Speaker: Professor Susie Scott (University of Sussex)
Stories of identity tend to be based on positive, or ‘lived’ experience, but what happens if we turn over the mirror? Applying my theory of the sociology of nothing, this paper explores the narrative phenomenology of negative, unlived experience. That is, how people feel about the things that they have not done, that did not happen or that have been absent from their lives. These include unpursued career paths, relationships that never formed, wishes unfulfilled, things left unsaid, lost or missing people, places left behind and decisions not to act. No-things and no-bodies may be given up, taken away, refused, concealed or denied, but they do not disappear. As negative symbolic objects, they continue to hold meaning, resonating in memory and imagination. Through a qualitative analysis of 27 written personal stories, I explore themes of silence, invisibility, emptiness, stillness and lost opportunities. Reflecting on their unmade selves and unlived lives, participants narrate a mixture of emotions: not only sadness, regret, guilt and envy, but also pride, relief and gratitude. I argue that acts of ‘doing nothing’ and the feelings they evoke are socially relational, involving connection and belonging to things that don’t exist.
Refreshments from 11.45am, seminar starts at noon.
Susie Scott is Professor of Sociology at the University of Sussex, UK. Her research explores the micro-sociological theoretical perspectives of symbolic interactionism, dramaturgy and phenomenology, in relation to questions of self-identity. Susie has carried out projects about shyness, politeness, total institutions, performance art, asexuality and swimming. Her latest work creates ‘the sociology of nothing’ as a new field of study. Susie is the author of five books: Shyness and Society (2007), Making Sense of Everyday Life (2009), Total Institutions and Reinvented Identities (2011), Negotiating Identity (2015), and The Social Life of Nothing: Silence, Invisibility and Emptiness in Tales of Lost Experience (2019).