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Between interaction and intra-action

The notion of ‘interaction’ is well understood. Interactions are part of our everyday life. Sometimes these interactions leave us thinking about them afterwards (“what did he mean when he said that?”, “why is she always like that?” etc) and sometimes this leaves us thinking about interaction in a second-order way (“why do I always feel so uncomfortable in situations like that?”).  In this sense, I’d argue that interaction and intra-action are intrinsically linked. Each impacts upon the other in manifold ways. We intra-act in response to our interactions and this shapes what we bring to subsequent interactions. However sociological conceptions of intra-action have tended to be rather deficient. Unfortunately these failings tend to be most pronounced amongst those who most acutely analyse interaction. For instance as Nicos Mouzelis writes in his critique of Hans Joas ,

If actors do not operate on the basis of rigidly set means-end schematic, if interactive situations constitute and constantly reformulate both means and ends, what sort of conceptual tools can make this obvious, and how are such tools linked to each other and to broader macro-sociological conceptualisations joas does not give us any answers here. Neither does he show how interaction is linked to intra-action – i.e. to the reflexive process, the internal conversations that constantly take place within the actor’s mind. In order to understand how interactions shape means and ends, it is necessary to see how an actor deals not only with other actors in interactive contexts but also with himself/herself.

Modern and Postmodern Social Theorizing, Pg 92

The risk in critiquing a deficient account of intra-action is that we lose the insights into situated interaction that theorists like Joas offer. I’m interested in the interface between interaction and intra-action: how situated encounters both shape and are shaped by the exercise of our reflexivity. In my PhD I’ve argued that if we compress interaction and intra-action too closely together, such that we fail to recognise the relative independence of actors from the situations in which they are (inter)acting, we will struggle to gain traction upon how interaction is related to inter-action and vice versa. I’m suggesting that theorists of the interaction situation focus on the T2-T3 shown in the diagram below – in doing so, they fail to account for how situated interaction has variable consequences for those party to it and how these ensuing changes effect what actors bring to subsequent situated interactions. Rather than being concerned solely with situations, we should be interested in pathways into and out of situations and how interacting actors change in the process.

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5 replies

  1. Very useful Mark, and really thought provoking as I start to think about how different modes of reflexivity originate.

  2. Hi Mark, I think you propose an interesting model. Yet, it seems to me that you take the ‘social’ out of the interaction and transport it back into individual people’s head. The great advance of studies of interaction was to be able to show how the organisation of action does not require people’s individual cognition to reflect on what’s going on but ‘the social’ is always already there and ongoingly produced through the action that reflexively relate to each other. Just a thought. Best Dirk

  3. Hi Dirk, I’m trying to get across the different ways in which we relate to the social. I’m suggesting that the organisation of action presupposes certain propensities on the part of actors that are not reducible to the action situation itself but have emerged in complex ways through past action situations. I agree the social is produced in an ongoing way, I’m trying to be specific about how particular situations make particular contributions to it’s production, if that makes sense? So empirically I used it to analyse individual biographies but in a way that tried to recognise how action situations within particular contexts (e.g. the halls of residence of students, the classes they took, the students union) were crucial to understanding the direction of their biography. I’m not trying to privilege intra-action over interaction – I want to fit them together in the context of the lived life.

  4. Reblogged this on Tracey Yeadon-Lee and commented:
    Another gem by Mark Carrigan. This is the kind of stuff that got me into sociology in the first place. I was such a lucky person to have been taught Margaret Archer all those years ago. I wish I could have kept up with the all the intricate conceptual issues that I once knew so well!

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