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U of C prof Manzo started out by studying juries' conversations.
Chris Pederson/The Gauntlet

Prof studies changing face of human interaction

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In the era of Facebook, MSN Messenger, MySpace and instant messaging, many sociologists believe face-to-face interactions are declining, making society increasingly anti-social.

University of Calgary associate professor John Manzo believes otherwise.

"We are seeing daily social interactions in the public sphere move into the private sphere," says Manzo. "What we have to consider is these new interactions and their social importance."

Manzo grew up in Chicago and received his undergraduate degree in history from Reed College in 1986. He moved on to the University of Wisconsin to pursue his masters and PhD in sociology.

"I was the first individual in my family to attend university," says Manzo. "I always considered myself as an outsider looking in -- interacting with kids from the right side of the track while I stood on the left."

"Being this marginal man who is stuck in between two worlds naturally drew me into the field of sociology -- I was interested in human social life in a very fine grain way."

Manzo has studied everyday social communication since his dissertation, in which he examined the conversational practices of jurors. He particularly examined how ordinary people attempt to become legal professionals in their interactions.

In 1997, Manzo immigrated to Canada to be with his life partner in Toronto and is now a proud Canadian citizen.

Manzo served as a sessional instructor at the University of Toronto until 2000, when he "got tired of the sessional track" and was hired by the U of C.

"My research focus has grown and changed as I have. While I always had a focus on micro level interactions, I've looked at jurors, communities and private security."

Manzo's focus on mall cops in the private security sector led him into the new era of social interactions occurring within malls and other spaces.

"Human beings are adaptable. We lead organic social lives in a new way and at the same time, are resurrecting old ways. We have created hybridized spaces for communication to take place."

Coffee houses, Manzo argues, are an example of these new spaces.

"Surging growth of coffee houses bears sociological perspective. Meaningful social experiences occur there around coffee, something that is very sensual and real."

Manzo is busy working on Evolving Spaces, a new book focused on hybridized spaces, and teaching. He is also preparing for a talk at the TEDxYYC conference in late January, which will address the exchange of ideas.

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