Situating Selves

The Communication of Social Identities in American Scenes

By Donal Carbaugh

Subjects: Social Psychology
Series: SUNY series, Human Communication Processes
Paperback : 9780791428283, 258 pages, February 1996
Hardcover : 9780791428276, 258 pages, February 1996

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Table of contents




Introduction: A Scene of Scholarly Conversation

Chapter 1  Social Identities as Communication


Scene One:  Public Leisure

Chapter 2  The Playful Self: Being a Fan at College Basketball Games

Scene Two:  Work

Chapter 3  The Working Self: Making Television and Tension between Workers

Chapter 4  Unifying Workers through "the Product": An Epitomizing Symbol

Scene Three:Weddings and Marriage

Chapter 5  The Marital Self: Styles of Names Used upon Marriage

Chapter 6  Social Uses of Marital Names:Ethnography and Conversation Analysis

Scene Four:  Gender and the "Talk Show"

Chapter 7  The Gendered Self and "The Individual": A Vacillating Form of Identity Talk in the "Talk Show"

Chapter 8  Cultural Agents, Social Identities, and Positioning: A Theoretical Interlude

Scene Five:  A Community's Land-Use Controversy

Chapter 9  Decisions and Conflicting Selves:Dramatic Depictions of a Natural Environment

Chapter 10  Dueling Identities: In Search of Common Political Ground


Chapter 11  Social Identities, American Community, and the Communal Function

Appendix  Some Parts of One Ethnographer's Interpretive Kit




Provides a communication theory of identity. Shows how listening to communication in cultural scenes can help reveal how deeply identity is situated in various communicative practices.


Theories of identity have been built largely upon biological, psychological, sociological, and anthropological grounds. Missing from each of these, yet of potential relevance to them all, is a community theory of identity such as the one developed here. Situating Selves presents studies of five American scenes, focusing on the ways social identities are communicatively crafted. Based on 15 years of fieldwork, the book presents fine-grained analyses of the playful self during sporting events (with special attention given to crowd activities at college basketball games), the working self in a television company, the marital self in weddings and marriages, the gendered self in television "talk shows," and conflicted selves during a community's hotly contested land-use controversy.

Carbaugh shows how listening to communication in cultural scenes like these can help reveal how deeply identity is situated in various communicative practices. These include a ritual of play, symbolic allusions to different classes of people, a diversity in the forms of names used upon marriage, the play between genders and gender-neutral language, and the relationship between language, nature, community, and politics. Concluding commentary links the studies to the contemporary American scene, and shows how the focus on communication can integrate into community living both shared and separate identities. Emerging from these studies is a view of communication as not only a situated expression of selves in American scenes, but also an active contributor in constituting those very identities and scenes.

Donal Carbaugh is Professor of Communication and Faculty Affiliate in American Indian Studies, American Studies, and Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of Talking American and editor of Cultural Communication and Intercultural Contact.


"This is a mature voice of an accomplished scholar at its best: well informed, empirically grounded, open-minded, probing, and jumping between specifics and larger questions of general importance. I like the diversity of 'scenes' combined with the continual interest in what it means to be a self or person in contemporary American life. Carbaugh's studies will not end these discussions, but they clearly add to them—deliberately playing on words, I might say that they add clarity to them. " — W. Barnett Pearce, Loyola University Chicago