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Talking City Trouble: Interactional Vandalism, Social Inequality, and the "Urban Interaction Problem"

by Mitchell Duneier, Harvey Molotch
American Journal of Sociology ()


This article uses ethnography and conversation analysis to pinpoint what “goes wrong” when certain so-called street people “harass” pas- sersby. The technical properties of sidewalk encounters between particular black street men and middle-class white female residents of Greenwich Village are compared with interactions expected from studies of other conversation situations. The men attempt to initiate conversations and to deal with efforts to close them in ways that betray the practical ethics fundamental to all social interaction. In this way they undermine the requisites not just for “urbanism as a way of life,” but the bases for how sociability generally proceeds. These acts of “interactional vandalism” both reflect and contribute to the larger structural conditions shaping the local scene.

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