Until now, social science research has generally investigated emotions in and with crowds and masses. The uncertainties that arise when individuals wait in line offer, in contrast, an approach to the question of how emotions are involved in the formation of social order that has hardly been applied to date.
Fairness prevails wherever there are waiting lines—or so we generally think. A waiting line relieves individuals of having to negotiate a fair order themselves. Consequently, it allows them to behave passively for the most part—or to engage in other activities while waiting. The price for this predetermined order is that fairness criteria that cannot be reconciled with a waiting line (for example, performance, market position, or social background) are excluded. So if waiting lines strain the sense of justice of the people standing in them, it is because those in the line perceive a threat from outside the line. Anyone who violates the order of a waiting line, so the assumption, prioritizes a different principle of justice and introduces it covertly into the line.
Those who hold this view claim that waiting lines permit only one principle of justice. Violations and cutting in are the exceptions that prove this rule to be unambiguous and fair. But this interpretation allows an alternative and opposing conceptualization that has as its starting point the following observation.
Accusing another person of having jumped the line is a serious matter. It often means that those accused deny there is a waiting line ("Which line?"). In this respect, the person referring to the order of the waiting line risks engaging in a conflict about an uncertain object with an uncertain outcome. But even though an independent authority is rarely present and even though such a conflict in general cannot be resolved through discussion, these situations rarely escalate. So how is annoyance or anger, processed here? How are emotions transformed and how does this transformation relate to the formation of social order?
Somehow, the people involved know how to accommodate to a waiting line. While the mere fact of annoying (perceived) time spent waiting in a line is not a problem to explain in terms of conventional sociology, research so far lacks an understanding of how individuals manage emotions while they are waiting. Addressing this gap promises to bring research on emotions closer and more systematically to an understanding of situations in which concepts of justice are actively made apparent. Moreover, this allows conflicts that are analytically difficult to grasp but important for the formation of social order to be investigated within a manageable framework—conflicts in which different concepts of justice largely collide with each other in silence. How can this mode of conflict resolution be characterized more precisely? What induces the parties involved to cooperate with each other? Which activities do they engage in to determine the limits of the waiting line?
These questions can be dealt with only when the normative activities of those involved take precedence over a fixed rule and passive compliance with it. People waiting in a line themselves actively combine different normative claims into uncertain, compromising, and contestable mixtures. In fact, conflicts in and about waiting lines typically result in a temporary (undebated) "standing still". People accommodate to the situation somehow without having the expectation that this kind of conflict will take a different course the next time.
If this contrasting perspective, which illuminates the impositions of normative work, appears plausible, then waiting lines can be characterized as a democratic milieu, even though they exist of course in authoritarian states. Whether feeling angry in and with waiting lines can be taken seriously is decisive for this conceptual change. Anyone who takes up this idea can recognize some aspects of the robustness and fragility of democratic structures in the example of the waiting line and analyze these aspects in a specific situation.
This outlines the framework of an investigation which will proceed in two stages. First, the project will explore the objections, in terms of emotion theory, to conventional research on waiting lines. Second, several sub-projects will give consideration to the diversity, spread, and distribution of waiting lines and attempt to identify characteristic democratic milieus in them.