Contemporary social life is often depicted, in and out of the social sciences, as an ever-worsening subterfuge of alienation, ennui, and the systematic destruction of traditional, human-scaled, publicly-accessible, “organic” sociality that people once enjoyed. In this paper I do not contend that these trends in our social and commercial landscape are not happening. I will instead contend that conventional face-to-face sociability thrives even in the face of the loss of many traditional public meeting places. My focus in this piece is on social interaction in independent cafes that are known, and that self-identify, as what coffee connoisseurs term “third-wave” coffeehouses. Deploying the analytic perspective of ethnomethodology, which prioritizes and problematizes the observed and reported lived experiences of research subjects, I argue not only that “authentic” sociality flourishes in these spaces but I also consider the role of shop employees—baristas—in them and uncover their perceptions concerning social interaction between themselves and customers. As such I not only question prevailing understandings about the “death” of traditional sociability but also add to past research on the coffeehouse as social form by problematizing, for the first time, the work world of the baristas and their interactions with customers.


Space, Sociability, Coffee, Culture, Ethnomethodology, Qualitative Interviewing

Author Bio(s)

John Manzo is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Calgary (Canada). He is an ethnomethodologist and has undertaken research on the organization of talk and related activities in jury deliberations and in encounters between stroke patients and their spouses, has conducted more conventionally qualitative, interview-based research on the work of private security officers in the US and Canada, and is currently occupied with an observational and interview-based project on the culture of the "third wave" coffee phenomenon in North America and Europe as a venue for sociality in what many see as a postsocial world. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: John Manzo at his Email: jmanzo@ucalgary.ca

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