Norm Violation Exercise

This assignment will make you more aware of the salience of the social norms which control our daily life. It is designed to encourage you to become more critically aware of your social environment.
In the sea of norms in which we live, many norms governing behavior are followed so automatically that we have no conscious knowledge of them. The constraining nature of social norms is not perceived as long as one obeys. Norms are not all equally strict, nor do they all carry the same severity of sanctions. It is only when one attempts to do otherwise — to be deviant — that we become very aware of the existence of social forces. Some of the norms we take for granted are specific; for example, couples are expected to identify themselves as committed to one another, otherwise an unsuspecting single person might define the people as unattached and believe one of them is being flirtatious rather than just friendly. Other norms are vaguely defined; for example, friends are expected to be friendly, but there are no clear rules about what and when they should be doing to demonstrate their friendliness.

If you believe that conducting this experiment may cause injury to yourself in some way, please contact me right away (within one week of the assignment being posted) to discuss an alternative project/ paper.

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Description of Assignment
You must spend some time exploring your own culture. Your goal is to break an informal social norm in front of others, observe reactions (of others — as well as your own), and use this data to discuss the impact of culture and social structure on our lives. This means that you must violate a folkway. Behaving out of the norm for you, as an individual specifically, does not constitute breaking a folkway!! Folkways are general expectations of behavior that are widely accepted, not simply matters of personal expression or style. Do NOT break any laws!! You can learn a lot from small acts of non-normative behavior. Feel free to break a folkway in a kind way (e.g. give away money to strangers). You may learn more from doing something that seems innocuous than from doing something that is obviously going to create a great deal of extra work for someone else (e.g. if a store-keeper reacts negatively to you making a mess that s/he will have to clean up – that is not an interesting finding!). Please keep in mind that this is not an invitation to be deceitful, harass, “punk”, or otherwise emotionally, psychically, or physically injure other/s.
You should conduct your experiment (the same experiment – not different or modified ones) at least two times with different audiences; note — this may vary depending on the norm you violate. You will want to violate the same folkway in 3 different settings to test the impact of social structure on people’s behaviors and feelings. While conducting the breach, try to keep your mind free of expectations and take the opportunity to explore the social world. As you break the norm notice how others respond to this break in normal daily behavior. Also pay close attention to how this experience makes you feel!! I strongly recommend keeping field notes of each time you breach your norm of choice.
Rules for norm violating:
Be safe. This rule overrides all other rules.
You must violate the norm alone (no one else can be violating it with you). However, you can have a friend watch you and make observations.
The behavior you choose may be non-normative across macro American culture or another culture.
You may not harm anyone, including yourself. This includes getting yourself in trouble.
You may NOT disrupt your classes.
You may NOT break any laws.
Write an essay (3 full page minimum, double spaced, 1” margins, 12 pt. font, page #s, creative title!!) describing and analyzing your experience. The majority of your paper (~ 75%) should be devoted to your analysis. An excellent paper will use the data collected from the exercise to highlight the apparent and invisible cultural forces that shape our lives; utilize concepts from course readings to describe and explain your insights; meet the format expectations; and be well-organized and well-written (have clear paragraphs, an introduction and conclusion, avoid grammar and spelling errors). Please make sure to proof-read your work!!

Writing directions:
Your analysis is required to include a detailed discussion and application of the following concepts and theories as they relate to your norm breach:
Part I: Breaking a norm
Pick a (one — not multiple) social norm to break. Break the norm around at least two different groups of people. Break the SAME NORM each time. The groups should differ in some identifiable way; they may differ in age, how well you know them, status, gender, et. al. Only break one norm each time. While violating the norm, act totally normally in every other way. Plan on taking field notes after each norm breaching experience. Include in this section identification of the norm you intentionally violated? Make sure to describe the pre-existing norm clearly and precisely.

Part II: Reactions
1) Describe your own and others’ reactions before, during, and after each violation.
2) What sanctions (negative or positive) did you encounter? How did peoples’ reactions to the breach differ? Were there differences by gender or class or age? How about social setting or time of day? What does this suggest about social behavior?
3) Identify and discuss examples of how your experience relates specifically to (1) Cooley’s Looking Glass Self, (2) Mead’s Generalized Other, and (3) Goffman’s Dramaturgical theories. Do not simply explain these theories — make sure to use example/s from your experiment that demonstrate your understanding of each theory.

Part III: Conclusion
What – sociologically — did you learn from this activity?? What did this experience teach you about social structure and conformity?? Again, make sure to utilize specific sociological concepts in your conclusion.

Part IV: Works Cited
Include a works cited page for any sources you cited.

CAUTION: Because this field exercise involves the conscious manipulation of other people’s feelings and behavior, you must, I repeat MUST, consider others’ feelings, think about the ethics of your behavior, and debrief those people effected by your behavior. In almost all cases, you will need to let them know that you were conducting in a “sociological experiment,” that you are responsible for their feelings and behavior, and that they were being deceived. Because you are responsible, make sure your norm violation is well within the realm of ethics — don’t tread too hard.

EXAMPLES (note – you are not limited to this list!! For more ideas, google “norm breaching experiment ideas.”)
elevator – find an elevator that goes up more than three floors. Violate elevator normative behavior by facing the group in the elevator (as opposed to facing the door). Look at the group in the eyes!! If there is only one person in the elevator, try standing right next to them – instead of spaced away (the expected [normative] behavior)

When you end a call on your phone, don’t say “goodbye” at the end of a conversation
EXAMPLES (note – you are not limited to this list!! For more ideas, google “norm breaching experiment ideas.”)
elevator – find an elevator that goes up more than three floors. Violate elevator normative behavior by facing the group in the elevator (as opposed to facing the door). Look at the group in the eyes!! If there is only one person in the elevator, try standing right next to them – instead of spaced away (the expected [normative] behavior)

When you end a call on your phone, don’t say “goodbye” at the end of a conversation

sit with someone at the library or cafeteria – right next to them. Especially effective when person is sitting at a table alone (where there is ample space to sit farther away)

shop for groceries out of other shoppers’ carts

try to swap food with a stranger, i.e. notebook paper for a sandwich, food that you have for food that they have, etc.

join a conversation with a group of students you don’t know

violate personal space norms – with someone you know, stand much farther back than usual; someone you do not know, stand very close

sit in the backseat of a friend’s car instead of the front passenger seat where you would normally sit

Walk backwards across lighted and clearly marked crosswalks

Talk at the same time as someone you are having a conversation with – instead of the normative taking turns

Make too much eye contact (stare) or too little, talk to others while looking at their shoes, stare at strangers walking past on the sidewalk, blink excessively.

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