New Book Review out! “Signing the Drama of Dialogue” by Robert Wade Kenny – review of “The Rhetoric of Signs” By Robert Perinbanayagam #sssi #sociology

We have just published Robert Wade Kenny’s review of Robert Perinbanayagam’s book “The Rhetoric of Signs” in our journal. Professor Kenny has written an extended version of that review that we publish below. SSSI Members can download the original review by clicking HERE. To join SSSI and subscribe to Symbolic Interaction from $31 (£23) please click HERE.

The Grammar of Intimacy:

Illustrating and Elaborating on The Rhetoric of Signs

Robert Wade Kenny

Mount Saint Vincent University


A popular television series features a gender-reversed, Cinderella-scene between a poor yet resourceful young man and an elegant, young lady in the first decades of the 20th century.  The young man, who has already stolen (theft being his fairy-godmother) a tuxedo to serve as an admission ticket to the grand ball, now steals a silver cigarette-case as a pretext-prop when presenting himself to the beautiful Alicia, solitary at the railing of the grand balcony, where he approaches her, holding out his silver case. She declines, explaining that she does not like cigarettes, but he sophistically protests she has a moral duty to test the product before making that judgment.

wade-02  wade-03

Somewhat flustered, she takes one from the case, the only decorous way to escape the absurd, pseudo-ethical debate, improper for a maiden of her ‘grand balcony’ era.  Things are going Julio’s way — then, as he strikes his match, he pushes his luck when he offers the flame by saying, “I can’t believe this is really your first time,” in a suggestive tone.  At the words, Alicia draws an end to her awkwardness with both cigarette and situation, glares challengingly into the young man’s eyes, and says with a peremptoriness that obliterates his seductive insolence, “And you said your name was?”  Taken aback, the young man answers, “Julio Molins.”  “Julio Molins,” she repeats, unflinchingly glaring  into his eyes while nodding her head in a way that suggests he is not the first Julio Molins she has come upon, causing him to realize he has endangered the initial courtesy she had been granting him, as a presumptive guest at this hotel (owned, as it is, by her family).


This brief dramatic moment represents what sociology since Goffman has referred to as an encounter – one of a sort in which real-life Julio’s and Alicia’s participate because it provides them with predictable interaction norms, thereby, playing a critical role in the maintenance, transformation, and reproduction of social order — in this case, what will develop from love affair, to marriage, to family.  For example, the offered cigarette illustrates the well-known norm of gift-giving, which is anticipated in many a social introduction – in part (and particularly in cases such as this) because the gift represents that the approaching agent is one of material significance (a deeply sociological concern). The general act, however, includes variants such as visiting a hospital room with flowers, a neighbor’s home with a bottle of wine, a funeral with a casserole, as some of the ways that it is broadly distributed across society. It is, in this case, one illustration of how Julio’s discourse and his discursive performance have been designed with respect to unspecified-yet-familiar, articles, gestures, and vocabularies; and it is with the intention of formally representing such conventional patterns that Robert Perinbanayagam offers his new, short book, The Rhetoric of Signs which, according to the back cover, “examines how Peircian semiotics, Bakhtinian dialogism and Burke’s dramatism are used jointly in the construction of various genres of speech to achieve successful communication.”

Recently, my review of Perinbanayagam’s book was published by our journal, but I wanted to add this treatment of the Julio and Alicia scene because I argued in that review that the book offered readers a hodos, a pathway to take when making sense of an interaction.  Yet there was no place to illustrate or explain that. The illustration itself is very short, certainly not of an uncommon form, and simple enough that it can be taken at face value as ‘what it is’. By this I mean that other interpretations are certainly possible, and this is always the case when making sense of an interaction — on that, we have Aristotle’s comment that some things, while they cannot be known with certainty, can nevertheless be known conditionally, and to good effect.  The issue of interpretative confidence when making sense of an interaction is one that requires much more than I can say here, but the case is both simple enough and insignificant enough that we can, provisionally of course, set aside the issue of interpretative-justification in order to explore how Perinbanayagam offers readers an analytic vocabulary that brings vitality to the interpretative act (in other words, we gain little by knowing with certainty what two television characters  ‘really’ were doing in this scene, yet we can gain value by setting that certainty aside and looking instead at the sociological strategies that make that interpretation possible). With that in mind, my goal is to briefly illustrate the utility of Perinbanayagam’s methodological contribution by applying a few of his suggestions to the brief encounter specified above.

First, the silver cigarette box is called a representament­ — it not only (1) holds cigarettes but it also (2) functions (with credit to Herbert Blumer) as a water cooler in Julio’s vest pocket, which is to say his holding out the cigarette case is quite similar to standing near the water cooler, or sitting alone in a coffee shop with chess pieces laid out before him on a board – the general representament, in all three cases, is one’s availability for an interaction ritual.  Of course, Julio might offer the cigarette directly from his hand, but this would be as unsettling as his drinking straight from the water cooler’s tap or sitting at the chess table with the opponent’s queen in his mouth, in terms of what an Alicia might expect, given her grand balcony, dress, hairstyle, and grace – all of which signify her class and, therefore, her expectations with respect to the nature of her approachability in the unfolding of this fairy-tale romance.  For an Alicia encounter, Julio needs that silver case as much as he needs the tuxedo – both being requisite props for demonstrating the social power necessary to occupy a viable conversational status with a woman of Alicia’s class and bearing, no less than Cinderella needed her teeth whitened and a pair of glass slippers before dancing with her prince.  The cigarette case is not just a container, then — it is what Charles Sanders Peirce calls a sign that serves as a representament­ of status, evidencing as a social fact that the offering gentleman has enough wherewithal to be taken seriously by ladies and gentleman of the society within which he travels.  Of course, the wealthy Alicia, who does not smoke and could, in any case, certainly afford her own cigarettes, understands that Julio is not a cigarette salesman handing out samples — she effectively grasps that the young man’s principal intent is that she stay with him chatting while she smokes, a normative representament associated with open, proffered cigarette cases.  Perinbanayagam would suggest Kenneth Burke’s methodology here: Julio’s cigarette-case is the equipment (KB says agency) for the event, and the offering of it to Alicia is what KB calls the act.  But it is the combination of the two (what KB calls an ‘act/agency ratio’) that allows both Alicia and readers to interpret what is going on – changing either the object or the act (a throwing act instead of an offering act, or a butcher knife agency instead of a cigarette-case) transforms the interpretation both Alicia and audiences would make, entirely.  Perinbanayagam would also suggest that holding out the silver-case has, from the outset, binary signification, at least; which means it will suggest two things to Alicia and audiences:  (1) that she is being offered a cigarette but also (2) that she is being invited to join a brief intimacy ritual with a social equal, one that will last as long as the cigarette burns (just as internet users seeking romance commonly agree to meet “for coffee”).  Knowing that this was Julio’s intentional interpretant (what he meant to convey) we can now confirm it was the effectual interpretant made by Alicia, simply by observing that she did smoke the cigarette and talk.  But things can become more creative. Alicia, for example, can refuse Julio’s cigarette and match, nevertheless ‘strike up’ a conversation by saying, “I stepped outside to see the moon.  Don’t you think it’s lovely?”  This would sign to Julio that his primary intentional representament was achieved – what an oddity it would be if he continued struggling to make her smoke a cigarette after she said that!  On the other hand, if she refuses the cigarette, Julio can also put the pack away and say, “I’m trying myself to quit, and I would much rather look at this beautiful moon,” as he walks up beside her. With regard to the cigarette, therefore, Alicia understands (we assume that your writer is omniscient on these matters, simply to speed things along) that this two-minute chat is the intentional representament made by Julio; and her accepting response indicates that the effectual representament is coincident with his intention.  Thus, through these symbol-laden activities, the pair establishes a critical cointerpretant between them; specifically, that they have completed the preliminary steps required to initiate a making-acquaintance ritual.  This cointerpretation, this unspoken agreement to share a brief chat, signals the establishment of event-specific, convivial terms.  Nevertheless, a near-fatal flaw arises in the dynamic of exchange when the intended representament is not the effectual representament. This happens when Julio pushes his luck by employing a double entendre.  He does this by way of his “first time” suggestion, which both (1) proposes to push the encounter beyond its entry status as generalized conviviality to the level of provocatively erotic conviviality and (2) intimates that he sees her as a sexual object, perhaps with the hope that she would be titillated by his forwardness.  This is commonly described as ‘taking liberties’ – it regularly presents itself during interactions, and provokes comparatively restricted response-patterns – all of which being explainable within the collection of interpretative concepts Perinbanayagam has pulled together for us.  However, while this may be the sort of utterance that goes with a third mug of beer and a toothless table dance, it seldom finds its way into the company of silver cigarette-cases. Alicia does not abandon him, but she boldly shuts down that pathway with a one-up communicative utterance, asking his name, and thereby changing the subject; then by repeating his name in a performative style that implies she holds it suspect, offering the representament that she is not going to be led down an inglorious garden path — that she, to use a more contemporary female wrestler’s representament, “ain’t a lady to mess with!”  This makes clear that some of what Julio offers will not be received unless he allows it to be cointerpreted – that they must be two people using language to approach one multi-layered and multi-faceted understanding and that he will not unilaterally determine the nature of their conviviality – the true meaning of relational intimacy among interpersonal communication scholars. In this act, that is to say, she forcefully shows him that, on this first encounter, she will accept only the general conviviality that she would offer to anyone attending her engagement party, not the erotic conviviality that seems to be his ambition, even if it is her secret and eventual ambition as well!  Indeed, when later in this scene, he places his hand on her shoulder (attempting to sign a sympathetic gesture, on hearing of her father’s death) she jerks away, revealing that no effectual interpretation of that action has been achieved (in that Julio performed it intending to represent commiseration, while she took it, effectually, as a premature advance or violation of her autonomy).

wade-07      wade-11

Her signing of distress, whether she intended it or not, was effectually interpreted by Julio; and, recognizing this, he provided her the symbolic act known as an apology, explaining that his father had also recently died — both acts in an effort to prevent loss of intimacy.  She forgives him (signalling an effectual interpretant) and sets the matter aside.  Nevertheless, the festivities inside the hotel ballroom are for her; and, though it is a celebration of her arranged engagement to the devil of the three year television series, decorum requires she guard her neck and shoulders from any young man.  The couple’s dramatic scene on the balcony take place, that is to say, in what Kenneth Burke would call the circumference of an over-arching ­scene/act ratio (the engagement party).  This supervening scene/act context, imposes its own interaction norms upon her, so she must, like Cinderella, provisionally abandon her princely pauper and return to the party with haste.  Therefore, she extinguishes the cigarette and hands what remains of it to him saying “No, I don’t like smoking,” now with the authority he teasingly argued she had no right to claim but minutes before. Yet, as we already know, one of the representaments of a proffered cigarette is a time-limited engagement which can be terminated sociologically by extinguishing the smoke, so that handing him its unfinished remains is at the same time wishing him goodnight.

Kenneth Burke’s above-mentioned notion that encounters are regulated by the circumference of an over-arching scene[i] attunes us to the various layers that are specific to an interaction dynamic.  The balcony/conversation scene, for example, takes place within the grand-ballroom/engagement-party scene, which takes place within the hotel scene, and so forth.  Regardless of the frame within which the interactants immediately operate, their performances are also answerable to the overarching frameworks within which they occur and which also ultimately determine their multi-layered meaning. Thus, the young woman’s betrothed could be watching Alicia’s balcony-cigarette performance from a second story window, meaning that her actions outside, which were  immediate answers to Julio, are also potentially answerable to the demonic Diego should he interrogate her (which he did).  What is more, where language itself is understood as the primary interaction content, the corresponding action accompanying it may be treated as its circumference.  Thus, the representaments-of-language (e.g., saying, “No I don’t like cigarettes.”) may be confirmed or disconfirmed by the representaments-of-signifying-action, treated as a circumference for the words spoken (e.g., handing it back to Julio, as she looks him in the eyes). Word/deed dynamics, such as the one just mentioned, are also a critical element governing assumptions of performance integrity, one that is commonly suggested when people say, “It’s not what you said, it’s the way that you said it.”  Interactants, in other words, survey for a correspondence between statements made and the behavior accompanying the speaker’s words, which serves as the circumference of the utterances themselves. This is part of a more general hypervigilance with respect to the correspondence between the sociological layers specific to an encounter — a hypervigilance that is a critical measure used by interactants to determine the co-agent’s performance integrity, just as it is a criterion for signifying authenticity in one’s behavior before others.  Alicia’s words, for example, refer back to Julio’s earlier claim that she had a duty to base her decisions on evidence.  Now, having smoked, she speaks with the authority of experience, but also using gestures that suggest she is making a formal judgment.  The utterance also retroactively defines their interaction as a challenge/response dynamic, specifically by terminating the interaction with the return of the cigarette as well as the words.  However, this will not be achieved if she giggles, or flutters her eyelashes, or butts out the cigarette on the shoulder of his tuxedo.  She has been challenged to perform a ‘manly’ judgment of cigarette-smoking; and any of these silly or petulant actions will generate a circumference that allows Julio to recognize the inconstancy between the utterance and the performance accompanying it, which will complicate any effort he makes to understand the full nature of their interaction as one that is predictive of future interactions.  Such performance discrepancies, commonly the result of the unintended (i.e., accidental) intrusion of signifiers within a symbolic performance, give rise to questions respecting the identity and intentions of that performer – thus a man who comes home in the middle of the week with a  dozen roses is likely to be asked, “What did you do this time?”  And if he should answer, “I just wanted to buy you flowers,” he best be looking in his spouse’s eyes when he says it, because his spouse will weigh his utterances against the circumference of signs (intended and otherwise) that he performs when he says them. Indeed, constant attention to the symbolism/sign relationship that exists between language and bodily acts is a standard strategy for dispelling or gathering interaction-uncertainty in occasional encounters, such as the brief one above between Julio and Alicia. Alicia, for example, is determined to preserve her ‘daughter of the house’ status while interacting with Julio.  On family property, the particular circumference, this is the status that determines her approachability, as well as her own license to approach — one that obligates her to what we have called ‘guest/host convivial’ interactions, not only in terms of what she says, but also in terms of what she does, all the way down to body positions and facial movements; and, of course, what she allows to be said and done to her.  Thus, ‘daughter of the house’ is, for her, a quasi-professional role (where the hotel itself is the circumference or frame) that comes with a great number of social resources, as well as a freedom to interact across a wide range of encounters (with new or repeating guests, with staff, with management, with handsome young men), though it also constrains how she may perform these interactions (for example, she cannot drink beer with the waiters, though she might wish them best regards when they do so in celebration, on off-duty hours).   ‘Daughter of the house’, Alicia’s ‘first encounter’ identity, may evolve into other forms of conviviality across time, of course, and it does. However, her intent, on this occasion, is to keep the encounter ‘daughter of the house’ professional (because she has a fiancé and an engagement party waiting inside, and that is the next layer of circumference, to which she is answerable [Kenny, 2007]); and, for this reason, the young woman only explores the personal history of the imaginary “Julio Molins”, by asking questions about generic topics such as his work, by rarely squaring shoulders with him, by maintaining an ‘appropriate’ distance, and by curbing his efforts to violate the boundaries of that conviviality. Indeed, her constancy with respect to her ‘daughter of the house’ role, throughout the interaction is masterful, in part because she has played that role since childhood.  The young man’s performance, on the other hand, is riddled with missteps, this being the first time his circumference for interaction is the mythical ‘Julio Molins’.  Thus, while it is easy for him to say the word ‘architect’ when she asks what he does, he is compelled to compound the lie within another when she asks where she might see his work, because the “architect” as an utterable social identity is inextricably entwined with a macro social circumference where one might find buildings, of which he has none to direct her. Julio must then rely on language-without-backing and claim that his buildings are ‘international’.

wade-08  wade-09


He is similarly confounded when Alicia mentions opera, leaking a disinterest that is inconsonant with the role expectations associated with a man of his class and the circumferences that are expected of him, given that role status — again signalling discontinuity between his claim of social status in this momentary interaction and his general familiarity with the role expectations that govern it in the macro-economic circumference which Kenneth Burke would also describe as the greater scene.


frowned upon

A variant of this performance gaffe is also present in his provocative lighting of her cigarette, a strategy he used with the maids.  All such factors play determining roles in interaction blundering, both as it is performed and as it is detected, reminding us that symbolic action, while it may be inauthentically presented in a momentary encounter, is always and ultimately intertwined with broader micro-social and even macro-social circumferences — layers with which it must effectively integrate.  Indeed, failing to achieve or provide layering with competence will lead to the collapse or radical change of the imminent encounter, if not to the collapse of the relationship itself.  Julio, for example, is strained when another waiter comes out on the balcony serving champagne, because the approaching waiter is also his best friend.


All such dynamics can be considered leakages that threaten to subvert the authenticity and therefore the trajectory of an interaction performance.  Thomas Scheff pays particular attention to such leakages and at one point he mentions that a confederate can recognize an awkward pause in speaking that is 1/4000 of a second. The issue is taken up in detail within his wonderful book “Microsociology: Discourse, Emotion, and Society”

Thus, step by step, we can follow the series of cointerpretants: message-events in which speaker and listener reach a singular accord – indeed the very flow and continuity of an interaction is dependent upon it.  But we can also see the damage that occurs when representaments are not cointerpreted. We thus watch a dance of conviviality in these symbolic practices, much as we ourselves dance through them in life, oscillating back and forth between the highs and lows of communicational accord.  Indeed, it was the balcony-scene’s overall event conviviality that initiated ongoing conviviality for the couple at their next meeting, and later their erotic conviviality (in which she will make provocative suggestions to him, while others present do not notice them, by talking about cigarettes),  much as it does in life if conviviality is stable on prior occasions.

This developing conviviality was not without setbacks, however.  Finding out, within days of that first event, that Julio was not an architect but a waiter, she slapped him across the face and insisted that he call her, “Miss Alarcon” – having realized that the representaments he exploited to access their context of intimacy were not signs at all – rather falsified symbols, lies used to advance conviviality through symbolic manipulation.

wade-17  wade-18

She felt robbed, violated, as we all say under such circumstances – in other words, while the entire event was a social performance necessary for the interaction ritual, she, as do we all, expected that the symbolic action that she was presented and to which she responded, was representative of the universe of social representations for which it stood momentarily as a synecdoche – to put it flatly, the cigarette case and tuxedo implicitly profess a country home, not a room in the attic of her mother’s hotel – here is where the micro meets the macro in sociology.

The cigarette itself is a sign – it both portrays what it is and it is what it is (as opposed, for example, to a drawing of a cigarette, which has some of the cigarette’s visual features but cannot be smoked). As for the cigarette case, Julio would not have procured it to seek the attention of one of the maids.  However, his behavior was directed to a particular person with a certain class status and therefore certain class expectations — it had what Bakhtin called addressivity (specifically for the ‘young lady’ of the hotel) and therefore demanded a distinct symbolic performance, if the young man were to achieve his communicative goals.  Indeed, we can say that Julio presented himself as an icon.  Like the cigarette drawing, he presented features of what he stood for; but, in the end, with regard to his low economic standing and his poverty, the structural relation between his performance and his social powers, he “could not be smoked”.

It is fascinating that real social actors can perform in such nuanced ways without much direct understanding of the motives that advance them.  Commonly, Freud’s term, anamnesis, which he borrowed and reformulated from Plato, has been used to apply this principle in sociology – sociological anamnesis, that social agents can, at some level, be aware and alert to all the nuanced mechanisms governing social life and interactions with almost no awareness that they know such things (see  Of course it is the symbolic interactionist who formalizes these unknown ‘knowables’; and this is the task that Perinbanayagam assigns to his work.  Consequently, I have provided the above brief analysis, incomplete as it is, solely to illustrate the analytic power of Perinbanayagam’s The Rhetoric of Signs. For, indeed, almost all the technical concepts I have uncovered are named and explained within the first three pages of that author’s book.

For the most part, the terms are taken from the writing of Charles Sanders Peirce.  Bakhtin is mentioned there, as well, and pages later Perinbanayagam will be sauntering into the ideas of his most commonly discussed critical theorist, Kenneth Burke.  What he creates, through all these brief and clear ideas, is what Burke himself might identify as the “name and address” of a thorough symbolic-interactionist vocabulary.  Of course, Burke used the name-and-address notion ironically, as an excess that narrows the possibilities of language, and in this case the opposite is true, in part because scholars have a responsibility to “generalize” — to map the terrain upon which their research is conducted.  It is something that Perinbanayagam must do in order to reveal how symbols and signs function when engaging and directing social life.  And he has done it.

This brings us close to the second reason to value the “names and addresses” of utterances and signs we encounter in sociological practice – names and addresses that are critically important to sociology.  They provide what Burke calls “short hands for situations;” and, doing so, they become the “chess pieces” and “board positions” that organize the sociologist’s educated imagination when conducting investigations.

Clearly, chess master “A” sees a chess board much differently than chess master “B” sees a board that is covered with buttons, Christmas candies, and other unrelated things, in that master “A” sees the socially conventional powers of each piece (e.g., centuries ago, the Queen only possessed the movement power of the King, and was seen differently in this sense) as well as the logical grammar of its motion. “A” understands where the piece has arrived, where it has been, and where it can possibly go.  This is because, unlike the family dog and the two year old in the playpen, the chess player maintains an understanding of the logic of chess motion thanks to the educated imagination possessed, not by all of humanity, but by players of the game.

This notion of the educated imagination, developed in various writings of Northrop Frye, is critical to specialization in all of the fields.  It is true that objective representations of words, set apart from life, like words in the dictionary, change little about the way one thinks.  But when words become representations specific to the living of one’s life, then they become the logos — representations not narrowly restricted to name-knowing (as the power to repeat) but consecrated, through their participation in the social routines of the active agent – consecrated in a Durkheimian sense as sociological spirits through which one thinks, analogous to the difference between looking at a pair of reading glasses and looking through them. Of course, one can say one knows chess when one knows the names of the pieces and the places they go on the board.  But one really only knows chess when the pieces and the rules are consecrated by playing the game itself.

It is the same in the professions: Medical terminology that is consecrated by participating in the social life of a physician, for example, offers doctors theorein — the sight that makes possible, for example, recognizing and theorizing heart disease based on observation of grey, pallid skin, or a need to rest after climbing three stairs.  In like kind, the engineer sees what most do not when looking at a bridge, and the musician sees what others do not when listening to a composition. These theoreins, that is to say these ways of seeing into that which is beyond the sight of the eye, provide the living content for what Frye called the educated imagination particular to each specific field. Thus it is that sociologists also need frameworks and methodologies for making sense of social life – they need their logos, their collection of ideas that are not just words but also refined and dynamic conceptions specific to their area of study, where knowing these words means knowing the vital social spirit that infuses them. And it is just such a vocabulary that Perinbanayagam is offering to symbolic interactionists in The Rhetoric f Signs,  much as Randall Collins did about a decade ago in his very important volume, Interaction Ritual Chains.

This is what I have tried to show by bringing to life the vocabulary Perinbanayagam generates in the first few pages of his book, through my trivial example.  And while I have expanded on some of the terms, I have done so in a way that is dependent on them, in order to gainsay how provocative, and generative, and alive they can be. One does not, that is to say, just apply the word representing the symbolic strategy when performing the analysis.  Rather, one thinks through the word by exercising it in terms of its imaginative potential – and of course one does this ‘thinking through’ the word when studying the interaction phenomenon, long before writing about it.

This is the particular reason that I expanded on the notion of conviviality as Perinbanayagam sets it forth, by referring to erotic conviviality, in order to show that the accord between the communicants reached its ultimate limit on this side of issues related to sexual interest. By proposing this subcategory, I intended to reveal two things: (1) that the type of conviviality between persons is crucial to understanding the dynamic particular to a situation (such that Alicia rejects, at that early moment of relationship, erotic conviviality, though she is ready to accept guest/host conviviality); and (2) to show that the ideas Perinbanayagam concentrates into his book are alive and capable of relevant growth, provoking sociological thinking in a reader even while reading them. Similarly, I expanded on the notion of representaments in order to draw attention to the various representational possibilities (e.g., smoke a cigarette and have a conversation) that can arise in a particular moment, much as I focused on the selectivity that can be performed by the receiving agent, who can demur one representament while acceding to another.  It certainly isn’t the case that Perinbanayagam was blind to these possibilities.  Rather, he wrote this book with the deep understanding that it often takes many pages to explain a single utterance, even one as apparently simple as “Would you like a cigarette?”  He also understands that theory is a general way of seeing; and that any corresponding theoretical vocabulary must be vitally alive in order to make its way along the nuances of the particular phenomenon it is deciphering.   But how could this diminish the merits of the author or the text!  For Perinbanayagam has written a book that provides a succinct vocabulary in full knowledge that his readers, once they understand what the ideas are about, will be able to expand upon and shift the nature of his offered concepts as much as they require to engage in a particular analysis, full-well knowing that this must always occur in effective, critical examination of social performances. To fail to see that would be to imagine that the sole proper purpose of numbers is to use them when counting, in keeping with the context within which we first discovered them! For these reasons, in particular, I see Perinbanayagam’s book as one of significant merit and utility.  As a general text for reviewing some of the ideas of Peirce, Bakhtin, and Burke, I think it useful; and I also found the integration of the threefold to be a creative one that matters.  His characterizations are, to say the least succinct; but there is a ‘bang for your buck’ effect – you get a lot of good-thinking in a very few words, a form of ‘good thinking’ that will contribute to a reader’s own good-thinking, in looking at social phenomenon.  I would not say that the book would serve as a sufficient tutorial to make readers Peirce, Bakhtin, or Burke scholars.  But scholars of any one of the three could learn from it something of the possible play between their mentor and the other two – in particular the way that Burke’s pentad dynamically colorizes the ways that the ideas of Peirce and Bakhtin entwine within a critical analysis. For the most part, then, I think this book gains its worth from its presentation and treatment of the three vocabularies, intertwined.  This terminological project, as Perinbanayagam sets it forth, is a hub from which sociology can roll out its spokes – a watchtower from which the sociologist or sociology student can look at basic interaction events from multiple angles.  I hope to have made clear that it not only allows the sociologist to name what is observed, but also to conjure with it.

Perhaps the greatest potential for this text will be in upper level undergraduate and graduate classes — frankly, I am seriously considering it for both contexts in my own classroom work.  There is something magical that happens when you give students a text that they can work with, something they can think through, something that regulates their imaginations, thereby helping them to find their own, educated way of seeing the world.  By my own experience, when they have such tools, they quickly begin to engage in the field.  Soon they see things their friends cannot see, and this gives them a sense of identity, as a certain kind of specialist, as a sociologist– and that gives them pride both in themselves and their field.   Perinbanayagam offers his readers such powers, products of his lifetime of learning and accomplishment.

Across his works, Perinbanayagam has been an imaginative writer.  Herein, he provides us a text that we can use to imagine with.


[i] …though they typically occur in a quite narrow and occasional circumference that Goffman called a frame.


Kenny, Robert Wade, 2007. “The Good, the Bad, and the Social: On Living as an Answerable     Agent.” Sociological Theory 25:268–91.



Robert Wade Kenny (professor) studied sociology, philosophy, and rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh and publishes in journals such as Sociological Theory, Philosophy and Rhetoric, and Quarterly Journal of Speech.



About Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction - Blog

The Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) is an international professional organization of scholars interested in the study of a wide range of social issues with an emphasis on identity, everyday practice, and language.
This entry was posted in Book Review, Journal, sociology, Symbolic Interaction. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s