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Subject Social Psychology » Interactional Sociology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


An account, as the term is most commonly used in sociology, refers to statements that explain disruptions in the social and moral order. In this sense, accounts are linguistic devices by which actors attempt to reposition themselves as socially acceptable and morally reputable in the face of imputations of deviance or failure. Although the concept of accounts has roots in C. Wright Mills's 1940 article on “Situated Actions and the Vocabularies of Motives,” in Gresham Sykes and David Matza's 1957 article on “Techniques of Neutralization,” and more generally in the work of Erving Goffman, the term itself was introduced in its distinctive sociological sense by Marvin Scott and Sanford Lyman in their 1968 article, entitled simply “Accounts.” Since roughly the middle 1980s, the concept of accounts has given ground to the closely related concept of narrative. In certain respects, accounts and narratives refer to similar phenomena. Both accounts and narratives are (primarily) forms of talk. Both accounts and narratives call attention to the importance of the social production of meanings in addition to (or, in some instances, instead of) behavior. Both accounts and narratives are key tools in the negotiation of social identities. While no hard and fast distinction can or should be drawn between accounts and narratives, the two terms have, however, typically been used in somewhat different ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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