Norm Violation - Assignment Example

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Social norms play an important role in our society. They help create and maintain social solidarity. We are all socialized from birth onward in our families of origin as well as through our contact with social institutions, so that we are well aware of the norms expected in most situations…
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Norm Violation Assignment
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Social norms play an important role in our society. They help create and maintain social solidarity. We are all socialized from birth onward in ourfamilies of origin as well as through our contact with social institutions, so that we are well aware of the norms expected in most situations. For this assignment, I chose to break a norm in a familiar setting, where we would be expected to be fully aware of the expected norms. The setting I chose was the grocery store. By the time we are in college, we are cognizant of the behavior expected in a shopping setting. As we grocery shop, we know that we’re expected to keep to ourselves, keep our voice down, keep our carts and bodies out of the way of others, and efficiently move through the store as we shop. At the conclusion of our shopping excursion, we are to wait in line at the cash register without drawing attention to ourselves, pay, and leave. Grocery shopping is a mundane experience, and one of the other norms of the event is to go about the excursion without expressing much emotion. We do not unnecessarily interact with other shoppers; we limit our interactions to nods, brief exchanges about equally mundane topics, and smiling and greeting one another. I decided to break the norm of interaction and emotive expression. I decided on the norm while observing shoppers at the grocery store. Grocery shopping is such a commonplace activity that one rarely considers appropriate behavior. But once we got this assignment, I began to try to use my sociological imagination and be aware of the unspoken norms in public spaces. I noticed that everyone was quietly going about their shopping, and keeping to themselves. It was almost as if shoppers pretended they were the only people in the store. The only time they acknowledged another shopper was out of necessity: both were trying to get through the same aisle going in different directions, or one shopper had to get around another. Otherwise, everyone quietly went about their tasks. The expressions on everyone’s faces were neutral. There was no emotion displayed by anyone throughout the time I observed in the store, which was more than an hour. When I set about completing this assignment, I chose a store where I normally do not shop. This grocery store is not near where I live, work, or go to school. I did this so I wouldn’t encounter anyone I knew. This served both as protection for me socially as well as protection for the assignment. I didn’t want to see someone I knew and be tempted to chicken out of breaking the norm. The store I chose was a large, comprehensive, chain grocery store. It is the same chain I typically do my shopping in near my home. Thus, the store layout was the same. I knew how the typical procedures and peculiarities of the store. The clientele were similar in demographics to the store in my neighborhood: diverse both in racial and socioeconomic breakdown. I chose to violate my norm during a busy shopping time, but not a peak shopping hour. I made this decision because if it were too busy, my data might be altered. But if were there were not enough people in the store, I wouldn’t be able to gather enough data. I also needed enough people in the store so that I had customers with which to interact. But not so many people that my behavior went unnoticed. I decided ahead of time that I would exercise ‘inappropriate celebration’ in order to violate a social norm. Typically, we go about our shopping and we make very little expression of delight or dismay. We may internally be happy or unhappy with prices, timing, or other factors, but we tend to keep this information to ourselves. I decided to express an inappropriate level of elation during this shopping trip. Prior to beginning my experiment, I was very nervous. Even though I had mentally rehearsed some things I could do, I found that when I was in the store with so many people around, I was very nervous. This made me even more pleased that I had not chosen a peak shopping time. The first instance of norm violation was in the produce section. I positioned myself at the apples a couple of feet away from another shopper and across from a third shopper. I almost chickened out, but then I cleared my throat and said loudly, “Apples are on sale? All right! Yeah!” The shopper next to me glanced at me, but then she shook her head and went back to her own apple selection. I looked directly at the middle-aged male across from me and said, “Hey, man, can you believe the great prices on these apples? This is great, right?” The man considered me for a minute and then nodded and said, “Sure.” I kept smiling widely, and turned to the lady next to me, also middle-aged, and said, “Are you seeing this? Whoo!” She frowned at me, grabbed her cart, and walked away. My heart was pounding throughout the entire exchange, and I found it hard to keep smiling and acting excited about the apples. As I walked away from the area, I could feel my cheeks flushed hot with embarrassment. It was much harder than I had imagined it might be to break this norm. Next, I walked over to the cereal aisle. A young mother was in the aisle talking with her toddler and young son. I positioned myself a couple feet away and worked up my nerve. Then I said loudly, “All right! They have my favorite cereal! Can you believe it? It’s my lucky day!” I jumped up in the air a little, even though I felt ridiculous. Then I turned to the lady and said, “High five, man!” She looked at me in horror and recoiled. So, I leaned down to the little boy and said, “High five! Dap it out!” The little boy was smiling and laughing, and he happily put his palm up to mine and slapped them together. His mother snatched his hand and drug him away muttering to the boy about “strangers” and “how many times have I told you?” After two instances of suffering social sanction for my excessive celebrating and interacting with other shoppers, I was shaky. I found it very difficult to keep pushing my cart around the store as though I didn’t realize I’d upset the other shoppers. I had to keep acting as though I thought my behavior was acceptable, but inside I was anxious and uneasy. I headed to ice cream aisle. I walked over to a case and picked up a carton of rocky road ice cream. I took a deep breath and thrust the ice cream above my head, emitted a celebratory shout, and ran a make-shift victory lap around the frozen foods section. As I trotted, I smiled at the other shoppers and said, “They have my ice cream!” I held up my hand for high fives. A couple men in the store laughed and one even put up his palm for a high five. The women shied away from me, clutched their children closer, and some even exited the aisle. I overheard an older lady tell her husband, “I’m telling you: they’re all on drugs these days!” and she made him abandon their cart in the aisle and leave. After my lap, I had to keep smiling and acting like I didn’t realize my behavior was strange. I kissed the ice cream container, placed it in the cart, and exited the aisle. My hands shook as I wrapped them around the handle of the cart, but I smiled and waved to the other shoppers as I made my exit. My final violation was out the check-out counter. My stomach was in knots, and I couldn’t wait to exit the store and be finished with this assignment. Thankfully, I did not have to wait in line. I’m not sure I could’ve pulled off a close-up violation while standing in line, so I was doubly thankful. But I did do a fist pump and yell, “No line! All right!” The cashier smiled and said, “Glad we could make your day, sir!” I smiled and laughed as I unloaded my three items onto the conveyor belt. She rang up my items and gave me my total. I reached into my pocket and found exact change. So, I let out a shout of glee and said, “Exact change! Yeah!” I high fived the cashier, who laughed openly at my antics. I also turned around to the older man behind me and said, “Put ‘em up! Exact change!” The man kind of looked confused, but he participated in my celebration by meekly raising his hand. The older lady in the checkout lane next to me, however, frowned at me. The middle aged man in the checkout behind me actually “sshhed” me. I paid the cashier, grabbed my bags, and hurried out of the store, thankful to be finished violating norms. Although most of our social norms are unspoken, they are a powerful means of social control. Even nonverbal sanctions are very powerful. My sense of shame and humiliation was acute throughout the exercise. If I had been in the store I typically shop in, or somewhere I thought I would ever return to, I would likely have been unable to complete the exercise. I’ve always considered myself someone who doesn’t put a lot of stock in what other people think about me as a person, but I learned through this assignment that deep down I am concerned about being a functional, norm-abiding individual. The nonverbal sanctions were painful to endure. The verbal sanctions were nearly unbearable. This assignment clearly brings the power of social solidarity and social control to the forefront of consideration. Read More
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