Robert Prus

Adjunct Professor

Robert Prus

D.Literature (Honoris Causa) Brandon University
PhD (Iowa)
MA (Iowa)
BA (Manitoba)

Research and teaching areas

While my research transcends a wide variety of terrains, I have very much worked out of the Chicago School of symbolic interaction. In addition to benefiting immensely from the theoretical foundations, empirical research, and community of scholars associated with this tradition, I’ve been fortunate in having had opportunities to embark on several ethnographic studies as well as having interests in developing more theoretically oriented materials that deal with issues related to human knowing and acting.

Thus, in addition to studying the activities and life-worlds of the clergy, parole officers, card and dice hustlers, the people who constitute the hotel community, salespeople and consumers, magicians, and economic development officers, I have given considerable attention to the development of a series of “generic social processes” that allow researchers and scholars to transcend and develop comparative analysis of human group life across all manners of situations. This has meant examining such things as people becoming involved in situations, acquiring perspectives or worldviews, developing identities and reputations, doing activity (as in managing impressions, experiencing influence work, making commitments), generating and sustaining relationships, achieving linguistic fluencies, experiencing emotionality, and developing and coordinating associations.

Because interactionist theory, methods, and research consistently focus on human group life in the making, it has been fairly easy to move back and forth between field research, ethnohistorical materials, and more sustained theoretical matters. Thus, since 1998, I have been involved in the study of the developmental flows and disjunctures of development of pragmatist social thought from the classical Greeks (circa 700-300BCE) to the present time. While this has meant following developments in rhetoric, religious studies, poetics, philosophy, education, and friendship over that time, the more pervasive question has been one of asking what we might learn about human knowing and acting in more sustained transcontextual and transhistorical terms.

As well (and as part of the broader “Greek project”), over the past few years I have been developing a text (tentatively entitled) Emile Durkheim’s Pragmatist Sociology and Philosophy of Knowing. Although Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) is best known as a structuralist, a functionalist, and often is referenced as a positivist, this statement focuses on the highly consequential but much neglected "pragmatist sociology" that Durkheim addresses most notably in the latter stages (1902-1914) of his career. In developing this material, Durkheim provides a particularly valuable historical-developmental dimension to pragmatist social thought along with a pronounced emphasis on the collectively achieved nature of human knowing and acting. Durkheim does not explicitly denounce the 1890s texts for which he is best known but adopts a theoretical viewpoint that is notably consistent with that of GH Mead and Herbert Blumer. Durkheim also insists that the principal methods of sociology are history and ethnography, accompanied by sustained comparative analysis.

Teaching areas:

  • social psychology
  • symbolic interaction
  • social theory
  • ethnographic research
  • deviance
  • sociology of knowing and acting
  • pragmatist social theory from the classical Greeks onward (including philosophy, rhetoric, poetics, ethnohistory, religion, and education)

Selected Publications


  • 2017 “Kenneth Burke’s Dramatistic Pragmatism: A Missing Link between Classical Greek Scholarship and the Interactionist Study of Human Knowing and Acting.” Qualitative Sociology Review 13 (2):6-58. [open access]

  • 2015 “Aristotle's Theory of Deviance and Contemporary Symbolic Interactionist Scholarship: Learning from the Past, Extending the Present, and Engaging the Future.” The American Sociologist 46 (1): 122-167. [open access]

  • 2015 “Instructional Ventures: A Pragmatist Research Agenda for Studying Education in the Making” (Robert Prus and Arthur McLuhan) Sage Open April-June: 1-14.

  • 2015 “Religious Beliefs, Practices, and Representations as Humanly Enacted Realities: Lucian (circa 120-200) Addresses Sacrifices, Death, Divinity, and Fate.” Qualitative Sociology Review 11 (4):6-37. [open access]

  • 2014 “Engaging Love, Divinity, and Philosophy: Pragmatism, Personification, and AutoEthnographic Motifs in the Humanist Poetics of Brunetto Latini, Dante Alighieri, and Giovanni Boccaccio.” Qualitative Sociology Review 10 (3):6-46. [open access]

  • 2013     “Aristotle’s Theory of Education: Enduring Lessons in Pragmatist Scholarship.” Pp. 325-343 in Jacqueline Lowe and Gary Bowden (editors), The Chicago School Diaspora: Epistemology and Substance. Montréal & Kingston, Ontario: McGill-Queens University Press.

  • 2013 Generating, Intensifying, and Redirecting Emotionality: Conceptual and Ethnographic Implications of Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” Qualitative Sociology Review 9(4):6-42. [open access]

  • 2013 “Love, Despair, and Resiliency: Ovid’s Contributions to an Interactionist Analysis of Intimate Relations.” Qualitative Sociology Review 9 (3):124-151.

  • 2013 “Representing, Defending, and Questioning Religion: Pragmatist Sociological Motifs in Plato’s Timaeus, Phaedo, Republic, and Laws.” Qualitative Sociology Review 9 (1):8-42.

  • 2012 “On the Necessity of Re-engaging the Classical Greek and Latin Literatures: Lessons from Emile Durkheim’s The Evolution of Educational Thought.” The American Sociologist 43:172-202.
  • 2011 “Religion, Platonist Dialectics, and Pragmatist Analysis: Marcus Tullius Cicero’s Contributions to the Philosophy and Sociology of Divine and Human Knowing.” Qualitative Sociology Review 7 (3):1-30.
  • 2011 “Defending Education and Scholarship in the Classical Greek Era: Pragmatist Motifs in the Works of Plato (c420-348BCE) and Isocrates (c436-338BCE).” Qualitative Sociology Review 7 (1): 1-35.
  • 2011 “Examining Community Life “in the Making”: Emile Durkheim's Moral Education.” The American Sociologist 42 (1): 56-111.
  • 2011 “Morality, Deviance, and Regulation: Pragmatist Motifs in Plato's Republic and Laws.” Qualitative Sociology Review 7 (2): 1-44.  
  • 2011 “On the Processes and Problematics of Representing Divinity: Dio Chrysostom (c40-120) and the Pragmatist Motif.” Pp. 205-221 in Barbara Jones Denison, editor. History, Time, Meaning, and Memory: Ideas for the Sociology of Religion. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
  • 2010 “Creating, Sustaining, and Contesting Definitions of Reality: Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43BCE) as a Pragmatist Theorist and Analytic Ethnographer.” Qualitative Sociology Review 6 (2): 3-50.
  • 2010 “Ethnographic Comparisons, Complexities and Conceptualities: Generic Social Processes and the Pragmatic Accomplishment of Group Life.” Comparative Sociology 9: 496-527.
  • 2010 “Ethnographic Inquiry and Comparative Analysis: a Reply to Jörg Niewöhner and Thomas Scheffer.” Comparative Sociology 9:537-543.
  • 2010 “Ethnographic Trailblazers: Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon.” (Robert Prus and Matthew Burk) Qualitative Sociology Review 6 (3): 3-28.
  • 2010 “Love, Friendship, and Disaffection in Plato and Aristotle: Toward a Pragmatist Analysis of Interpersonal Relationships.” (Robert Prus and Fatima Camara)  Qualitative Sociology Review 6 (3): 29-62.
  • 2009 "Engaging Technology: A Missing Link in the Sociological Study of Human Knowing and Acting." (Robert Prus and Richard G. Mitchell, Jr.). Qualitative Sociology Review 5 (2): 17-53.
  • 2009 “American Pragmatism: Examining Everyday Life ‘in the making’” (Robert Prus and Antony Puddephatt). Pp. 69-92 in Michael Hviid Jacobsen (editor) Encountering the Everyday. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • 2009 “Poetic Expressions and Human Enacted Realities: Plato and Aristotle Engage Pragmatist Motifs in Greek Fictional Representations.” Qualitative Sociology Review 5 (1) 3-27.
  • 2009 “Reconceptualizing the Study of Community Life: Emile Durkheim’s Pragmatism and Sociology.” The American Sociologist 40:106-146.
  • 2008 “Aristotle’s Rhetoric: A Pragmatist Analysis of Persuasive Interchange.” Qualitative Sociology Review 4 (2): 24-62.
  • 2008 “Authenticity, Activity, and Conceptuality: Generating a Pluralist, Humanist, and Enduring Social Science.” Studies in Symbolic Interaction 32: 19-36.
  • 2008 “The Myth of the Independent Variable: Reconceptualizing Class, Gender, Race, and Age as Subcultural Processes.” (Scott Grills and Robert Prus). The American Sociologist 39 (1): 19-37.
  • 2008 “On the Pragmatics and Problematics of Defining Beauty and Character: The Greek Poet Lucian (120-200) Engages Exacting Portraitures and Difficult Subjects.” Qualitative Sociology Review 4 (1): 3-20.
  • 2008 Writing History for Eternity: Lucian’s (c120-200) Contributions to Pragmatist Scholarship and Ethnographic Analysis.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 37 (1): 62-78.
  • 2007 “Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: Laying the Foundations for a Pragmatist Consideration of Human Knowing and Acting.” Qualitative Sociology Review 3 (2): 5-45.
  • 2007 “Causality, Agency, and Reality: Plato and Aristotle Meet G. H. Mead and Herbert Blumer.” (Antony Puddephatt and Robert Prus). Sociological Focus 40 (3): 265-286.
  • 2007 “Human Memory, Social Process, and the Pragmatist Metamorphosis: Ethnological Foundations, Ethnographic Contributions and Conceptual Challenges.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36 (4): 378-437.
  • 2007 “The Intellectual Canons of a Public Sociology: Pragmatist Foundations, Historical Extensions, and Humanly Engaged Realities.” Pp. 195-235 in Lawrence T. Nichols (ed.) Public Sociology: The Contemporary Debate. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.  
  • 2007 “Marketplaces as Realms of Activity: Arrangements, Ambiguities, and Adjustments: A Comment on Charles W. Smith.” Canadian Journal of Sociology    32 (4):  491-501.
  • 2007 “On Studying Ethnologs (Not just People, ‘Societies in Miniature’): On the Necessities of Ethnography, History, and Comparative Analysis.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36 (6): 669-703.
  • [Also in 2007]  Steven Kleinknecht…"An Interview with Robert Prus: His Career, Contributions, and Legacy as an Interactionist Ethnographer and Social Theorist” Qualitative Sociology Review 3 (2): 221-288.
  • 2006 “In Defense of Knowing, In Defense of Doubting: Cicero Engages Totalizing Skepticism, Sensate Materialism, and Pragmatist Realism in Academica.” Qualitative Sociological Review 2 (3): 21-47.
  • 2005 “Terrorism, Tyranny, and Religious Extremism as Collective Activity: Beyond the Deviant, Psychological, and Power Mystiques.”  The American Sociologist 36 (1): 47-74.
  • 2004 “Gambling as Activity: Subcultural Life-Worlds, Personal Intrigues, and Persistent Involvements.” The Electronic Journal of Gambling 10 (February) ISSN: 1494-5185 (prints out to 20 pages in PDF format)
  • 2004 “Symbolic Interaction and Classical Greek Scholarship: Conceptual Foundations, Historical Continuities, and Transcontextual Relevancies.” The American Sociologist 35 (1): 5-33.
  • 2003 “Ancient Forerunners.” Pp. 19-38 in Larry T. Reynolds and Nancy J. Herman-Kinney (eds.), Handbook of Symbolic Interactionism. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira.
  • 2003 “Policy as a Collective Venture: A Symbolic Interactionist Approach to the Study of Organizational Directives.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 23 (6): 13-60.


  • 2012 Einführung in die interaktionistisch Ethnografie: Soziologie im Außendienst [Introduction to interactionist Ethnography: Sociology in the Field] (Michael Dellwing and Robert Prus) VS Verlag für Socialwissenshaften | Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, Germany.
  • Road Hustler: The Career Contingencies of Professional Card and Dice Hustlers. (Robert Prus and C.R.D. Sharper) Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books (D.C. Heath), 1977.
  • Hookers, Rounders, and Desk Clerks: The Social Organization of the Hotel Community. (Robert Prus and Styllianoss Irini). Toronto, Ontario: Gage, 1980 & Reprinted by Sheffield Press (Salem, Wisconsin) 1988.
  • Pursuing Customers: An Ethnography of Marketing Activities. Newbury Park, California: Sage, 1989.
  • Making Sales: Influence as Interpersonal Accomplishment. Newbury Park, California: Sage, 1989.
  • Road Hustler: Grifters, Magic, and the Thief Subculture. (Robert Prus and C.R.D. Sharper). New York: Kaufman and Greenberg. Reprint of the 1977 edition of Road Hustler with an extended epilogue, 1991.
  • Doing Everyday Life: Ethnography as Human Lived Experience. (Co-edited collection, with Mary Lorenz Dietz and William Shaffir). Toronto, Ontario: Copp Clark Longman, 1994.
  • Symbolic Interaction and Ethnographic Research: Intersubjectivity and the Study of Human Lived Experience. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1996.
  • Subcultural Mosaics and Intersubjective Realities: An Ethnographic Research Agenda for Pragmatizing the Social Sciences. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1997.
  • Beyond the Power Mystique: Power as Intersubjective Accomplishment. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1999.
  • The Deviant Mystique: Involvements, Realities, and Regulation (Robert Prus and Scott Grills). Westport, CT: Praeger [Greenwood] Press. 2003

Current projects

At present, I am working on a series of projects. These include:

  • Social Theory from the Early Greeks to the present time: Examining Pragmatist thought in rhetoric, theology, poetics [fiction], education, philosophy, and ethnohistory
  • Emile Durkheim’s Pragmatist Sociology and Philosophy of Knowing
  • Management in the Making: A Research Agenda for Studying Organizational Interchange
  • Economic Development as Generic Social Processes: Attending to the Images, Activities and Interchanges of Developers, Realtors, and Investors
  • Consumer Behaviour as Activity: An Ethnographic Examination of the Shopping Subculture