Sociology of the Mundane

My Tumblr series on The Sociology of the Mundane will pick up where the wonderful Journal of Mundane Behaviour left off. This journal took its name from sociologist Wayne Brekhus, who argued that sociologists were overly concerned with deeply political issues, but that we spend little effort on the everyday matters that are often dismissed as trivial, such as humour, friendship, watching TV, and even the boring aspects of everyday sex. Brekhus writes:

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Image: [Tree with text] The unmarked generally remains unnamed and unaccented even in social research. – Dr Wayne Brekhus, Sociologist

Investigations of social life often begin with that which is already visible and named because of its ‘exoticness’ or its heavily articulated moral and political significance. Although there are many deviance journals to analyse socially unusual behaviour there is no Journal of Mundane Behaviour to explicitly analyse conformity.

The editors of the Journal of Mundane Behaviour dedicated their sociological inquiry to routine pastimes, frivolous habits and everything that society generally classifies as unremarkable. Their journal shed critical light on everyday rituals that might otherwise be considered dull and not worthy of scientific attention. They published papers on riding in elevators, shaving, applying for jobs, the cultural appeal of trashy TV shows, shopping, superstitions, the meaning accorded to The Beatles’ song lyrics, thanking God in sports speeches, shopping, going on holidays, the use of calendars, the way Japanese women walk, the art of ‘bullshitting’, wedding rings, cinema, and even the use of toilets. The editors write:

All around us are ordinary phenomena that can astound us if only we attend to them with the seriousness they do not typically receive: letters and letter-writing, street scenes, routine family life, artistic and cinematic depictions of how we live our lives, everyday work and commercial situations, sociable occasions, nonprofessional sports activities, transportation contexts, venues of legal and political action, viewing televised entertainment, consuming information from various media, and so on. The study of the extreme, outlandish, and “profane” aspects of late 20th century existence has been well-developed and has given rise to many useful theoretical and research tools. Here, we want to turn these analytic tools to the level of everyday life, to examine in microscopic and graphic detail the more mundane, habitual, and quotidian aspects of our existence – including how we define what is “mundane”. 

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Image: [Rows of houses with text] These unnoticed, unmarked aspects of our lives are often the most political and yet depoliticised.

Sadly, this journal folded in 2005. There is a place in sociology for the critical study of things that are common, unexciting or ‘humdrum’ (otherwise known as ‘blah’ and ‘meh’), as well as the fun, silly and irreverent aspects of social life. That place is my Tumblr.

I begin my series on The Sociology of the Mundane by looking at the sociology of animation, focusing on cartoons from the 1990s and anime.

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