What Counts as Social Reality?

  • Irene RafanellEmail author
  • Maja Sawicka


This chapter unpacks the concept of social reality. Referring to key claims of phenomenological, ethnomethodological, and symbolic interactionist accounts, the authors present the theoretical backbone of the analytical framework developed, which guides the empirical investigation. Central to their position is the assertion that the sense of reality and objective character of social phenomena are derivative of the constant, continuous work of individuals who cooperate to make things appear real. As Schutz and Garfinkel claimed, to achieve this the individuals must override inherent differences in how they individually experience the world. In this sense, a shared stock of knowledge (including linguistic terms) is a continuous collective accomplishment. Using the findings of sociologists of knowledge (especially Barnes and Bloor), the chapter highlights the process of reification of the social world. Such a perspective shifts the analytical focus to the methods through which individuals, in social interaction, produce and maintain their commonly accepted understanding of the world, and construct shared realities. Following Goffman and Scheff, the authors argue that emotions of shame and embarrassment are central to social dynamics and the constitution of social order. Affective sanctioning must be understood as a key constitutive method of social reality, and emotions as an essential structuring mechanism.


Ethnomethodology Phenomenology Social interactions Affective sanctioning Barnes Garfinkel 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Social SciencesUniversity of the West of ScotlandPaisleyUK
  2. 2.Institute of SociologyUniversity of WarsawWarsawPoland

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