Steven E. Clayman

Professor of Sociology

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  • Phone: 310-825-2090

I am a sociologist of human interaction, both as a phenomenon in itself and as a window into societal institutions and historical change.  These dual interests resonate with Erving Goffman’s vision of the interaction order as a coherent domain of social organization as well as a primary infrastructure for the rest of social life.

My methods are derived from the conversation analytic tradition.  I use audio and video recordings of naturally occurring social behavior as primary data, and I integrate context-sensitive case analysis with statistical methods in ways that serve the objectives of a given project.

My primary research addresses the nexus of media and politics, as embodied in direct encounters between journalists and politicians in news conferences and broadcast interviews.  I am interested in what the study of questioning and answering practices here can tell us about journalistic norms, press-state relations, political communication systems, and sociopolitical culture.  Initial work in this vein is synthesized in my book co-authored with John Heritage, The News Interview: Journalists and Public Figures On the Air (Cambridge).  More recent work uses larger databases and examines how practices for vigorously questioning authority vary over time and under different sociopolitical conditions.

Beyond media and politics, I am interested in institutional practices ranging from medicine and law to public safety and policing.  Work in such areas can be found in Talk in Action: Interactions, Identities, and Institutions (Wiley-Blackwell), also co-authored with John Heritage.

More broadly still, I am interested in ordinary conversation as an enduring social form, and a primary locus for the building of social action, intersubjectivity, self-other relations, and the dynamics of collaboration and social influence.

Recent projects include:

Political positioning and sociopolitical legitimacy

* Question design and the mainstreaming of marriage equality (with Laura Loeb)

* Gender matters in questioning presidents (with Amelia Hill and John Heritage)

Early press conferences and presidential accountability (with John Heritage and Tanya Romaniuk) 

* Particles in intersubjectivity and affiliation (with Chase Raymond)

* Voir dire questioning and jury selection (with Matthew P. Fox)

* Police radio dispatch calls (with Heidi Kevoe-Feldman)