Interactional Anomie? Imaging Social Distance after COVID-19: A Goffmanian Perspective
Keywords:covid-19, social distance, Goffman, anomie, social theory
AbstractSocial distance is a central issue in the institutional communication about COVID-19. The expression has often been improperly used as a synonym for physical distance. In this article, I will compare how international agencies have used the concept in their documents with Erving Goffman's sociological theory on social distance. The Canadian sociologist is, in fact, the author who has explored the sociological aspects of social distance most deeply. In the third section, summarising Goffman's work, I will try to define a possible research agenda to be developed in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. Finally, I will analyse some elements of social change already visible in various parts of the world. The aim is to understand how COVID-19 could transform some social and ritual aspects of interpersonal distance. The main hypothesis is that in the immediate aftermath of this pandemic crisis, we will live in a period of moral inter-reign, in which we will experience a form of interactional anomie. This concept is also aimed at integrating the already rich Goffmanian theory on the interaction order, from a perspective that takes in account both the classic Durkheimian concept of anomie connected to dramatic social change and the Parsonsian theory of double contingency. I still do not know how long the pandemic will last and how many further quarantine periods will occur in the future. This is therefore more an exercise in sociological imagination (Wright Mills, 1959) than a sound, grounded theory.
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