changes strengthen the microsociological analysis outlined by Collins, leading me to answer affirmatively Collins rhetorical question, doesnt all this [micro]sociologizing go too far? (2004: xix) Dr. Collins does not address Foucaults micro-mechanisms of power. Instead, he describes situational, order-giving/receiving D-power (deference power or order-giving power) and organizational, task-oriented E-power (efficacy power) (Collins 2004: 284). E-power can be understood as the long-term, organizational outcome of many microsituational D-power rituals of giving and obeying orders. This model seems logical in hierarchical organizational structures, yet may need modification when applied to democratic or consensus-based organizing which is central to those social movements described by NSM theory. It may be the case that the ideal power arrangement in these organizations is a synthesis of D- and E- power within the more egalitarian SMO. Collins notes that inequality in D-power indicates sharp differences in social identities. Thus, to the degree that SMOs are capable of building a collective identity

Ide, Enku SOC 646: Collins Paper

among members and constituents, D-power should diminish internally. This form of power may still be present to the degree of group democratic centralization, with individual members expected to defer to group-based decisions. To the degree that the SMOs facilitate interaction rituals and therefore build and reinforce EE internally, the group will have greater solidarity, crystallized in a strong collective identity based in collective symbols. External to the SMO, social movements use tactics and strategies to demand change from third parties. Inherent in such demands are the building and wielding of power. A social movements ability to utilize power and successfully make demands is the clearest marker of success. This is addressed by Collins as E-power, the highest kind [of which]is to change the entire social structure (2004: 285). Again, the distinction between D-power and E-power becomes blurred in this view. In making demands, SMOs focus D-power on decision-makers, calling on these individuals and organizations to defer to the SMO. This D-power may rely on the efficacy (E-power) of the SMO to organize protests and campaigns. When Collins directly mentions social movements, his conceptualization seems out of line with current sociological usage of the term. For example, he describes the international expansion of tobacco use as a social movement propagating lifestyle rituals (2004: 304). Although Collins conceptualization of social movement seems constraining, IR theory is still applicable to social movement mobilization. It does seem that protests and group meetings which fulfill the requirements for a successful interaction ritual, particularly mutual focus and emotional entrainment, can lead to increased ritual outcomes such as solidarity and collective identity formation Collins also addresses the topic of polarization, noting that mobilization increases the shifting social construction of risk vis--vis its opponent (2004: 332). This reflects Hirschs

Ide, Enku SOC 646: Collins Paper

insights into building solidarity through micromobilization processes. For Hirsch, polarization can be highly beneficial for group mobilization, but only after collective identity formation has been achieved (1990: 245). Collins does not deeply elaborate on the process of polarization, except in noting that movement mobilization and polarization feed back into each other, andstrongly increase each other (2004: 332). Through protest and other mobilizations, groups become charged with EE to take the initiative rather aggressively in personal encounters (2004: 335). Thus, EE remains central to how movement actors address adversaries. In Hirschs formulation, this process is collectively produced. As solidarity and collective identities are strengthened, the group may be seen to have increased EE with members acting in a unified front against opponents. Taking the specific case of graduate employee unionization, we can clearly apply several of the theoretical insights gained from IR theory. In higher education, rewards can be found in the work rituals of collaborating on research (or researching alone) and interacting with students and colleagues. Many people may enter higher education because of an attunement to the rituals and symbols associated with educational institutions and their own disciplines. Choosing a career path, therefore, is both rational and emotional. Affronts to the dignity of this work, therefore, will likely take on emotional characteristics. Unionization among graduate employees has been described as a reaction to administrative and systemic de-valuing of teaching in general and especially in departments farther afield from current, often corporate-based, revenue streams. Recognizing that tenure track jobs are becoming less-available, graduate employees may feel individualized shame if they feel their prospects are limited. This shame is compounded by an individualistic corporate hegemony that serves as the benchmark of corporate colonization into higher education.

Ide, Enku SOC 646: Collins Paper

Union mobilization may be related to specific demands concerning pay, benefits, and workload. Both grievances and polarization are collectively constructed, and are likely to take place organically on-the-job, but also through interactions with coworkers both informally and through organizing and mobilizing. Thus, those workers with the least compensation for their work, often teaching staff in the humanities, arts and social sciences, are likely to lead union mobilizations through a tipping point of frustration around these demands. Building a movement involves the building of EE among these worker-leaders in order to carry increased power throughout the graduate employee community. Rituals serve to transform certain emotions into others (Collins 2004: 235). As such, graduate employee unions can utilize rituals to transform individualized shame into collective dignity at work in the face of structural devaluation. This emotional transformation, demanding dignity as teachers particularly, builds EE not only within the individual but also within the profession. Thus, demands of teachers also reflect a deep respect for quality education and the protection of collective consumption of higher education as a right. While IR theory fails to meet the lofty goals set out by Collins, the theory does appear to be highly applicable in sensitizing researchers to one central aspect of social life: the immediate situation. The theory becomes problematic when the immediate situation is given conceptual supramecy over considerations of macrosocial cultural, structural, and institutional realities. IR theory may give social movement theorists increased insight into micromobilization processes, re-situating the emotional quality of human experience. When applied to graduate employee organizing, IR theory points out how mobilizing and organizing can channel emotional energy toward increased commitment to the organization.

Ide, Enku SOC 646: Collins Paper

References Collins, Randall. 2004. Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Benford, Robert. 1997. An Insiders Critique of the Framing Perspective. Sociological Inquiry. 67(4): 409-430. Hirsch, Eric. 1990. Sacrifice for the Cause: Group Processes, Recruitment, and Commitment in a Student Social Movement. American Sociological Review. 55(2): 243-254. Snow, David et al. 1986. Frame-Alignment Processes, Micromobilization, and Movement Participation. American Sociological Review 51 (4): 464-481.