A Cursory Overview of the Interaction Ritual
I am often fond of saying something like, or more, exactly like, relationships are everything. Really. Everything we do is predicated on a relationship. Yes? I think so.
And, I’ve written many articles about relationships, because I do believe they are the basis for all social and cultural phenomena. Yep.
But, what does that really mean? Good question.
In this article we will explore the concept of the interaction ritual, termed and written about by Irving Goffman.
Yet, before we get to that part of our discussion, let’s define both interaction and ritual. Ready? Good. Here we go.
Pronunciation /ˌin(t)ərˈakSH(ə)n/ /ˌɪn(t)ərˈækʃ(ə)n/
Translate interaction into Spanish
Reciprocal action or influence. ‘ongoing interaction between the two languages’
Communication or direct involvement with someone or something. ‘for a shy person, social interaction can be a stomach-churning, anxiety-filled experience’Lexico
Pronunciation /ˈriCH(o͞o)əl/ /ˈrɪtʃ(u)əl/
Translate ritual into Spanish
A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order. ‘the role of ritual in religion’
The prescribed order of performing a ceremony, especially one characteristic of a particular religion or church. ‘she likes the High Church ritual’
A series of actions or types of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone. ‘her visits to Joy became a ritual’Lexico
There we go, great. Here’s what we have thus far.
An interaction ritual, then, is a reciprocal series of actions, influence, or types of behaviour regularly and invariably followed by someone.
Pretty straight forward, yes? Good. Now, what about Goffman? Good question. Here is how Goffman defines interaction ritual.
“The subject matter [Interaction Ritual], however, can be identified. It is that class of events which occurs during the co-presence and by virtue of co-presence. The ultimate behavioral materials are the glances, gestures, positionings, and verbal statements that people continuously feed into the situation, whether intended or not. These are the external signs of orientation and involved-states of mind and body not ordinarily examined with respect to their social organization.” (Goffman, 1967).Interaction Ritual: Essays in Face-to-Face Behavior
Well, that’s pretty powerful. Yet, what does it all really mean? Hm. Another good question. Let’s unpack this a little, shall we? Good. Here we go.
Let’s define a social construct one more time. Important.
Pronunciation /ˌsəʊʃl ˈkɒnstrʌkt/
A concept or perception of something based on the collective views developed and maintained within a society or social group; a social phenomenon or convention originating within and cultivated by society or a particular social group, as opposed to existing inherently or naturally.Lexico
There we go.
Interaction Ritual as a Social Construction
Now, what does it mean for the interaction ritual to be socially constructed? Good question. Here we go.
It means that all of the glances, gestures, positionings, and verbal statements we utilize in our interactions are maintained within a society or social group.
Meaning that the way we interact and the rules governing such behavior are merely ideas about how interactions are to take place. They are not inherent or natural. Nope.
Further, it means that the maintenance of the ideas we have about how we are to conduct ourselves in our interactions are ritualized
Simply meaning that the behaviors we display in our interactions become codified as mores and norms, and then are past down as truth to future generations through socialization. The issue? Sure.
Mores and norms are also social constructions. Watch.
Pronunciation /ˈmôrāz/ /ˈmɔreɪz/
Translate mores into Spanish
The essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a communityLexico
Pronunciation /nôrm/ /nɔrm/
Translate norm into Spanish
Something that is usual, typical, or standard.‘this system has been the norm in Germany for decades’
A standard or pattern, especially of social behavior, that is typical or expected of a group.‘the norms of good behavior in the Civil Service’
A required standard; a level to be complied with or reached.Lexico
Now, we can see in these definitions that both mores and norms are also ideas that are constructed in language as customary or typical, which are then agreed upon within a particular social milieux.
Hence, they are also socially constructed. Meaning?
That mores and norms are not naturally occurring phenomena. Nope. They are ideas people have, and end up believing, about what should or should not happen in a society, or social setting. And, what, prey, happens in a social setting? Yep.
Lots and lots of interactions. That’s fun.
Alright, and? Let’s define the situation.
Defining the Situation
In sociology there is another theoretical concept called the definition of the situation. Here is an excerpt.
“The definition of “the situation” is what people use to know what is expected of them and what is expected of others in any given situation. Through the definition of the situation, people obtain a sense of the statuses and roles of those involved in the situation so that they know how to behave. It is the agreed upon, subjective understanding of what will happen in a given situation or setting, and who will play which roles in the action. The concept refers to how our understanding of the social context of where we may be, like a movie theater, bank, library, or supermarket informs our expectations of what we will do, who we will interact with, and for what purpose. As such, the definition of the situation is a core aspect of social order — of a smoothly operating society.”ThoughtCo
Very similar to what we’ve already discussed, yes? Yep.
Why Does the Interaction Ritual and the Definition of the Situation Matter?
Now, I think the definition of the situation is important in our discussion about interaction rituals, because the way a situation is defined is also socially constructed, which you can interpret just by reading the excerpt above. Meaning?
That, we are all, each of us, within our own cultural milieu, continuously affirming and confirming the socially agreed upon interaction ritual within the scope of a particularly defined situation, or defined context. Yep.
And, guess what?
We can change that, if we choose. Yep. How? Sure.
Create new denitions, or realities. I believe creating new realities is what all great leaders do. Yep.
They understand both the strengths and opportunities of the contexts they navigate, and take advantage of the strengths, while also creating possibilities within the opportunities. And?
We can all do this. You, me, everyone of us. Really.
If you look at how social change occurs, it is due to individual people, just like you and me, choosing to create a new reality, define a new context, and then act in that context in new ways, shifting what was known to a new known. Just like that. Beautiful.