Responding to Roommate Troubles: Reconsidering Informal Dyadic Control


  • I would like to thank Tiffani Chin, Amy Denissen, Jim Holstein, Curtis Jackson-Jacobs, Jack Katz, Elizabeth Joniak, Leslie Paik, Carol Warren, and Sal Zerilli for their help, comments, and criticisms on various drafts of these materials. My late friend and colleague, Mel Pollner, provided immensely supportive suggestions and advice on innumerable occasions. Please address correspondence to Robert M. Emerson, Department of Sociology, 264 Haines Hall, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1551; e-mail:


Existing analyses of informal control within dyadic relations neglect the nonpenal responses that characterize many such control efforts, and they give minimal attention to the interactional and interpretive processes that characterize such responses. And while dispute transformation provides a well-developed model of the development of dyadic disputes, this model is limited in prespecifying “injury” as the starting point for these processes and in neglecting informal reactions other than “claiming.” Integrating theories of informal control and dispute transformation, this article provides a case study analyzing the nature and processes of informal reactions to troubles involving college roommates, identifying three general categories of such response: managerial reactions, which involve unilateral, nonconfrontational efforts to manage the consequences or implications of the trouble or to change indirectly the troubling behavior; complaint-making reactions, where the troubled party attempts to get the other to change the disturbing behavior; and distancing and punitive reactions, which are relationally despairing responses marked by open confrontation and hostility.