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Of yarmulkes and categories: Delegating boundaries and the phenomenology of interactional expectation

Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, this article delineates a process through which members of an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles unintentionally delegate boundary work and membership-identification to anonymous others in everyday life. Living in the midst of a non-Jewish world, orthodox men are often approached by others, both Jews and non-Jews, who categorize them as “religious Jews” based on external marks such as the yarmulke and attire. These interactions, varying from mundane interactions to anti-Semitic incidents, are then tacitly anticipated by members even when they are not attending to their “Jewishness”—when being a “Jew” is interactionally invisible. Through this case, I argue that, in addition to conceptualizing boundaries and identifications as either emerging in performance or institutionally given and stable, the study of boundaries should also chart the sites in which members anticipate categorization and the way these anticipations play out in everyday life.

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