Norwegian version

Randall Collins: Conversational Sampling and Micro-Observations in Public Places

An open lecture with one of the most influential theorists in contemporary sociology: What can conversations overheard in public places tell us about society?

Micro-sociology is based on the principle that society is what we observe in social situations; what we metaphorically call social structure is more of the same, spread out in other places.

Key aspects of society can be observed whenever we see people interacting: how they behave when they are together, how they talk, and what identifying signals they give off.

Such data are readily available wherever people are walking, dining outdoors, or talking on their mobile phones.

For the past years, Professor Collins has collected such data by writing down small pieces of conversation overheard in public places. While these often are just fragments of sentences by one or two persons, they have clear social patterns.

Collins contends that such fragments give a fair representation of the kinds of things that people talk about in sociable situations, and that they differ by the social characteristics one can observe by looking at them.

In his talk he will discuss and theorize the conversational patterns he has observed, arguing that they reveal people in informal sociability, forming the building-blocks of networks based on ties of friendship or common interests.

About the speaker

Randall Collins ( is Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley (1969), has served as president of the American Sociological Association (2010-11), and was a founding editor of the theory journals Sociological Theory (1980-84) and Theory and Society (1973-75).

Collins has authored over 20 books, including "Conflict Sociology" (1975), "The Credential Society" (1979), "Four Sociological Traditions" (1994), "The Sociology of Philosophies" (1998), "Interaction Ritual Chains" (2004), and "Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory" (2008).

About the lecture

The lecture is organized by the Centre for the Study of Professions (SPS) as part of the Norwegian Microsociological Networks' inaugural meeting.

The Networks founder, Associate Professor Lars E. F. Johannessen (SPS, Oslo Metropolitan University), will introduce Collins’ lecture.

Professor John Parker from the University of Oslo ( will comment on the lecture.

The event will not be streamed, but the introduction, lecture and comment by Parker will be recorded and published online after the event.


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