5.9 Setting and activity-generated categories

So far we have stayed with sequences of actions and set aside the categories that are being generated by the actions by simply using ‘customer’ for all the parties concerned. The temptation from years of schooling in social science may be to jump to categories such as: male/female, consumer/producer, middle class/working class, white/black old/young etc. However what the video recording and the activities give us are a set of categories relevant to the parties concerned.

Q: Returning to the beginning of the recording what are some of the more precise list of the setting-generated categories? Also, note the changes in categories for the participants in relation to one another.


The two customers we see initially have possession of tables and are drinking coffee and reading. The trick here in the question is that there is not such a clear category we could assign to them: 'tabled-coffee-drinkers-readers'. 'Seated' is good enough and will be made relevant later. It is the new customer that is the interesting one because she moves between categories and by doing so then makes relevant certain categorisations of the other customers in the cafe. On her first entrance to the scene with her buggy, looking around, she enters into two incipient categories, one being a new arrival looking for her party to join and the other being a new arrival looking for a table. When she returns from the back of the cafe still looking around she is more clearly a table-seeker (again for lack of a more obvious word at the moment). Her proximity and her turn into the gap between the chairs beside him brings her search for a table as then relevant to those adjoining tables.

Her actions generating that categorisation then also make relevant customer 1's possession of a table, as one of the ‘seated’ customers. At such a point the existing customers and the new arrival go from previously having no pertinent relationship to one another to then having one. The new arrival's search is potentially coming to an end and she progresses from being a table-seeker to being a potential new neighbour. Her buggy with sleeping baby inside takes on a different sort of relevance when she is the neighbour of the two customers, just as it would were they to become residential rather than coffee break neighbours. Momentarily, then, she enters the category of a new settler meeting the established residents. What we then also see becoming relevant are the rights of the existing residents to not so much accept or reject but welcome or shun their new neighbour.