Norm breaching

Norm Breaching
1. Read the information on norm breaching below (Introduction to Sociology 2e).

2. Choose 1 of the options from the choice board to complete your assignment.

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“Breaching Experiments

Sociologist Harold Garfinkel (1917–2011) studied people’s customs in order to find out how societal rules and norms not only influenced behavior but also shaped social order. He believed that members of society together create a social order (Weber 2011). His resulting book, Studies in Ethnomethodology, published in 1967, discusses people’s assumptions about the social makeup of their communities.

One of Garfinkel’s research methods was known as a “breaching experiment,” in which the researcher behaves in a socially awkward manner in order to test the sociological concepts of social norms and conformity. The participants are not aware an experiment is in progress. If the breach is successful, however, these “innocent bystanders” will respond in some way. For example, if the experimenter is, say, a man in a business suit, and he skips down the sidewalk or hops on one foot, the passersby are likely to stare at him with surprised expressions on their faces. But the experimenter does not simply “act weird” in public. Rather, the point is to deviate from a specific social norm in a small way, to subtly break some form of social etiquette, and see what happens.

To conduct his ethnomethodology, Garfinkel deliberately imposed strange behaviors on unknowing people. Then he observed their responses. He suspected that odd behaviors would shatter conventional expectations, but he wasn’t sure how. For example, he set up a simple game of tic-tac-toe. One player was asked beforehand to mark Xs and Os not in the boxes but on the lines dividing the spaces instead. The other player, in the dark about the study, was flabbergasted and did not know how to continue. The second player’s reactions of outrage, anger, puzzlement, or other emotions illustrated the existence of cultural norms that constitute social life. These cultural norms play an important role. They let us know how to behave around each other and how to feel comfortable in our community.

There are many rules about speaking with strangers in public. It’s OK to tell a woman you like her shoes. It’s not OK to ask if you can try them on. It’s OK to stand in line behind someone at the ATM. It’s not OK to look over his shoulder as he makes his transaction. It’s OK to sit beside someone on a crowded bus. It’s weird to sit beside a stranger in a half-empty bus.

For some breaches, the researcher directly engages with innocent bystanders. An experimenter might strike up a conversation in a public bathroom, where it’s common to respect each other’s privacy so fiercely as to ignore other people’s presence. In a grocery store, an experimenter might take a food item out of another person’s grocery cart, saying, “That looks good! I think I’ll try it.” An experimenter might sit down at a table with others in a fast food restaurant or follow someone around a museum and study the same paintings. In those cases, the bystanders are pressured to respond, and their discomfort illustrates how much we depend on social norms. Breaching experiments uncover and explore the many unwritten social rules we live by.” (Introduction to Sociology 2e)

Norm Breaching Choice Board
Choose 1 option and follow the directions in the chosen column.

Debriefing refers to explaining to the person/people that you were conducting an experiment after the fact.

Repairing refers to apologizing to anyone who was upset by the norm breach.

*Norm breaches can be positive such as helping do things you normally would not do.

Conduct your own norm breaching experiment Identify norm breaches in show or film
You MUST violate a norm that is SPECIFIC to your family, roommates, friends, community or culture.
Please ensure that your experiment does not put anyone in danger or break a law; you will receive a zero for the assignment.
Watch an episode of a show or a film and identify norm breaches.
Identify a norm that is specific to your culture, community, family, friends.
Engage in some form of norm violation activity (a folkway NOT a more).
Write down the responses of those individuals observing your behavior (if possible talk to them).
Identify norm breaches in the show or film.
Determine if they are folkways, mores, or taboos.
Write down the responses of others to the norm breaches.
Respond to the following questions in 350-500 words (you may go over the word limit but must have a minimum of 350 words) or a 2-3 minute video response.
Which norm did you violate? Explain the norm and how it is specific to your culture, community, family, friends…
How did people in the setting respond?
How did the norm violation itself and their response make you feel? Did you feel any desire to “repair” the interaction once you breached the social norm? (explain, debrief the people involved, apologize)
How might a systematic or continued breaching of this norm change our definition of what is “normal”?
Respond to the following questions in 350-500 words (you may go over the word limit but must have a minimum of 350 words) or a 2-3 minute video response.
Which show or film did you watch?

Which culture(s) are viewed as the dominant culture or reference group against which behavior is judged?
For each norm breach, answer the following:
What norm was breached?
Is it a folkway, more, or taboo?
What were the responses of those who witnessed the norm breach?
Did the person/people breaching the norm “repair” the interaction by debriefing people or apologizing?
Choose the norm breach that you found most interesting and answer the following:
How might a systematic or continued breaching of this norm change our definition of what is “normal”?
What did you learn about norms and the organization of society?

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