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The book is organised around two principal sections. In the first half, Maines is concerned to show how interactionist concepts and writings have permeated wider sociological discourses, although frequently in an unattributed fashion. Central to the position that he develops is his idea that the status of interactionism has been afflicted by both intended and unintended mis-readings. These false interpretations have, as a result of the politics of academe, where priority and status is based upon the continued (re-) invention of new concepts and theories, frequently been institutionalised within the canons of more orthodox sociological discourses. In particular, through a careful exposition of the writings of Mead, Blumer and Park, Maines shows how the oft levelled criticism of an 'astructural bias' at the heart of interactionism is unfounded. This is, he argues, one of a number of 'mythic facts' that have arisen within sociology, restricting the apparent influence of interactionism and often leaving it at the margins of the discipline. This reflexive position in relation to the manufacture of sociological knowledge, allows Maines to persuasively demonstrate how a number of concepts that were originally developed by interactionist sociologists, have been appropriated by those maintaining different epistemological and ontological orientations.
In the second half of the book, Maines provides writings from a selection of empirical studies that he has been involved in, so as to show how aspects of the interactionist perspective can be employed in studying different aspects of social life. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the book deal with issues of the inscription of authority in and through documentation, urban inequality, and patterns of ethnic migration respectively. In the next three chapters, he moves on to the area of narrative sociology. These empirical studies, both independently and collectively, furthers the case for the contemporary relevance of interactionism.
In the conclusion to the book, Maines argues that,
…we may well have a situation of fairly profound drift toward pragmatism/interactionism.As such, he raises a number of important questions that the book could have been extended to tackle, but doesn't really engage with in sufficient depth. In particular, I wanted to know, how, after having clearly shown that both Mead and Blumer were interested in the dialectics of structure and agency, Maines sees the relationship of a re-vitalised interactionism to the modern 'structurationist' theories of Giddens, Bourdieu and Archer. These writers have placed understanding the structure/agency relationship at the centre of their work and although Maines goes part way to addressing this issue in his discussion of the 'collective amnesia' which regularly seems to assail sociology, more detailed and extended work in this area is warranted. Similarly, although Maines does more in terms of constructing a critique of post- structuralism and post-modernism, his arguments deserve more space to develop.
Interactionism has always been something of a comparatively amorphous and nebulous perspective, when compared to some of its alternatives. Indeed, this is probably a reflection of its pre-eminent commitment to detailed empirical study as the basis of good sociology. In this book David Maines has done an excellent job of re-stating the case for interactionism and his argument deserves to be widely read.
University of Surrey