Abstract: This mundane manifesto calls for analytically interesting studies of the socially uninteresting. I argue that the extraordinary draws disproportionate theoretical attention from researchers. This ultimately hinders theory development and distorts our picture of social reality. This manifesto paves the way for an explicit social science of the unmarked (mundane). It is hoped that a similar manifesto can be written for the humanities. After articulating the empirical, moral, and theoretical foundations of interestingness, I outline four methodological strategies for an exciting social science of the mundane. These strategies are 1) reversing conventional markedness patterns to “analytically mark” the socially unmarked, 2) marking everything with equal analytic ornamentation, 3) universalizing from the marked to develop general social theory, and 4) developing an “analytically nomadic” sensibility.
Investigations of social life often begin with that which is already visible and named because of its `exoticness’ or its heavily articulated moral and political significance. Although there are many deviance journals to explicitly analyze socially unusual behavior there is no Journal of Mundane Behavior to explicitly analyze conformity.” –Wayne Brekhus, “A Sociology of the Unmarked: Redirecting our Focus” (Sociological Theory, 1998, 16:1, p. 36); reprinted in Journal of Mundane Behavior mission statement.
The study of social life often neglects the ordinary in favor of the extraordinary. Historians study “eventful” time periods more than “uneventful” ones, cultural anthropologists are generally drawn to distant and exotic cultures rather than familiar ones, sociologists tend to study important social problems over quotidian reality, and journalists focus more on extraordinary individuals and groups than ordinary ones. The history of mediocrity, the sociology of the boring and the anthropology of the familiar are neglected fields. This is true even though most individuals and events throughout history have been mediocre, most of social life is boring, and many anthropological customs are near at hand. Given that social life is so rarely exceptional, the paucity of research on the mundane is an epistemological blind spot. It is time to remove our epistemological blinders and study the ordinary world that most of us live in most of the time. It is time for a history of mediocrity, an anthropology of the average, and a sociology of the unimportant.
But how would anthropology look if it more closely scrutinized the customs of the native middle-class white suburban American? Or how would history be different if it studied the everyday lives of anonymous individuals and the eras that haven’t become represented as the defining moments of a nation? Likewise, how would sociology look if it studied ordinary events that draw little if any political debate? And how would ethnography look if it studied boring people? Many, I’m sure, would answer that these studies are unnecessary because the topics they cover are trivial and uninteresting. Yet, I will argue that just the opposite is true. The everyday and the ordinary are both important and interesting.
In this Mundane Manifesto I will argue that: 1) the marked (or extraordinary) draws disproportionate attention in relation to its prevalence, while the unmarked (or ordinary) is overlooked despite its pervasiveness in social life; 2) focusing on the extraordinary reproduces stereotypes of social life and distorts our understanding of reality; and 3) the unmarked is more consequential, more important and more interesting than it appears while the extraordinary is more inconsequential, more trivial, and more boring than it initially appears. Ultimately, this article argues that we need more analytically interesting studies of the ordinary and fewer factually interesting (but often analytically mundane) studies of the extraordinary. I outline several methods toward producing interesting studies of the ordinary (unmarked) that I hope contributors to the Journal of Mundane Behavior will use as a guideline. Although this article is written from the perspective of a sociologist, I have tried to make it relevant for other social scientists and historians. Moreover, I hope that those in other fields will find methodological parallels for their own discipline. Better yet, I hope this will inspire someone to write a parallel “mundane manifesto” for the humanities, the arts, and the sciences.
Cognitive Asymmetry: The Marked and the Unmarked
To frame this argument, I begin with the concept of markedness that was first introduced in linguistics in the 1930s by Trubetzkoy and Jakobson (see Trubetzkoy, 162). In studying phoneme pairs Trubetzkoy noted that one side of a pair was always actively marked while the other was defined in default by its absence of any markers (and thus unmarked). The linguistic contrast between the marked and the unmarked closely follows visual psychology’s distinction between “figure” and “ground” (Brekhus 1998, 35).2 The marked represents the focused “figure” of any contrast and the unmarked represents the unaccented “ground.” While gestalt psychologists focus on figure and ground as they relate to vision, these concepts also apply to our non-visual, mental perception of the world (see Zerubavel, 35-39; Brekhus 1998, 35). We actively attend to and thus “mark” some items of our social environment while ignoring, and thus leaving “unmarked,” others. The marked represents those elements of a contrast that are actively defined as exceptional and socially specialized while “the unmarked represents the vast expanse of social reality that is passively defined as unremarkable and socially generic” (Brekhus 1998, 35; Brekhus 1996, 502). Markedness can be binary as with gender (where men are regarded as the default human and women are regarded as a gender-specific subset) or trinary as with morality (where the morally average are the default category while “saints” and “sinners” are specialized categories).
In “A Sociology of the Unmarked” (Brekhus 1998) where I first suggested the need for a Journal of Mundane Behavior, I outlined five basic properties of the markedness relationship as follows: “1) the marked is heavily articulated while the unmarked remains unarticulated; 2) as a consequence, the marking process exaggerates the importance and distinctiveness of the marked; 3) the marked receives disproportionate attention relative to its size or frequency, while the unmarked is rarely attended to even though it is usually greater; 4) distinctions within the marked tend to be ignored, making it appear more homogeneous than the unmarked; and 5) characteristics of a marked member are generalized to all members of the marked category but never beyond the category, while attributes of an unmarked member are either perceived as idiosyncratic to the individual or universal to the human condition.” (36) All five of these properties are accentuated and reproduced in social research. As a consequence, much social research inadvertently perpetuates rather than challenges stereotypical thinking.
Sampling the Stereotypical: The Fun House Lens
In failing to take the ordinary as seriously as the extraordinary, social science has produced a distorted picture of the social world. Much like a fun house lens caricatures reality, a social science of the extraordinary presents an exaggerated image of the world. The world of social science is often a world of the marked, consisting of social problems, deviant acts, great events, and flamboyant individuals. Although many specific studies, by themselves, are not inherently a problem, the cumulative effect of numerous studies focusing on the marked is to reproduce a stereotypical and extreme rather than accurate picture of social reality.
This problem can be illustrated with respect to the ethnographic study of identity. Many ethnographic studies of identity commit a sampling bias in two ways: first, they focus almost entirely on minority identities and thus fail to interrogate majority identities3; and second, they further augment the marginal appearance of minority identities by sampling only the most unique, distinct, and “factually unusual” members of the minority category. They sample the extremes and ignore the averages within the categories they study.
I was struck by the extent to which stereotypes have come to be seen as representative upon reading the book jacket to the autobiography of Monster Kody Scott (1993) – a notorious ex-Los Angeles gang member who was responsible for multiple homicides. Although this is an autobiography rather than an academic ethnography, the message on the book cover is still indicative of a larger problem presently afflicting both popular and academic books on the topic of minority identities. The back jacket of Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member praises the book for “[giving] eloquent voice to the black ghetto experience today.” As much as the book is an interesting read of Monster Kody’s extraordinary individual life in the ghetto, one wonders how representative his life of serial homicides and near-death experiences is of “the” black ghetto experience in general. After all, Kody Scott was among the most extreme members of the most celebrated gang set in the most notorious gang territory in the entire country. One could scarcely imagine a biography of Timothy McVeigh being lauded as “giving eloquent voice to the white heartland experience today.” Yet, Timothy McVeigh may be no less representative of “the white heartland experience” than Monster Kody Scott is of the “black ghetto experience.”
Historian Robin Kelley (Kelley, 20) contends that social scientists who study African-Americans seek out the embodiments of ghetto stereotypes so that they can write about the most “authentic” African-American experience (see also Duneier, 137-155). Thus, for social scientists the “real African-Americans” are “the young jobless men hanging out on the corner passing the bottle, the brothers with the nastiest verbal repertoire, the pimps and hustlers, and the single mothers who raised streetwise kids who began cursing before they could walk” (Kelley, 20). These types of images dominate the study of African-American culture while ordinary working folks who represent a far larger percentage of African-Americans rarely appear in ethnographic texts. The collective effect of these texts is to produce as “knowledge” a caricatured image of African-American culture.
Although Kelley and Duneier have specifically articulated this problem as it relates to the ethnographic study of African-Americans, the problem is a generic one that affects areas of social research well beyond the study of African-Americans. The social-scientific study of identity has been most concerned with how members of a marked category manage their identity and has focused primarily on how the most visible, extraordinary and outlandish members of the category manage their identities. The effect has been to represent all members of minority categories by their most visible and vocal members (Brekhus 1999, 8). Studies of deviance focus primarily on the most esoteric and dramatic forms of deviance commonly referred to as “nuts,” “sluts,” and “perverts,” while leaving more institutional but less dramatic and visible forms of deviance such as price-fixing, industrial pollution, and violation of safety standards largely unstudied (Liazos). Similarly, studies of youth culture focus on dramatic rebellious, oppositional subcultures such as “heavy metal kids” (see Gaines; Weinstein), “punk rockers” (see Fox), and working-class (see Willis) or poor “delinquent” subcultures (see MacLeod) while ignoring “uninteresting,” non-oppositional youths. Likewise studies of the poor tend to focus on pathology and misery even though many poor people have lives that are neither especially pathological nor always miserable.
When conducting my own ethnographic research among a group of gay men I noticed how much they had come to assume that social scientists, ethnographers, and journalists only wanted to study them for their “extraordinariness quotient.” For instance, upon hearing that I wanted to write about gay life in the suburbs, many gay suburbanites insisted that I would find nothing to write about. One suburban denizen expressed this view best when he responded with laughter to my thesis idea on the everyday life of gay men in the suburbs and added, “You’re going to have a one page thesis! There isn’t anything to write about!” Like several other gay suburbanites I asked to interview, he suggested that gay life in New York would be a more interesting topic for a sociologist (see Brekhus 1999, 8). These suburbanites were familiar with the cultural image of New York’s urban gay scene as a colorful and esoteric cultural milieu. As they saw it, the problem was that they didn’t fit this cultural image. They were not political activists, drag queens, leather aficionados, culturally cosmopolitan young literati, or any of the other more popular and extraordinary characters that typically populate both media and social science accounts of “the gay community.”4 Given this, they saw little in their lives that would be of interest to a social scientist and attempted to direct me to where I might find the “types of gays” that social scientists write about.
While my interest in the mundane arose out of my specific sociological research in identity, the problem is not narrowly confined to the study of identity, nor is it limited to sociology. Across several disciplines and across multiple subfields, researchers have gravitated to the “factually interesting” (because it is extraordinary) and “politically salient” at the expense of the “analytically interesting” and “politically hidden.” They have forsaken the analytically interesting for the morally interesting, but obvious.
Three Foundations of Interestingness
Understanding researchers’ privileging of the extraordinary requires a better understanding of the “sociology of interestingness.”5 For a scholarly or journalistic article to be regarded as interesting it generally has to meet interestingness on at least one of the following three dimensions 1) it is factually interesting (i.e. statistically unusual or extraordinary); 2) it is morally interesting (i.e. politically important); or 3) it is analytically interesting (i.e. counterintuitive or theoretically interesting).
Factually interesting studies are those that study the exotic, the colorful, and the voyeuristically interesting. These studies play on the same foundation of interestingness that TV talk shows play on (albeit not necessarily to the same audience). Such studies are interesting because they are unusual or because they allow the reader to vicariously experience a “deviant” or “extraordinary” lifestyle. Anthropological studies of distant cultures, and sociological ethnographies of drag queens, cults, and motor cycle gangs all fall into this dimension of “interestingness.” Audiences are attracted to the content, itself, precisely because it is empirically unusual and extreme to them.
Morally interesting studies are those that attract reader interest because they address issues that the reader considers morally and politically important. These studies are not necessarily surprising, but rather they are interesting because they address an issue the reader considers important and of great moral significance. In sociology, poverty and stratification studies are a prime example of the “morally interesting.” A good deal of poverty studies show that the poor have lower life chances, face unfair obstacles, and experience problems that others do not face. Similarly a good deal of stratification studies document that achievement is significantly influenced by accidents of birth and inheritance and thus not based on merit independent of structural factors. The general findings of these studies are no longer surprising (it is now common sense, for instance, that the poor face lower life chances and more forms of discrimination than others), yet they provoke continued interest because equality is so morally valued among social scientists that documentation of inequality merits concern and interest even where it is generally known to exist.
Analytically interesting studies are those that produce counterintuitive findings, reveal “seen but unnoticed” (see Garfinkel, 36) patterns, or develop important theoretical insights that are relevant and generically applicable across a variety of substantive research subfields. A primary distinction between “analytic” interestingness and “moral” or “factual” interestingness is that the topic of study is chosen for its theoretical utility rather than its immediate political relevance and for its analytic novelty rather than its factual novelty.6
In many ways factually and morally interesting studies are easier to do because the subject itself appeals to the reader prior to one’s analysis. While some studies of the “factually interesting” or “morally interesting” are also “analytically interesting” many are not. Often one needs only to describe the “factually interesting” or to address a “morally important” topic to keep a reader’s interest. The very description of unusual practices by itself generates interest; as a consequence many who study the “factually interesting” need not generalize their conclusions across substantive research subfields. Many contemporary ethnographers are defined by the populations they study rather than by their theoretical contributions, because their primary contribution is to highlight the group-specific behaviors of a particular culture or a particular subculture such as punk rockers, sadomasochists, or cocaine dealers. But there is a theoretical danger in gravitating to the factually novel and the politically salient. The overemphasis on the extraordinary often hinders theory development by bracketing group-specific theories into “epistemological ghettos”7 separate from general sociological theory. Moreover the theoretical is more easily lost when the readers’ and researchers’ emotional energy is focused on the cognitive distracters of “factually interesting” and “politically important” content.
Suspending extraordinary and morally critical features from our intellectual gaze to analyze factually and politically mundane material offers the distinct advantage of extracting a social phenomenon’s analytic importance from its current political importance or popularity (Brekhus 1998, 44). When we study the mundane we are less likely to let our emotions and prior knowledge interfere with our analysis. Betty Edwards (1979) teaches artists to let go of the “figures” that usually attract their focus and instead to direct their attention to the “unmarked space” between the figures.8 This, Edwards (109) maintains, stops the left brain from intruding with what it already knows about objects and lets the right brain take over. I am similarly arguing for a right-brain social science that prevents the left brain from intruding with what it already knows about minorities, social problems, deviants and other heavily articulated issues in the popular culture, to distill out the analytic underpinnings of an issue.
Toward an Exciting Social Science of the Mundane
Having argued that investigations of social life overemphasize the extraordinary it is now time to lay out some steps that can contribute to an explicit and exciting right-brain social science of the mundane. The following suggestions represent what I regard as the core methodologies of the Mundane Studies canon. These core methodologies are 1) reversing markedness9; 2) analytically marking all areas of continua with equal epistemological weight10; 3) universalizing from the marked; and 4) developing an analytically nomadic perspective.11
The first and most basic method of a right-brain social science of the mundane is “reverse marking” (see also Brekhus 1998, 43). “Reverse marking” is an explicit strategy whereby one consciously ignores what is typically marked as though it were mundane and focuses on the unmarked as though it were “exotic” and “unusual.” Rather than gravitating to what already stands out as exceptional, reverse marking tries to find the exceptional in what is ordinarily taken-for-granted as unexceptional. Thus whereas conventional marking assumes that the socially unusual needs to be studied precisely because it is socially and morally exotic, “reverse marking” recognizes that the socially mundane is analytically exotic precisely because it is socially and morally ignored. Reverse marking involves distancing one’s self from the taken-for-granted world and looking at it through the eyes of a stranger.12 As such it allows the researcher to observe social and cognitive processes freed from the analytic distracters of the factually exotic and morally important.
A classic example of “reverse marking” in social science research is anthropologist Horace Miner’s (1956) tongue-in-cheek study of the “Nacirema,”13 wherein American bathroom culture is accorded the same scrutiny as that of distant tribes. Miner illustrates the “superstitious” quality of American bathroom rituals and in doing so reveals the universal character of ritual behaviors in all cultures. By revealing the ritualistic quality of such familiar behavior as brushing one’s teeth in a bathroom, Miner shows that peculiar rituals are not the exclusive property of “exotic cultures” but part of the cultural codes that make up all societies. “Reverse marking” is a humorous form of inversion that lays bare the hidden absurdities and logical fallacies of our taken-for-granted social world.
Critics of mundane studies will argue that subjects that are normally unmarked are of little moral consequence and thus less worthy of study, but this is a mistake. The “default values” deserve greater study not simply because they often go unstudied, but because it is often analytically advantageous to study a problem from the mundane side of the equation. What we uncover by foregrounding the unmarked ground provides advantages for understanding the politically critical and non-mundane. For instance, problematizing “whiteness” as recent scholarship has started to do (see Frankenburg; McIntosh; Minnich), allows us to see the less empirically obvious point that race structures the lives (almost always in beneficial ways) of whites just as much as it structures the lives of other racial groups. Moreover, it allows us to see how the politically important phenomenon of racial discrimination is reinforced through a way of thinking that regards whites as “race-free” or “racially neutral” when they are, in fact, just as “raced” as other races. Similarly, studying such morally mundane things as what gets counted as trivia in historical trivia games shows us by default what a society values and privileges (see Gatta). Likewise studying something as morally mundane as how sporting leagues are separated into different weight classes and age groups to ensure “fair competition” (see Purcell), or how motor vehicle insurance companies decide what “types” of people get what rates, allows us to observe the use of variables as leveling devices in equity decisions that occur in more politically significant arenas such as affirmative action. In fact, divorcing one’s analysis from a context that is morally charged lays bare the cognitive structure behind such decisions.
Herbert Gans’ (1971) use of a “reverse marking” sensibility to look at the benefits of poverty rather than its more obvious and morally noticed problems demonstrates how studying the default side of the equation can be both eye-opening and morally important. His analysis shows that the persistence of poverty benefits others in multiple ways such as 1) providing markets that otherwise wouldn’t exist for day old bread, second hand clothes and deteriorating cars, 2) creating a “poverty industry” that provides jobs for middle-class professionals such as social workers, public defenders and social scientists, and 3) ensuring that a society’s dirty work can be performed at low wages. By analyzing the unmarked side of the equation—those who are not impoverished—Gans provides analytic insights about why poverty persists even though most people claim to want it to disappear. By focusing away from the morally critical effects of poverty on the poor, Gans portrays the poverty problem in a new light. His portrayal shows both the whimsy and the seriousness that a “reverse marking” analysis allows. The whimsy provides for the sense of discovery that comes from reversing the markedness values, but in the end the analysis is even more revealing about the seriousness of poverty than any number of studies which directly confront the more obvious marked side of poverty.
2. If Escher were a Social Scientist: Marking Everything
Reverse marking is a useful preliminary step toward “marking everything” with equal epistemological weight. Reverse marking begins to destabilize markedness by inverting the traditional “figure” and “ground” relationship of the marked and unmarked. As such, it only reverses rather than eliminates the “default versus special case” dichotomy, however. Ultimately a social science of the mundane aims to take nothing for granted and consequently must analytically mark everything and abolish all default cases. Just as an Escher painting has no “ground” beyond the highlighted figures, a social science of the mundane should leave no area of social life unexamined. Thus it must ultimately create a picture where there is no ground, only figure.
Traditionally some features of social life receive far more scholarly, as well as lay, attention than others. We have a far more heavily articulated American history of years like 1776 and eras like the Civil War, for instance, than we do of the year 1906 or the Warren Harding era. Similarly we know far more about the social science of social movements and social change than we do about the social science of apathy and stasis. Although reverse marking will begin to highlight these understudied areas, to fill the entire continuum we must also mark the mundane elements within the marked. Those elements that are neither the most marked part of the marked nor entirely unmarked make up a sizeable chunk of any continuum, yet, their ambiguity in a dichotomous universe of marked and unmarked leaves them unexamined by researchers looking for the most distinct and clear examples of what they study.
An “Escherian social science” involves fading into the boundaries between the marked and the unmarked by analytically illuminating the less heavily articulated spaces of the continuum. Fading into the unmarked requires analytically highlighting the mundane elements within the extraordinary and revealing the generic features within socially marked populations and issues. Instead of seeking out the most distinct and socially recognizable representatives of marked categories we can find the mundane, ordinary, uneventful examples within these categories. Rather than study masculinity and femininity by looking at drag queens, models and gender activists, for instance, we can study how office workers express their masculinity and femininity in their subtler, less exaggerated and less conscious forms. Similarly rather than journalistically exploring the “African-American experience” from the perspective of “street toughs” (e.g. Anderson; Majors and Mancini Billson), we can study the experience through the eyes of “boring” and less “ideal” representatives of the category. An ethnographic study, for instance, of the religious lives of only modestly religious individuals could provide insights about religion that are more applicable to broad social theory than many studies of religion among highly fundamentalist religions, sects or cults.
3. Universalizing from the Marked
Drawing universalistic rather than particularistic theories from marked populations is a related strategy that treats as generic what is conventionally marked. Rather than drawing only group-specific conclusions about “black families” from a study of a black family, for instance, we can draw general theoretical conclusions about families as a generic social institution.14 Black families, after all, are no less representative of families as a whole than are white families. Just as “reverse marking” recognizes what is group-specific in those groups that are generally taken-for-granted as the default, generic category, the strategy of universalizing the marked recognizes what is generic in those categories that are generally treated only as group-specific.
Erving Goffman (1959) exemplifies the “universalizing from the marked” approach I am suggesting when he uses his ethnographic study of Shetland Islanders to develop a generic social theory about human social presentation. Rather than bracket Shetlanders into their own theoretical ghetto, Goffman recognizes that even seemingly specialized and named populations like “Shetlanders” are generic social actors. In doing so, Goffman elevates the theoretical contribution of his research. Rather than limit his findings to a particularistic theory of Shetlander customs, he contributes to a general theory of social presentation. For this reason, Goffman, unlike most of his ethnographer contemporaries, is not intellectually defined by his subject population (Brekhus 1998, 48). No one refers to him, for instance, as a founding father of Shetland studies.
4. Analytic Nomadism
The ultimate goal of a social science of the unmarked (mundane) entails developing an analytically nomadic perspective that shifts along multiple vantage points of the markedness/unmarkedness continuum. Developing an analytically nomadic perspective involves following the previous three steps on a constant basis: 1) Reverse markedness takes the default pole and elevates it to the marked value for analytic effect; 2) marking everything finds those parts of the continuum that are not at the extremes and ornaments them with the same articulation as the poles; and 3) universalizing the marked takes the marked part of the continuum and moves it to an outside analytic plane to disclose its generic features divorced from context. 4) Analytic nomadism combines the elements above to shift across various standpoints from the marked, to the unmarked, to the semi-marked to an outside analytic plain. With analytic nomadism the social scientist analytically marks different parts of continua in creative ways to unearth what lurks beneath the surface of everyday life.
If Escher is the artistic metaphor for “marking everything” Cezanne’s cubism is the metaphor for “analytic nomadism.” Cubism arose as a challenge to conventional art that had assumed paintings must be viewed from one point of view (see Kern, 141). In a similar way, analytically nomadic social scientists of the mundane can challenge the idea that social scientists must view social life from the same markedness values that predominate around us every day. As social scientists, we should not be afraid to adopt the playful attitude of the cubist. We can play with different markedness values–first reversing markedness, then marking the unmarked members of marked categories, and then universalizing the marked as though it were the default value to see social life, history, and society from new analytic perspectives. Most importantly we should not become fixed in assuming only the observational viewpoint that we have as participants in our culture or in our discipline. It is a lack of analytic nomadism that causes so many researchers to assume that the culture’s markedness values are necessarily the measures of what they should study. It is high time that we recognize that the socially mundane is intellectually exciting. It is through analytic nomadism that we can experience the ordinary as terra incognita, travelling through it with the same sense of wonder as all explorers.
1 This article revisits and expands upon several ideas I initially put forth in my article “A Sociology of the Unmarked” (see Brekhus 1998). In that article I first proposed the idea of a Journal of Mundane Behavior. I am delighted that Scott Schaffer and Myron Orleans have taken on the task of making such a journal a reality. back
2 See Koffka and Kohler for more on how we actively foreground the “figure” and take for granted the “ground” of visual contrasts. back
3 For exceptions that problematize the unmarked racial identity (“whiteness”) see Frankenburg; McIntosh; and Minnich, 40-43. For exceptions that problematize the unmarked sexual orientation (“heterosexuality”) see Katz and White. back
4 See Brekhus 1998 (42-43) for a critique and detailed list of the many studies that focus on political activists, gender benders, drag queens, lesbian separatists and other marked elements of the gay community. back
5 Murray Davis (1971) introduced the idea of a sociology of “interestingness.” Davis focuses only on the analytic foundations of interestingness. I broaden his conception to include the factual and moral foundations of interestingness as well. In fact, it is these latter foundations that now predominate in many studies of social life. back
6 See also Zerubavel’s (1980) on the distinction between “factual novelty” and “analytic novelty.” back
7 See Brekhus (1998: 38-40) for a detailed discussion and examples of “epistemological ghettos” within sociology. back
8 Within the domain of philosophy, Casati and Varzi (1994) use a similar approach in focusing on holes and non-things rather than entities. back
9 For an in-depth description of reversals of markedness, see Waugh (310). back
10 See Mullaney for a detailed discussion of “mental weighing” in the cognitive weighting of items. back
11 I initially outlined three of these strategies in an earlier article (see Brekhus 1998, 43-49). These strategies are reformalized and revised in significant ways here, however. back
12 For more on the analytic advantages of being a stranger or nomad, see Simmel, 402-08. back
13 American spelled backwards. back
14 See, for instance, Williams’ (535) call for sociology to generalize from African-Americans to humanity writ large. back
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Author: Wayne Brekhus is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. His recent theoretical works on the marked and the unmarked have appeared in Sociological Theory (1998) and Sociological Forum (1996). He is currently writing a book on the spatial and temporal dimensions of identity construction, which develops a generic theory of social identity from an ethnographic case study among “unmarked” suburban members of the “gay community.”