Sociological Imagination Paper Option #1: Breaching Experiment Assignment Instructions
Please be sure to read this document completely before you begin your research.
Sociologists Erving Goffman & Harold Garfinkel believed social norms (the invisible “rules” for behavior in everyday life) became most visible when you broke them
¡ The stronger the reaction, the stronger the norm.
¡ Your task: Breach a casual social norm to test Goffman and Garfinkel’s theory.
However, there are rules…
- Experiment cannot be illegal or risky (includes indecency);
- Experiment cannot be harmful to yourself, others, or your relationships or your job (remember the researcher’s ethic of “shall do no harm”); and
Experiment cannot not disrupt classes or other official business; do not be disruptive
- ¡ If your work violates any of these three rules, you are not breaching a casual social norm (a folkway) so you will not get credit for completing this assignment and you as student are solely responsible for any other possible repercussions for not following the rules given.
- ¡ Make sure that you use common sense. This is supposed to be a fun learning exercise, not get you into trouble. Remember that “risky” is my definition of risky, so if you have any questions about whether your idea is too risky, please ask me for approval before you attempt your experiment.
sometimes it is not what you do, it’s how you do it, so if you have the type of personality that likes to push boundaries, be really careful about going too far. Whatever happens in your experiment, be sure to report on it in the analysis section of your paper.
Some examples of possible experiments:
- ¡ Strike up a conversation about the weather with the stranger in the stall next to you in a public restroom
- ¡ Eating with your hands (obviously, with food you would normally eat with utensils)
- ¡ Walking around trailing toilet paper from your shoe or clothes
- ¡ Wearing a costume in public when it is not Halloween
- ¡ Getting up and helping a waiter serve dishes to your table
- ¡ Opening and shutting the door for people as they enter a building THE ANALYSIS
Following the organizational requirements (see p. 3) given for your paper, address the following questions completely and thoroughly:
- (30 points) First, summarize your thoughts going into the experiment. What breaching experiment did you choose to perform? What did you think would happen?
NOTE: You should really write this section before you go out into the field (run your tests); if you wait until afterward it may bias your answer here.
- (100 points) Then, after you’ve repeated your chosen experiment at least 3 times, tell me about your findings and analyze your experience. Take a small notebook (small enough that you can hide) with you so that you can jot notes to yourself after each encounter. You may think that you’ll remember, but even if you write this part as soon as you get home, you’ll forget a lot, that’s just how memory works. It is your job to paint a picture for me of each interaction that you had, so be very descriptive about both the person that was your research subject and the interaction itself.
- (70 points) Using the book and lecture notes (no outside sources), and in your own words (don’t forget to cite!) summarize how symbolic interactionists like Goffman and Garfinkel see the role of social norms in creating the social reality in which we live. What does happen when you breach social norms? What did you learn about social norms by taking part in this social experiment? Think about and write about your own learning process here.
A few tips:
This is a symbolic interactionist experiment and they’re very interested in the minute details of social life; they’re the ones who put what we do every day under a micro lens. So remember when you’re writing the description do not give a general overview, that’s too vague, describe each interaction in minute detail. For instance: