In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Interaction

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Definitions and Foundations
  • Journals

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Communication Social Interaction
Valerie Manusov
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 May 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0028


The study of social interaction involves the careful assessment of the practices of everyday communicating between people in various (usually) real-life contexts, such as doctor-patient visits, organizations, and human-computer communication. Scholars who center their work in this area tend to be in one of two research lines: qualitative researchers who focus on the intricacies of language and nonverbal communication (i.e., commonly, those who align themselves with the area called language and social interaction) and scholars who use a variety of methods, but particularly social science approaches, to assess the constructs and patterns involved when people interact with one another. These research avenues can be very different from one another, and are sometimes seen as incompatible, but together allow the reader to witness the complexity of human engagement. They also stem from different traditions, most notably sociological, following symbolic interactionism; psychological, with a particular focus on cognitive and emotion-based processes that people bring with them to their interactions; and linguistic, with a concern for language practices and the consequences of such practices. The citations in this article focus on the key theories and methods that span these contexts of study.


Most of the textbooks in this area tend to be the product of scholars whose focus is on the constructs and patterns of human communication (i.e., a social science approach) rather than on the qualitative assessment of language and social interaction (for an exception, see Tracy and Robles 2013). They also help reveal the range of real-life contexts studied by social interaction researchers. Some, such as Beebe and Masterson 2012 and Gastil 2010, focus on interaction in small groups; others, such as Floyd 2017; McCornack and Morrison 2019; and Stewart, et al. 2005, emphasize interpersonal interaction. Additionally, Galvin, et al. 2015 centers on the family; Martin and Nakayama 2018 discusses intercultural interaction; and Eisenberg, et al. 2017 includes interactions in organizations and other institutions.

  • Beebe, Steven A., and John T. Masterson. 2012. Communicating in small groups: Principles and practices. 10th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    The tenth edition of this text provides a focus on basic principles and applications of group communication. It centers on teamwork, technology, and ethical collaboration, some of the foundations of social interaction in groups.

  • Eisenberg, Eric M., Angela Tretheway, Marianne leGreco, and H. Llyod Goodall Jr. 2017. Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

    Aiming for a higher-level audience but still accessible, this textbook uses the metaphor of creativity (getting what one wants) and constraint (following established rules) to explain the processes involved in interacting within and about organizations.

  • Floyd, Kory. 2017. Interpersonal communication. 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    This introductory undergraduate text takes a social science approach to understanding human interaction, putting a particular focus on the ways in which social interaction fulfills important human needs. Like many of the others in this area, it covers the self in interaction, perception processes, language and nonverbal communication, and social relationships, but it also provides coverage of cultural and gender issues and their shaping of social interaction.

  • Galvin, Kathleen M., Dawn O. Braithwaite, and Carma L. Byland. 2015. Family communication: Cohesion and change. 9th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315663982

    This undergraduate textbook presents the family as a communication system with identifiable interaction patterns. The authors work specifically to relate communication theories to family engagement. They use a framework of family functions, first-person narratives, and current research as their primary structure.

  • Gastil, John. 2010. The group in society. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This volume is meant to be read by advanced students and scholars of small group interaction. It emphasizes research on discussion and deliberation, two of the hallmarks of social interaction in groups. It also looks at roles that people play and identities that they assume in the group context.

  • Martin, Judith N., and Thomas K. Nakayama. 2018. Intercultural communication in contexts. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    This undergraduate text provides a blend of social scientific, language, and social interaction, and more critical approaches to its discussion of what occurs in the process of communicating with people from other cultures. The critical perspective allows the authors to present and critique intercultural interaction within its political context.

  • McCornack, Steven, and Kelly Morrison. 2019. Reflect and relate: An introduction to interpersonal communication. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

    This undergraduate textbook features people’s stories that help illustrate the concepts discussed by the authors. It features many of the same concepts as other texts (self, verbal and nonverbal communication, and listening) but also emphasizes areas of (dis)similarity (e.g., gender and culture), and includes separate chapters on four relationship types (romantic, friends, families, and workplaces).

  • Stewart, John, Karen E. Zediker, and Saskia Witteborn. 2005. Together: Communicating interpersonally. 6th ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This undergraduate text provides an approach that focuses on the creation of shared meaning, the construction of identities, and engagement with others. Whereas it has the features of many texts in this area (e.g., chapters on perception, listening, language, and nonverbal communication), it is distinctive it its approach on the applicability of the ideas to everyday life.

  • Tracy, Karen, and Jessica S. Robles. 2013. Everyday talk: Building and reflecting identities. 2d ed. New York: Guilford Press.

    This text follows a language and social interaction tradition. It offers a book for undergraduates that centers on how people engage with one another in ordinary conversation and how language in particular allows them to develop and express identities and relationships and to learn how it can also be the cause of relational problems.

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