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Author: Susie Scott

This article explores the social and relational aspects of surprise: a reaction to the sudden discovery of unexpected knowledge. Drawing on the micro-sociological perspectives of phenomenology, dramaturgy and symbolic interactionism, I present a five-stage trajectory of this social emotion, charting its emergence, feeling, meaning, responses and function. Surprise emerges from situated encounters when an unexpected incident causes a break in the script. This evokes a subjective experience of flustering and dual consciousness, which separates the actor from their role. The signified meanings of surprise include shifts of biographical identity, changes in power and status, and concerns about the exposure of epistemological naivety. Actors perform expressive gestures of surprise in line with cultural feeling and display rules, using dramaturgical techniques of impression management; these include dramatic realisation and verbal response cries. Team-mates cooperatively enact reparative interaction rituals, such as apologies, token exchange and feigned non-reaction, which restore the normal appearance of a scene. Surprise therefore has the paradoxical quality of being disruptively cohesive. While its immediate expression marks a momentary disturbance, it ultimately functions to maintain interaction order.

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This article considers the intersections between identity and intimate practices for asexual people. Drawing on findings from a project exploring asexual lives, we argue that asexual identification produced consequences for intimate lives in the form of either freedom or foreclosure. Eight perceptions of increased freedom or foreclosure in personal life are discussed. Using Symbolic Interactionist theory, we suggest that these attitudes reflected tendencies towards either introspection or negotiation. In all cases, however, participants drew on conceptions of significant others, real or imagined, and what was considered to be acceptable in intimate relationships. We conclude by highlighting how our argument reminds us of the need to be aware of the relational elements of intimate lives.

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