Call for Papers Special Issue "Social Worlds, Arenas, and Situational Analyses: Theoretical Debates and Practical Research Experiences"


Social worlds/arenas theory as developed by STRAUSS (1978, 1982a, 1982b) forms part of the social-ecological and relational tradition of Chicago School sociology. It is an essential component in the theory/methods package of situational analysis (CLARKE, FRIESE & WASHBURN, 2018), an extension of grounded theory methodology and symbolic interactionism (ibid., see also CLARKE & STAR, 2008). In situational analysis, social worlds are regarded as "universe[s] of discourse" (MEAD, 1934, p.282), which constitute "relationships of orientation, communication, knowledge, expression, and work"[1] (SCHÜTZE, 2016a, p.75, drawing on STRAUSS, 2017 [1993]), and which address the formation of specific work and problem relationships. Working with this definition, social worlds are places for the exchange of specialized knowledge (as distinguished from common knowledge) which is implicated in the definition of and approach to specific types of problems. Here the roots and the application of the theory in organisational and professional studies are laid bare. Social worlds/arenas theory has largely remained in use in these domains, both in the US and in Germany, but was also later taken up and further developed in science and technology studies (CLARKE & STAR, 2008; SCHÜTZE, 2016a, 2016b). Here, it is important to distinguish between the action- and social theoretical concept of the social world and that of other concepts, e.g., "life-world," "common-sense world," and "we-community" (SCHÜTZE, 2016b, p.89). At the same time, there is an elective affinity between social worlds theory and other approaches to the analysis of collective action, e.g., BORDIEU's field analysis (DIAZ-BONE, 2013). Important to the potential of social worlds theory for analyses of field and figuration is the concept of the arena: SCHÜTZE (2016b, p.90) wrote that it is in arenas that "conflict and competition play out between (holders of) different opinions regarding the authenticity and legitimacy both of the activities of the social world (including the discursive construction of these) and of its productive-innovative future orientation."

The conceptual appeal of social worlds/arenas theory lies also in its scalability and adaptability to the object of investigation. It can be used to deal with socio-spatially and historically wide-ranging topics and questions as well as with situations of interaction of spatially and temporally more limited scope. The pragmatist-interactionist theory tradition has proven highly compatible with poststructuralist and practice-theoretical approaches for the examination of the formation of social order, with its entanglement of discourses and practices (STRÜBING, 2007). Discussions of theory at these intersections are particularly fruitful, raising questions about practice-theoretical inspirations for pragmatist theory-building as well as about pragmatist inspirations for practice-theoretical work (DIETZ, NUNGESSER & PETTENKOFER, 2017).

In this FQS special issue we aim to provide a space for debates on the topic of social worlds/arenas theory and to collect practical research experiences of working with situational analysis. Among others, we welcome discussions of the following questions:

  • For the analysis what types of empirical phenomena is social worlds/arenas theory suitable? What application might it have for the analysis of collectives which are not organised in terms of professional affiliation? What significance might it have for, e.g., research into social movements?
  • How much empirical analysis is necessary in order to define a phenomenon as a social world? What is the relationship between theoretical assumptions and empirical elaboration when trying to determine when the theory of social worlds/arenas should be used as a "sensitising" rather than a "definitive" concept (BLUMER, 1954, p.7)?
  • What types of advantages and challenges accompany the empirical analysis of social worlds and arenas?
  • How can the relationship between social worlds and other social entities be understood conceptually and empirically?
  • To what theoretical concepts might social worlds/arenas theory be connected, and where might there be meaningful possibilities for extension (e.g., subjectivation theory)? How is social worlds/arenas theory to be understood in light of practice-theoretical debates, posthumanist approaches, ethnomethodological, or other interaction-theoretical perspectives?
  • To what extent do basic assumptions underlying social worlds/arenas theory, such as relationality, provide links to other theories? How might these be used, e.g., to render more precisely the concepts of situation and space?
  • How is the practice of situational analysis shaped by specific traditions of doing research, such as the German-speaking emphasis on hermeneutic traditions of interpretation?
  • How is collectivity conceptualized in social worlds/arenas theory? What significance do objects and materialities acquire, conceived of, e.g., as "boundary objects" or "boundary infrastructures" (BOWKER, TIMMERMANS, CLARKE & BALKA, 2015, pp.171ff. and 377ff.)? To what concept of the public sphere does this give rise?
  • In what ways does social worlds/arena theory resemble and differ from other social theoretical proposals for the analysis of late modern societies, such as BOURDIEU's concept of field (BOURDIEU & WACQUANT, 1992) or the concept of assemblage (DELEUZE & GUATTARI, 1987 [1980])?

With this non-exhaustive list of questions, we invite theoretical, empirical, and methodological exchanges on the topics of social worlds/arenas and situational analyses. We welcome abstracts from various fields/disciplines which address these and other questions relevant to the topics.


Deadline for abstracts (ca. 1,000 words): March 15, 2022

Notification of accepted abstracts: mid-April

Deadline for completed manuscripts: June 15, 2022

Publication of special issue: early 2023

Abstracts and contributions may be submitted in English or in German and should follow the Submission Preparation Checklist ( Please include your contact details and mail your contribution to

In addition, we invite you to participate in an online workshop on the subject of social worlds/arenas theory and situational analyses hosted by the University of Tübingen, Department of Qualitative Methods and Interpretive Social Research, April 6, 2022 (9:00-15:00 CEST) and April 7, 2022 (9:00-12:00 CEST). More information is available here.

For questions about the special issue or participation in the workshop, please feel free to contact one of us.

Guest Editors (in alphabetical order)

Renate Baumgartner, University of Tübingen:

Sarah B. Evans-Jordan, Norwegian University of Science and Technology:

Birte Kimmerle, University of Tübingen:

Ursula Offenberger, University of Tübingen:

Tamara Schwertel, University of Mainz:

Olaf Tietje, University of Munich:


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[1] All translations from non-English texts are ours.