Defining the Situation: The Organization of Meaning in by Peter McHugh

By Peter McHugh

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Collected Papers, ll: Studies in Social Theory (The Hague: Martin us Nijhoff, 1964), pp. 20-63. Parameters of Definition 31 use by which the situation comes to be defined. l 9 Thus objects, whether norms, materials, deviants, or changes, can be real as opposed to illusory for the man on the street because he and others can presume to agree that such objects have entered their sensational field and are known in common. At the same time, however, the actor leaves room for the possibility that these same objects can be known for special qualities not held in common due to some special experience or conceptualization that falls out of the realm of the commonplace experience or concept.

When a member interacts with another, he infers whether or not the other's behavior is representative of some group or category membership. He refers the particular behavior, as an instance, to a class of behaviors which to him is in some way comparable. Others are made into samples. When sociologists say fathers are role models for their sons, they are suggesting that sons classify the formulated behaviors as typically relevant to themselves and other males on the level of interaction. J. M. , Theories of the Mind (New York: Free Press, 1962).

We shall use them· to observe how persons classify the environment and in so doing are enabled to decide that specific standpoints are interchangeable, as role-taking components of the definition of the situation. It should be noted first that these components depend for their operation upon the relevance that the actor, not the sociologist, draws. They are social rather than sociological classifications, because they are proposed as devices used by common-sense actors for assessing the behavior of others, so they need not be mutually exclusive or logically coherent in and of themselves.

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