Settings and spatial arrangements

In terms of the specific and systematic attention to how actions are organised with and through, rather than in, space, key studies include Curtis D. LeBaron and Jiirgen Streeck’s (1997) description of how the “built-in equipment” of an interrogation room is enrolled by law enforcement officers in the elicitation of a confession. The work of Charles Goodwin (2007) is also particularly instructive in explicating this relation as expressed, for example, in “environmentally coupled gestures”. The scoring of a touchdown, for instance, is achieved through the crossing of the body and the ball over a painted line. The ‘result’ is thus accomplished relationally with elements of the material and semiotic ecology.

Elements of a given setting are, then, differently produced and made relevant in and through embodied practices. Indeed, various studies have shown how participants to a scene work to accomplish the setting in a meaningful, locally relevant way. The “built-in equipment” is used in specific, activity-relevant ways, from the building of a queue at a bus stop to the business of getting a lecture started (Garfinkel, 2002; Eglin, 2009). Activities and categorisations (e.g. ‘cyclist’ or ‘lecturer’) are thus accomplished in relation to the nameable parts of a setting or scene (Smith, 2017, 2021). These practices are then routinely used by members to establish a ‘sense of place’, which has to do with a sense of belonging played out at different scales. Whether in terms of Vannini’s islander’s sense of place or in more locally organised and fleeting senses of a bench being ‘your bench’, taken together, the production of social settings and social spaces — as made up of various nameable elements — can be seen as central to social organisation more generally, rather than some subconcern thereof.

Territories and the self

The organisation of space, territory, and movement within and between different ‘regions’, was more central to Goffman’s sociology than is often recognised. It was, of course, explicated in terms of ‘front’ and ‘back’ regions (1959 [1990]) and his work on public space, but it also featured in his analysis of the total institution and continued in to his later work (e.g. (1974 11986]: 255). Goffman’s conceptual typology' of total institutions was primarily spatial, and his analysis of the asylum included remarks on “free areas” and “damp corners” where inmates might preserve a sense of self and were a key resource for the range of “secondary adjustments” of the inmates in extremis:

in some wards, a few patients would carry their blankets around with them during the day and, in an act thought to be highly regressive, each would curl up on the floor with his blanket completely covering him; within this covered space each had some margin of control.

(Coffman (1961 [1991]: 219)

In his writing on public space, Goffman (1971 [2010]) develops a full typology' of territories that are differently produced and implicated in the organisation of social space. Some are egocentric, such as “personal space”, “the stall”, and “use space”, and all directly have to do with the organisation of proximity and “ownership” of bodies, objects, and surrounding spaces. In these claims and violations reside what 1 would call the ‘lived politics’ of space. A politics routinely' observable in everyday' life in occasions of violations of gaze or touch on, say, public transport. It is also worth noting that such violations are visible against the sustainedly ‘normal appearances’ of public spaces; a product of the sheer effort that со-present persons go to in avoiding coming in to various kinds of contact with one another (Hirschauer, 2005).3 Claims to personal territories often involve the direct use of objects for both production and protection (the use of newspapers or, nowadays, mobile phones as ‘involvement shields’, coats left on chairs, or beach towels on sun loungers as markers of the non-present owner’s ‘stall’). Users of a shopping mall food court, for example, are able to re-organise the space in terms of the arrangements of seats, the possibility of having a private conversation in such an ostensibly public space and, as noted earlier, the sense that the customers ‘owned’ the tables during the time they were using them (Manzo, 2005).

Settings and territories are, then, primordially social in the sense that they are accomplished-in-action, which is to say that they must be actively produced and recognised as such in and through the flow activity. More recently, these foundational insights have been developed in analyses of dynamic territories of different scales in urban spaces (e.g. Karrholm, 2007). Combining a sensibility' towards mobilities with Goffman’s original concepts finds that claimants and counter-claimants do not so much patrol within a territory or along a boundary, but, rather, territories and boundaries are produced through such movements (Smith and Hall, 2018).

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