In This Article 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: 23 February 2011
  • 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 real-life contexts, such as doctor-patient relationships, 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., those who align themselves with the area often 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. They also help to reveal the range of real-life contexts studied by social interaction researchers. Some, such as Beebe and Masterson 2008 and Gastil 2010, focus on interaction in small groups; others, such as Canary, et al. 2008, Floyd 2009, and Stewart, et al. 2005, emphasize interpersonal interaction. Additionally, Galvin, et al. 2007 focuses on the family, Martin and Nakayama 2009 emphasizes intercultural interaction, and Eisenberg, et al. 2009 includes important discussions of interactions in organizations and other institutions.

  • Beebe, Steven A., and John T. Masterson. 2008. Communicating in small groups: Principles and practices. 9th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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    This text is in its ninth edition, and 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.

  • Canary, Daniel J., Michael J. Cody, and Valerie L. Manusov. 2008. Interpersonal communication: A goals-based approach. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford.

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    This text is geared toward senior undergraduate students and takes a research-heavy focus on a range of topics directly or indirectly tied to social interaction. It focuses, for example, on conflict; compliance gaining; account making; facework; and relationship development, maintenance, and decline.

  • Eisenberg, Eric M., H. L. Goodall, and Angela Tretheway. 2009. Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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    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. 2009. Interpersonal communication: The whole story. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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    This 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 influence on social interaction.

  • Galvin, Kathleen M., Carma L. Byland, and Bernard J. Brommel. 2007. Family communication: Cohesion and change. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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    This undergraduate textbook presents the family as a communication system with identifiable interaction patterns. The authors work specifically to relate communication theories to family interaction. 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.

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    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. 2009. Intercultural communication in contexts. 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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    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.

  • Stewart, John, Karen E. Zediker, and Saskia Witteborn. 2005. Together: Communicating interpersonally. 6th ed. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

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    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.

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