When you see me in the street
You always act surprised
You say "How are you? Good luck!"
But you don't mean it.
Bob Dylan, "Positively Fourth Street"

I see friends
Shaking hands
Saying "How do you do?"
What they are saying is
" I love you."
" Oh, What a Wonderful World"

Community as Symbol, Community as Problem

My first major work on American culture (Varenne 1977) dealt with three main themes: individualism, community, and love. These words were borrowed from the vocabulary I had encountered during my fieldwork and captured some of the exotic qualities I had experienced in my encounter with small-town life. Yet while I knew that these were powerful symbols for my informants, they remained somewhat empty. I could describe the properties of each and analyze the impact of their use on everyday experience. I knew it was very difficult for people to formulate the role of their friends and family played in their lives if the stage was set for "individualism" (as when they were asked about their life histories). I knew they had trouble expressing disagreement when the stage was set for displays of "community" (as in meetings of friends, church services, or the public meetings of government boards). However, I was not attuned to the anxiety that went with the performance of the symbols. I was not ready to confront the kind of questions the participants asked about the reality of their individualism, the cohesion of their communities, or the sincerity of their loves.

At the same time, I began to read Dewey, Royce, Riesman, and Slater. I listened in some wonder to the utopian enthusiasm of the sixties with its straining for both absolute individual liberty and perfect community. My interest in "love" had much to do with the prevalence of the word in the popular art of the era. What I did not understand was that by adopting the vocabulary that was so generally used I was being caught within the limits of the tradition. An analysis I had generated from the point of view of an altogether naive "outsider" was being used for "insider" conversations. I was asked to answer questions like, "Are Americans real individualists?" "Aren't they mostly conformists?" "What do you mean, 'love'?" To such questions, I had a stock theoretical answer. I outlined this answer in chapter 1. There I tried to clarify the grounds that prevent me from answering these questions in the terms they suggest. If individualism is a context for life in the United States, if it is a way of talking about experience that makes sense in conversation, then it is not a psychological property, and I cannot tell whether any American is, in a substantive sense, a real, rugged individualist. Neither can I say anyone is not.

This theoretical answer, however, begs the question that my experience suggested. I may try not to answer a question that is put to me, but I cannot prevent people from asking it. To the extent that they have asked the question, my response, including my refusal to answer, is framed by it. I cannot escape America as long as I interact within the United States. This creates a modicum of difficulty for me that, I propose, is a general condition of all life in society. There is evidence all around us, as well as in our own lives, that recent outsiders are not the only ones whose personal experience is best understood in terms of their struggles to express themselves. Although much recent anthropology has focused on what happens when interlocutors can be assumed not to "share" the "same" culture (Gumperz 1982), there is a need to investigate what might happen when this cannot be assumed. This should throw more light on the concept of culture as a social process of co-optation when an utterance is used by someone other than the original speaker, in a different setting, at a different time, and for a different effect.

The first step in such an endeavor is to accept that questions the most "encultured" participants (whatever this might mean) ask themselves about the reality of their individualism or their love are questions that reflect anxiety about the relation between their experience and the language at their disposal to express it. When Jefferson worried about the exact phrasing of the Declaration of independence, when Dewey questioned the conditions that would make a democracy possible, they cannot be seen simply as "doing their culture." At the core of this essay is an analysis of a moment in American everyday life where uncertainty and anxiety surface. Questions are asked that go beyond rhetoric even as they are phrased rhetorically. We will see a college student struggle with the failure of a friend to extend an invitation at a moment when such an invitation might be expected. We will see him confront the possibility that he himself might be seen as responsible for the failure. As he thought about the moment, he ended up asking certain questions of the type: Was I friendly enough? Was my interlocutor hospitable?

I will not answer these questions. My informant could not, and there are no grounds for me to decide for him. What is interesting is that he should have to face such questions, use a traditional methodology to try to answer them, and still be left with a puzzle. What is interesting is the suggestion of an awareness that these were not "his" questions, at least not at the early stages of the original event. He describes a developing consciousness that something had already happened to him that he now had to deal with. His concerns, whatever they were at the time, had been co-opted. The interactional process that produced this situation is the central focus of this chapter: How did friendliness or hospitality come to be at issue, given that it seems neither speaker wanted to bring up such matters?

The case study focuses the general statement I want to make, which, indeed, constitutes the contribution this volume intends to make to the field of American studies. American culture is continually practiced in daily life. It is not to be found solely in the statements of certain cultural specialists or during special ritual moments. Above all, American culture is a social, institutional event. It is to be found in interaction because it arose through interaction. Advertisers and moviemakers, planners of ethnic parades, college and high-school students, all are involved in America and in symbolizing it in their most concrete practices because they are jointly caught in a historical situation. What is clear also is that the situation within which all these people interact is much broader than their face-to-face interaction, or even the history of this interaction. Concrete difficulties that two people may have with each other are never purely private affairs. They always echo, and are echoes of, other difficulties that have been at the center of the culture's concerns for a very long time. A person's visiting the town where his interlocutor lives can easily raise questions of hospitality.

("Will she invite me?" "Should I invite him?") Questions of hospitality can raise questions about authenticity. ("Did she mean the invitation?") Questions about the authenticity of hospitality are fully coherent with the kind of philosophical questions about the reality of communities that have been the staple of American intellectual debates, particularly in social theory. I begin with a brief review of the history of the use of the word "community" in these debates. This leads to an outline of the operations we must perform to recapture a form of innocent wonder when encountering the word. The body of the essay starts with the problems that surround the concept of "meaning" (as in "Do you mean it when you say you love me?") as it can be identified by analyzing the verses from the songs I have used as epigraphs. The next section consists of the analysis of two texts produced by an informant, which allows us to glimpse what can happen while relaxing with friends. This is followed by some suggestion about correspondences between the co-optation of experience that occurred at that moment and what seems to happen repeatedly in American sociological discourse.

Community and the Social Sciences

Historically, the power of the American conversation about community moved the social sciences into new areas of investigation. I understand the pragmatic movement, of which John Dewey was the most articulate spokesman in the early years of the twentieth century, to be a renewal of the traditional American understanding of human life as people joining together to create societies according to principles they jointly produce. If human beings could best be understood in this way, rather than simply in terms of inner drives of whatever sort, then it made sense to argue that, to learn about them, one should look at them in what came to be known as their "naturalistic" environment - that is, in the midst of their communities.

This line of argument moved sociologists into the neighborhoods of Chicago. It sent anthropologists to Mexican villages. It vivified the field by opening vistas on areas of human life that had remained obscure. It challenged earlier understandings of the ways people live their everyday lives. It produced lively debates that ended in an impasse, as well they should. Within a few years of the various general statements summarizing the what, how, and wherefore of the community study as method (Arensberg and Kimball 1965; Redfield 1960 [1955]), Maurice Stein proclaimed the "eclipse" of community in America (1964 [1960]), that is, the impossibility of observing "community" in the sense the discipline started with. Nowhere in the world could it be shown that people lived in well-bounded, self-determined, consensual communities. It had to be said that all villages and neighborhoods were part of various kinds of "mass societies" that constrained local initiatives and allowed social functioning without consensus. Thus the conversation Dewey and G. H. Mead had started reached a stage that radically challenged their premises. Local units, it came to be said, are best understood in terms of the struggles that splinter them and of the differences that can be observed within them; they cannot be seen in terms of the "commonalities" that pragmatist premises made one expect should be typical of communities. Clifford Geertz's aphorism said it all: "Anthropologists don't study villages . . . ; they study in villages." And, he explains, "You can study different things in different places, and some things . . . you can best study in confined localities. But that doesn't make the place what it is you are studying" (1973b, 22). What Geertz says of villages is true not only of "communities" but also of any interactional setting we can imagine. However spontaneous a social moment may seem to be, we must understand it as part of something larger to which it is a response.

Geertz's statement could stand as epitaph of the community study - that is, of the study of "a" community. However one might want to approach community, whether as a "whole," an "ecological system," a "social structure," a "typical biography," a "kind of person," an "outlook on life," a "history," a "community within communities," a "combination of opposites" (Redfield 1960 [1956], v), one has to face the fact that in anthropology the community has almost universally ceased to be an object of study. For a few who are interested in American culture, it has instead become a subject for study.

The first step in this endeavor is to recapture a sense of surprise and puzzlement when encountering the word, its synonyms and antonyms, the euphemisms that can be used to modulate its implications, and so forth. It is for this task that the sensibility of a foreigner who is still new to the country is most useful. When I first arrived in the United States, one of the many things that did surprise me was the use of the word "community" in contexts where I was sure it was never used in France. The University of Chicago, I was told, was a community. Hyde Park-Kenwood (the university neighborhood) was another such community. And not surprisingly, given that I entered the country in the late sixties, I was also told that the university "did not care for the community" and that "it should listen to the community." Moving from Chicago to New York, and from the late sixties to the late seventies, I encountered the word in many other settings. Rambunctious black adolescents in the corridors of the university were proof that it was "open to the community." The program that teaches English to recent immigrants to the United States is called the "Community English Program." The department where I teach is called Family and Community Education. Since the Community English Program and my department are housed on the same floor, we have had to tell many puzzled Colombians, Haitians, and Koreans that we know nothing about the English program. It seems at least to suggest that these people had learned the rhetorical implications of the word. "Community education" is a different field from "higher education," and there is a rule of thumb that says, "If you are looking for a nonacademic program in a large university look under 'Community.'"

I have lost my initial surprise. I have learned the power of a reference to community. I can see through someone's use of "community" to refer to his environment. I have learned how to defend myself against a claim of community. I suspect this gives me the same kind of competence with the symbol as people who have lived longer in the United States. I know about true and false communities. I know how to pretend to demonstrate that I am part of a community. I believe I know how to convince people I am not pretending. I hope I can tell when my claim is legitimate.

I have also tried to keep in a corner of my memory the awareness that the French word "communaute" cannot be used in most of the contexts where "community" is appropriate in America. George Herbert Mead (1967 [1934)) cannot write about social organization without using "community" as a synonym for it. The word "communaute" seems never to come from Marcel Mauss's pen (1950). The Sorbonne is never a "communaute." A local hospital is always "l'hopital de la ville;" it is never "l'hopital communautaire." One cannot translate into French the phrase "community college" without destroying the system of connotations that make such a place at the same time not quite a real college and a proof of the open nature of American democracy.

This is but another instance of the necessity of the general communications rules stating that, in all natural languages, (1) an apparently similar object, the "referent" of a word, concept, or symbol, say a hospital, can be in one language, for example, French, qualified as the hospital "de la ville" while it is qualified in another language, for example, American, as the hospital "of the community," and (2) the same symbol, in our case "community," can be used to qualify many different kinds of referents (localities, groups, types of persons, feelings). This confirms the usefulness of the methodological rule affirming that we cannot understand the power of a symbol by looking at the external, objective referents it can be used to qualify. We cannot substitute an object for the symbol, even if we present the object as nothing more than a token of a type. The symbol of community can be understood only in terms of its use - that is, in terms of the contexts in which an observer encounters it.

The Problem of "Meaning it"

The statements above are general analytic principles that frame the following analysis of a central corollary to "community," the symbol of "meaning." While the word "community" is used to refer to a social group, it is in fact appropriate only when used for a "special" kind of group, a group that is more than a simple aggregate of strangers. Groups of strangers "become" communities as they achieve a certain "sense" of themselves. This sense is a psychological state that must be "shared" by the members of the potential community. This sense can be made manifest in various ways. Most important, it is possible and appropriate to question these external signs for their "meaning" - that is, for the extent to which the signs actually refer to the internal state they are supposed to signal. It is agreed that people may lie, that their attachment to the community may be superficial, inauthentic, or opportunistic. The corpus I will be using consists of several examples of conversations about the authenticity of an expression of community:

a. a few verses from two songs (see epigraph);

b. the transcription of a few seconds of taped conversation between two persons during their first meeting (text 1);

c. a statement written by one of the participants in this conversation as an exercise for one of my classes (text 2);

d. the transcription of the interview about b and c that I conducted with this person on a subsequent occasion.

The problem of "meaning" is most clearly outlined in Bob Dylan's song, "You say 'How are you? Good luck!' But you don't mean it." My immediate goal is to demonstrate how these words belong to the set that also includes "community." I will first show how the words "meaning" and "love" are related in the two songs I am using. The songs, obviously, are just that - songs. They belong to an artistic genre. They are not equivalent to actual conversations. Both, however, represent conversations:

When you see me in the street, you always act surprised. You say: "How are you? Good luck!"

I see friends shaking hands, saying "How do you do?"

In both cases the rhetorical shape is that of a description of an event. In one case the speaker is constructed as a participant, in the other as an observer. This is almost ethnographic in quality, except perhaps for the comments "you always act surprised" and the word "friends."

The songwriters, however, do not stop with a description of a conversation. They add: But you don't mean it.

What they are saying is "I love you." These statements are not presented as an observation of the same sort as the description of the encounter. This is an account of something that was by the protagonists. It is, however, something that can be said but not anywhere. Given our own generalized cultural knowledge, we might say that, in a face-to-face casual meeting in the street, there is a rule against making statements like "How are you? I don't mean it!" And one cannot quite say "I love you" when the occasion calls for "How do you do?"

Yet a blanket statement of such a rule would be an overgeneralization. I am sure most Americans could think of situations when these could be said appropriately or actually were said with more or less serious consequences. Certainly, the unsayable can be said in a song. We will soon look at another such setting. What is certain, however, is that the statements about "meaning" and "love" are not quite equivalent to statements about "seeing." "Meaning" and "love" come after "seeing." They are marked as commentary. They are a restatement that balances the descriptive saying. The sequence has the following general shape:

One says . . . what [I say] one is "really" saying

[statement] ... [commentary]

A dichotomy is thereby created between two aspects of the speaker(s): what is outwardly observable and what is also inwardly happening. The gap between the two is both accounted for and constructed by the symbol of "meaning." We would not need such a symbol were there no gap between what we can observe and what we know could be observed but is not available to our observation. The gap would have a different shape if the symbol had different properties.

One of the things we can "mean" when saying "How do you do?" is "I love you." Other things can also happen. In particular, we cannot mean "it." What is this "it"? In Dylan's song, the "it" in "but you don't mean "it" to the phrases "How are you? Good luck!" But these phrases are emptied of their semantic content by the commentary. The speaker does not doubt that a question about his state of being has been asked. He doubts the presence of the intention that should underlie the question. The "it" is the implied intention, not the greeting itself. On strictly structural grounds, it could be argued that this "it" is "love," if we take literally the other song about the real meaning of a handshake. Such an analysis might make us lose sight of the fact that it may be important that, in settings where "meaning it" is questioned, the "it" is precisely not specified.

Strictly speaking, that is, purely in terms of the text under consideration, the possibility of "not meaning" implies the presence of an "it" (an object?) that is the referent to the greeting. This "it" is neither specified nor described within the greeting itself. This "unmentionable" "it," however, is rather well specified grammatically. A "meaning" has a personal subject and a direct personal object: a person means "it," which suggests that "it" points to a psychological state. "Meaning" concerns social interaction - and so does "love". This is enough to suggest that the structural analysis would not be stretched.

In fact, a general knowledge of American culture allows us to mention there are settings within which the "it" that one means can be mentioned. There are conversations during which "it" can become the topic as discusses "what did you mean?" (which implies an agreement about possibility of "meaning" but no agreement about what was meant) or do you mean what you said?" (which implies agreement on both counts a doubt about the validity - or authenticity - of the claim). The case study now turn to includes a text from such a setting when authenticity is appropriately discussed.

Dilemmas of Hospitality

There is a bit of wisdom that people "who know America" like to give European newcomers to the United States. It runs something like this: People here will tell you after meeting you for the first time, 'Drop in [at home] anytime!' But don't believe them! [They don't mean it]." I myself was told this a few times. Some Americans I have talked to about it have recognized it. I have also been the recipient of the ambiguous invitation. Through naïveté, ignorance, or self-serving callousness, I have "dropped in" on people whom I wanted to meet for ethnographic reasons,on the strength of their outward invitations - even when I had doubts of the invitation. In such situations, doors were never closed in my face. It is as if those who had given such invitations (even supposing they did not "mean" them) were trapped by them. They could not deny having given them. Some of my informants have in fact been outraged at the idea that people might systematically doubt their sincerity. As they tell it, when they say, "Drop in anytime!" they mean it. If they did not mean it, they would not say it.

We have here a new version of the sequence represented in the songs. There is a statement that is part of an interaction ("Drop in anytime!") and then a warning to consider "meaning." I would also like to bring in the issues of evaluation and rhetorical power that are closely tied to the issue of "meaning." They are of a different order, since the first is directly available to the informants in the settings when meaning can be specifically addressed, where as the second is not usually quite so available. For any one who knows Bob Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street," I will not have to belabor the point that not to mean a greeting is highly improper: the song is a powerful critique of normal American everyday life. Similarly, the bit of wisdom I quoted is generally framed as a criticism of America. The informants who were outraged certainly took it as such. It is altogether insulting to accuse someone of not meaning an expression of hospitality. The reaction of "Springdale" to Vidich and Bensman's book exposing the insincerity of parts of the people's lives is another well-documented case of the dangers inherent in telling Americans that they are not friendly (1968 [1958]; see particularly chap. 14).

Let us now look at an instance of what can happen when hospitality becomes an issue. The brief moment I use here was tape-recorded by one of the participants, "Ted," a student in one of my classes. His girl friend, a friend of hers ("Sally"), Sally's husband, and their eighteen-month-old child were together on an after-lunch outing to a park in Manhattan. Sally and her husband, who lived in San Francisco, had come to New York to visit relatives and had had lunch at Ted's. After lunch they all decided to go to the park. As Ted described it later, "We had what I'd call a standard sort of passing-the-time-talking conversation. Not terribly intimate, not terribly casual either." Ted remembers that the conversation regularly lapsed. Each time Sally introduced new topics to fill the blanks, always about her child. After twenty minutes in the park, Sally asked Ted about a nephew of his whom he had visited in Texas. This led Ted to remark that he had made the visit while on a trip to San Francisco. The brief exchange of interest to us followed:

The conversation then moved on to other things.

The corpus includes two other sets of texts. Ted had taped the conversation as part of an exercise that included transcribing a recording and writing "expansions/ interactions" in the style of Labov and Fanshel (1977). Typical of what he wrote is the following passage where he expands on the utterance from text 1, "So we were ¡there!":

EXPANSION
You were in California at the same time we [my husband, son, and I] were. But I'm not sure how much further I want to talk about this, since it might carry a question of hospitality. You know that we live there.
INTERACTION
1. We're not too keen on house guests, and we don't know you very well or the extent of your friendship with our close friend (your girl friend), so I don't want to invite you directly just now until we know each other better.
OR
2. and your girl friend had told us that you might telephone us when you were there. But you didn't. In fact, you didn't even mention it. Perhaps you didn't (or still don't) want to bother with us? So we won't make a commitment to you either.

Those who know Labov and Fanshel's work will recognize that Ted is rather far from producing what they expect an expansion or interaction to look like. Labov and Fanshel understand the task of the discourse analyst as making explicit (1) the information shared by the participants, but implicit in their actual speech (expansion), and (2) the actions actually being performed through the speech (interaction). What Ted did was to interpret all this as a call for writing a version of what he reported later as his internal speech during the conversation. The actual text presented here clearly represents this text in a quasi-literary fashion. It is interesting as a token of what an informant can produce.

What fascinates me in these two texts is the contrast between the apparent topics, between what is said and not said in both. While Ted presented these texts as a simultaneous whole ("what was said and what was meant"), it remains that these are two distinct texts that are linked together by a cultural act that affirms-against all rules of cohesion-their mutual coherence. Notice that in text 1 there are no specific utterances extending an invitation or rejecting it. On the basis of this text only, one would be hard pressed to make a case for its containing such an invitation and rejection. Strictly speaking, the utterances are generally declarative. They state facts:

I went to San Francisco.

We were ¡there!

I don't have any plans to go there again.

One might wonder about the contrastive stress on "we" or the laughter on "¡there!". But this would not lead us very far. There are a few obscure utterances:

Next time you go there, we'll . . . Now you know us (laughter).

I don't think...

Something, clearly, is not said here. But what?

I do not know whether any person confronted solely with the transcript, even a well-enculturated American, could easily fill in the blanks left by the protagonists and produce what Ted is certain were the messages:

*Next time you go there we'll have to get together.

*I don't think I would call you if I ever went back to San Francisco.

I believe I can assume, however, that once the unspoken has been made elicit in this manner the new text frames the first as something that the text might plausibly have been about. I even suspect that, once the expansion has been made, it becomes extremely difficult to argue for the possible validity of another expansion, probably for the same reasons that make it difficult to "see" alternative shapes in a gestalt experiment once one has been found. The second text is fully coherent with the first. It isomething that can be produced by an informant, whatever may be our opinion of Ted's grounds for producing it (e.g., we might say that his interretation is "strained," that he is overblowing Sally's hesitation, that he might be altogether "wrong" about what she meant). We may not be convinced that Ted was fully aware of all the possibilities that he later uncovered while working on the transcript. In fact, we should deliberately doubt accuracy of his recall. The only thing we know for sure is that both he and Sally encountered some kind of difficulty subsequent to his mentioning that he had gone to San Francisco and her redundantly affirming that she does live there.

Things appear clearer in Ted's expansion. This makes it even more imperative that we take a skeptical stance not simply about the relationship between Ted's tale and the event, but also about our own relationship to his tale. What are we doing to Ted and the tale when we accept, or reject, it? Clearly, the expansion does not represent the "truth" of the event, even for Ted. It might be said that it represents the truth it had for him in his memory. Such a statement, however, would also be distanced from the event (the expansion) as something that we, as outsiders to the time and place of Ted's writing of the expansion, are doing to his text. In all cases, the passage of time and the shift in setting are of the essence, with the effect that uncertainty remains with us, albeit in different locations. A secondary text may make explicit some matters that remained implicit in the original and in so doing appear to clarify it. In the process, however, the secondary text will necessarily rely on further premises that will remain implicit, thereby.

That Ted wrote the expansion after the completion of the original sequence allowed him to read the first utterances of the transcript in terms of later ones. He may thus see himself (or Sally) as already aware of the nature of the difficulty at a moment in the interaction when we may doubt that, historically, such a clear awareness was possible. Ted's interpretation would appear much less convincing if something had interrupted them right after Sally's "So we were there!" Given the new position of Sally's utterance (from being an immediate response demanded by a previous statement to being an introduction to a text that prefigures what follows), Ted can now elaborate and affirm the relevance of matters that were not (could not?) have been explicitly brought out at the time.

What Ted brings out are the matters of hospitality, friendship, and commitment. However, we cannot stop here, for these matters do not stand by themselves as referential objects, the presentation of which closes the analysis. Ted's text (text 2) should be set in its own context as an utterance in the conversation he had with me as my student. One of the social goals of the text was to convince me. To do this Ted assumes my understanding of a set of conventions for establishing coherence in texts about invitations. Thus he assumes that it makes sense to question whether an invitation is seriously stated. He assumes the utility of a kind of ethnosemantic analysis that could be shown to adopt the same epistemological premises as mainstream American structuralist semantics. He is sure he is entitled to be unsure whether it was. (He had little choice in this matter, since I insisted that students be unsure!) He is rather certain that what was meant, eventually, turned out negative (that the invitation was not made and that it was refused). But he is not certain of the exact statement of this meaning. Not surprisingly, he would rather blame Sally for starting the sequence improperly. We can assume Sally would not agree about his characterization of her internal speech (and this would probably make her doubt the accuracy of his rendering of his own speech).

In other words, the expansion process displaces the apparent location of interactional uncertainty without clearing it. Whether Ted and Sally "meant" what they did to each other is an area of absolute uncertainty for the participants. This uncertainty would remain even if we conducted the kind of detailed discourse analysis associated with Labov and Fanshel, at the end of which it is claimed that "what really happened" in a conversation can be specified. In fact, the more people we bring to bear on the conversation, the less sure we could be. Indeed, it may be that the "reality" of the conversation was only available to the participants in the original situation and that any attempt at specifying it destroys it. To bring in more participants (as Ted did by inviting me in as he offered me the transcript, and as I am doing when I invite my readers to respond to this essay) is only to increase uncertainty about the original event.

The original event, however, is not what concerns us. We are not concerned about Ted's "meaning" in the way the culture suggests to us it should be discovered. Rather, we are interested in the process that links utterances, and texts, as plausible responses to some earlier utterance or text. Our unit of study is the ensemble of the texts that were objectively created in response to Ted's original "Then, I went to San Francisco." I have focused on the link between text 1 and text 2, but the references I have just made to my own activity, and that of my readers, should make it clear that I do not consider this text (my essay), or the texts my readers may produce in response to it, as privileged in any way. What is important is that they should be produced and make sense in some social setting with some social effect.2

Similarly, we are not directly interested in the cultural competence that Ted, Sally, myself (?), and my readers (I hope), possess. Although I have presented Ted as competent, we might also focus on the incompetence he displayed when he failed to salvage the original situation. We are more interested in the fact that at the time he expanded the original text for me, and now, his contributions could be given enough sense to maintain the conversations. Whatever happened initially, whatever Ted's or Sally's intentions, they co-opted each other as I am now co-opting them and as my readers will co-opt these sentences. Uncertainty about what a person means, what some like to call a "failure to communicate," does not by itself prevent social life from proceeding. Social life seems to be responsible for it and, perhaps, to thrive on it.

We are back to society and to a cultural system ("America") for dealing with certainty and uncertainty. In this system, "topic" is certain in that it can easily be specified. The necessity of a search for meaning also is certain. The nature of the meaning itself is not at all uncertain: it will be about a questionable psychological property of the subject ("I am not sure," "I want," "We're not keen," "we don't know," "you didn't want to bother," "commitment"). It is the specification of the meaning that is made uncertain, thereby transforming a social event into a psychological one. The logic of this progression is not the only one possible, but in the United States it is very difficult to escape it. The statement of the logic of this progression (my "analysis") is itself bound by the conversation I have with an intellectual tradition that gives me words to use and will soon restate my own texts.

From Greetings and Invitations to Hospitality, Friendship, and Community

A partial goal of the preceding analysis was to present another performance of the pattern we began identifying through our look at the two songs. I have wanted to make the case that the apparently philosophical issues raised by the songs are in fact simplified versions of common anxieties. The songs, or philosophical treatises about similar issues, have the advantage, from an author's point of view, that they can be edited and that the audience is not continually providing a response that reframes his statement. In crafted statements, we can construct a response and not have this construction immediately challenged. In conversation the situation is more difficult. The audience can escape the control of the speaker. No speaker, however competent, can prevent a hearer from transforming an "innocent" hesitation in making an invitation into a refusal to make the invitation. At this point the original speaker must defend himself for something he may not in fact have originally intended. He cannot deny that he could, possibly, have intended the slight.

What can be said of the offering of hospitality can also be said of the authenticity of a community. To be convinced of this on formal grounds, notice that all the issues raised by Ted and Sally are triggered by the fact that:

1. a group of persons,

2. finding themselves in the same locality,

3. must do something together

4. while displaying a state of mind that is relevant to their congregation.

Issues of community are triggered by the same factors. Look at Dewey's statement about the foundation of a truly human society: "Persons do not become a society by living in physical proximity . . . . Individuals do not even compose a social group because they all work for a common end . . . . If, however, they were all cognizant of the common end and all interested in it so that they regulated their specific activity in view of it, then they would form a community" (Dewey 1966 [1916], 4-5). "Community" is relevant to persons who live together, who act together, and above all, who develop a shared state of mind. These assumptions have been at the heart of the sociology of community ever since.

In my earlier work (Varenne 1977: 157), I quoted a few lines from the paragraph that precedes the one I just quoted. Dewey said for me, "Men live in a community in virtue of the things which they have in common" (1966 [1916], 4). He said of the social process in abstraction what I wanted to say about the concrete premises of the American cultural construction of the social process. At the time, I mainly wanted to suggest the existence of a formal isomorphism between several types of texts (those produced by friends partying together, churchgoers worshiping together, and politicians legislating together). As I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, I would now like to go further. The formal isomorphism between the structure of Ted's text and the structure of Dewey's does not simply reveal the operation of a single concept, notion, symbol, theme, category, or what have you. These words can be useful in labeling what we are talking about in texts such as this one - that is, in intellectual conversations. Both Ted and Dewey are involved with "community" - and so am I. Such words as symbol or theme can also distort our understanding of the scenes and texts where "community" is performed if they lead us to write as if those who are involved are simply "performing."

John Dewey, Ted, and Sally are not performing a drama for the edification or entertainment of an audience. They are not "actors" in a play that is proceeding according to traditional conventions. They are participants in a historical moment whose future is completely cloudy. For participants, the problem lies with establishing coherence between what has just been said to them, what they may want to accomplish, the symbolic tools at their disposal,and the utterance they are about to produce. Participants in an American context thus must worry that, while "thoughtlessly" talking about a trip across the United States, they will suddenly find themselves embroiled in a dispute about the authenticity of the community that someone might hold them accountable for being. What we mean by "full enculturation" or "competence" in this respect refers to the fact that most people in the United States probably do not worry about being "caught in community." Most informants, like Ted, accept the right of the audience to hold them accountable for being community-minded. Their concern is transferred to the matter of the authenticity of the community claimed, so that they will ask, Is this group a community? Can the signs the participants performed be trusted? These are questions that can be asked in everyday life, as the songs we looked at - or Ted's case-reveal. They are also concerns for sociologists, as Dewey shows.

In some cases, of course, the sociologist, like anybody else, may assume that, simply by virtue of living together, some group had to have been transformed into a community. This is not surprising, since the concern for community is both a model "of" and a model "for" behavior. Retrospectively, it is a framework for interpretation, as it was for Ted. Prospectively, it is the model for future dramatic performances - as it was for Los Angeles Jews when they planned their parade (Myerhoff and Mongulla, chap. 6) or for college students when they were threatened with accusations of racism (Moffatt, chap. 8). In all such cases, however, such a distance remains between the actual event and the abstract yardstick as to leave the participants in doubt. They must doubt that they have achieved community, if only because someone will always doubt their sincerity. Think, for example, about the controversies that surround the construction of the Moonies and other sects as proper communities. Think about the difficulties the Los Angeles Jews had in affirming themselves as such.

In any case, it should be clear that in America a concern for community is a concern one may legitimately have about some social-grouping whether or not the people involved are interested in being seen as "a community." In fact, this concern is best understood as being generated by forces that are not, strictly speaking, psychological events. Community will concern you when you are in the United States, whether it has been internalized as a "belief," a "value," a part of an "ethos," a "character structure," an "ideology," or even a "culture." People are caught within the symbolism of community. Whether they believe in it or not, whether they value community or not, is another matter altogether. Indeed, "community," in its full complexity, cannot be fully "valued" as good things are valued. Like those Indian goddesses whose most fearsome aspects are but another side of their most beneficial aspects, community is as much a danger to American life as it is the foundation upon which relations are built. Community is as much a weapon in social struggles as a way to resolve such struggles. As such, it is a particularly effective tool for power in the United States that impinges even on those who "do not understand" the implications of the symbol, including those who may have internalized, for whatever reason, a "culture" other than the dominant one.

Community and American Culture

I opened the chapter with some reflections on the evolution of my own experience of what makes America American. From the position of an outsider enjoying the patterned exoticism of a foreign drama, I have moved to the position of an insider who has found himself, time and again, caught within the drama, manipulated and manipulating in terms that, I could see afterward, transformed my intense effort to deal with an immediate ambiguous experience into a fully appropriate American performance. I could look around me - at home, with my neighbors, colleagues, and students - and see others caught as I was. How often did I tease people by telling them "How American you have just been!" only to be answered more or less angrily, "It's fine for you to say, but it's irrelevant to the problem at hand." Some have even told me that friendship could be at stake if I persisted. Indeed, this essay is difficult to present to an audience that includes friends whose hospitality I have enjoyed.

Such experiences have led me to look for an alternative way of stating the American character of America. In the first chapter, I detailed a way of doing this that frees people who live in the United States and perform America symbolically from being treated as "oversocialized" robots. One can have lived for a long time in the United States, one can have performed America from one's infancy, and still doubt the ultimate efficacy of the interpretational structures that are one's sole resources. There is something optimistic in Dewey's general statement that men must have aims, beliefs, aspirations, knowledge in common in order to form a community or society (my paraphrase; 1966 [1916], 4). There is also something that could lead to pessimism if we expect, or assume, that consensus will necessarily develop when people live together. Ultimately, I would find it chilling to have to say that consensus is the condition of social life.

In fact, even here American culture offers an interpretative frame. After all, it is well known that the converse of the concern with consensus is the concern with the oppressiveness of a successful consensus. How is consensus to be differentiated from conformity? Shouldn't we be at work creating social forms that preserve the possibility of following different drummers? What about "freedom," a cultural symbol that is another attempt with cultural arbitrariness, symbolic domination, external constraints and uncertainty? From the point of view of freedom, lack of consensus is not something to fear. It is something to hope for.

Let us then hope for freedom, for the preservation of a cacophony of voices, including the voice that, somewhere inside us, tells us that all is not quite as we tell it. Let us incorporate within our theories of culture the fact of freedom - that is, uncertainty. As Sartre once told a journalist at the end of his life:

The idea which I have never ceased developing is that, finally, everyone is always responsible for what has been made of him - even if he cannot do more than assume this responsibility. I believe that a man can always make something out of what has been made of him. This is the definition I would today give of freedom: the little movement which makes out of a totally conditioned social being a person who does not give back the totality of what he has received from his conditioning. This is what makes a poet out of Genet, even though he had been rigorously conditioned to be a thief.