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Everyday Troubles

The Micro-Politics of Interpersonal Conflict

Everyday Troubles

The Micro-Politics of Interpersonal Conflict

From roommate disputes to family arguments, trouble is inevitable in interpersonal relationships. In Everyday Troubles, Robert M. Emerson explores the beginnings and development of the conflicts that occur in our relationships with the people we regularly encounter—family members, intimate partners, coworkers, and others—and the common responses to such troubles.
            To examine these issues, Emerson draws on interviews with college roommates, diaries documenting a wide range of irritation with others, conversations with people caring for family members suffering from Alzheimer’s, studies of family interactions, neighborly disputes, and other personal accounts. He considers how people respond to everyday troubles: in non-confrontational fashion, by making low-visibility, often secretive, changes in the relationship; more openly by directly complaining to the other person; or by involving a third party, such as friends or family. He then examines how some relational troubles escalate toward extreme and even violent responses, in some cases leading to the involvement of outside authorities like the police or mental health specialists.
By calling attention to the range of possible reactions to conflicts in interpersonal relationships, Emerson also reminds us that extreme, even criminal actions often result when people fail to find ways to deal with trouble in moderate, non-confrontational ways. Innovative and insightful, Everyday Troubles is an illuminating look at how we deal with discord in our relationships.


Everyday Troubles is a remarkable and welcome achievement in the Goffman-Simmel tradition. Placing aside a macropolitics, Emerson examines the process through which negotiations occur in interaction orders. This is a bracing reminder that, although we often wish for sociality to proceed smoothly, to make this happen we must work our way through seemingly impenetrable thorny rules in which diverse conceptions of the good and the moral produce interactional scrums.”

Gary Alan Fine | American Journal of Sociology

“Emerson has written his magnum opus—a pathbreaking work destined to be a classic because it offers fresh insights into relationship troubles in everyday life that are enduring universal concerns. This achievement is the culmination of a career devoted to exploring many kinds of interpersonal relationships and the differences and similarities between them. When brought together, as Emerson does here, the insights he offers go far beyond other scholarship.”

Diane Vaughan, Columbia University

“This line of work is highly original. Emerson is the pioneer in examining the micro-politics of trouble. This book follows up decades of ground-breaking and trend-setting scholarship on interpersonal troubles with a new foray into the nascent, informal aspects of troubles which may (or may not) eventually become serious. . . . Emerson’s work has always been insightful, innovative, and sound. This is no exception.”

James Holstein, Marquette University

“This book reminds us why Bob Emerson is considered one of the finest ethnographers of our time. His meticulous attention to the detail of his data, and rigorous qualitative analysis, reframe classic questions about deviance and control. All troubles start in everyday life—and many are resolved there before any other institution notices. Emerson’s work takes us deep into this process, examining and clarifying the fundamental questions about social order that underlie all great sociology.”

Robert Dingwall, Nottingham Trent University

“In the traditions of Erving Goffman and Howard Becker, with more than a hint of Harold Garfinkel, Emerson’s Everyday Troubles brilliantly brings into focus how people handle the complex subtleties and interiors of relational conflict. Everyday Troubles offers a new theoretical language for analyzing the headwaters of social conflict. Everyday Troubles is interpretive sociological theory at its best—insightful, systematic, and, ultimately generative.”

Calvin Morrill, University of California, Berkeley

Table of Contents

Foreword by Jack Katz

One       Introduction
Two      Beginnings
Three     Unilateral Responses
Four      Remedial Complaints
Five       Informal Others
Six        Accusations and Extreme Responses
Seven    Authoritative Involvement
Eight     Conclusion

Reference List

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