The Interaction Order and Musical Sound: Shopping with Erving Goffman

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Drawing on qualitative interviews and extending insights provided by Erving Goffman (1983, 1971), this article argues that music plays a crucial role in the interaction order of retail environments. I suggest music permeates these locations of consumption; shoppers are presented as perceiving musical sounds as both “territorial offenses” and sounds that can also represent an “intimate ally.” Crucial here is the nature of territoriality that manages an individual's exposure through the symbolic and literal placement of boundaries around the self, covering and protecting the self while navigating public space, tacitly securing rights in relation to others, and minimizing encroachments upon the “territories of the self.” I contend that when shopping, participants can feel “at home” in these locations thanks in part to the role of music but also in other cases actively avoid these situations, using privatizing music as a means of regaining auditory discretion. The contribution of this article extends Goffman's formulation of the interaction order, accounting for the dual role that music represents, as both a territorial offense and an intimate ally for shoppers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-66
Number of pages21
JournalSociological Inquiry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


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