Interactional accountability, a concept derived from ethnomethodology, is the foundation of the doing gender perspective. Although often overlooked or misunderstood, it provides the motivation for doing gender, a mechanism for social control, and the link between interaction and social structure. This chapter provides an overview of how accountability has been used in sociology and in scholarship on gender. Accountability involves ongoing orientation to the expectations associated with sex category membership, assessment of behavior, (i.e., the production of accounts that compare behavior to expectations), and enforcement or the interactional consequences of the match between expectations and behavior. Schwalbe’s notion of “nets of accountability” further extends the concept of accountability, illuminating how the embeddedness of interaction in social networks functions to reproduce inequality across time and social context. Although resistance to expectations is always possible, the individual consequences may be substantial. Nonetheless, resistance does occur, and points the way to how gender can change. Further development of work on accountability requires attention to the ongoing, back-and-forth nature of interactional processes.
- Doing gender
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It follows that people’s accounts for their behavior may not provide a transparent window on their actual motives. “Explanations for action are not the freely created products of introspection, nor yet depiction of the psychological well-springs of action. On the contrary, they are occasioned and produced under specific circumstances and their content is specifically social in being tied to particular roles and institutions and in being subject to alteration as a product of historical change” (Heritage, 1983, 118). Accounts can therefore be seen as an indicator not of any kind of “truth” or “reality,” but of the situation’s normative accountability structure.
Side bets include respect from significant others, feelings of purpose and independence, group memberships, friendships, enjoyable leisure activities, and so on; see Schwalbe 2016.
Note that “sex category” refers not to biological characteristics but to the “ongoing identification of person as girls or boys and women or men in everyday life” (West and Fenstermaker 1995a, 20)—that is, to the category to which one is perceived by others to belong. The doing gender approach thus does not reify sex categories, but understands them to be interactional constructs.
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My thanks to Lauren Charles Stewart for her contributions to the early stages of this chapter.
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Hollander, J.A. (2018). Interactional Accountability. In: Risman, B., Froyum, C., Scarborough, W. (eds) Handbook of the Sociology of Gender. Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-76333-0_13
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