From The New York Times:
Could adults gossiping in the office be more devious than the teenagers in “Gossip Girl”? If you have a hard time believing this, then you must have skipped the latest issue of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Perhaps you saw “ethnography” and assumed it would just be quaint reports from the Amazon and the South Seas. But this time enthnographers have returned from the field with footage of a truly savage native ritual: teachers at an elementary school in the Midwest dishing about their principal behind her back. These are rare records of “gossip episodes,” which have been the subject of a long-running theoretical debate among anthropologists and sociologists. One side, the functionalist school, sees gossip as a useful tool for enforcing social rules and maintaining group solidarity. The other school sees gossip more as a hostile endeavor by individuals selfishly trying to advance their own interests.
But both schools have spent more time theorizing than observing gossipers in their natural habitats. Until now, their flow charts of gossips’ conversations (where would social science be without flow charts?) have been largely based on studies in informal settings, like the casual conversations recorded in a German housing project and in the cafeteria of an American middle school.