Sociology Focus

Tag Archives: Norms

“Trick-or-Treat, Smell My Feet”: How to “Do Halloween”

How do you “do Halloween?” In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath describes the conflicting messages she received from her family, her peers, and the media about how to celebrate Halloween. 

Jack-o-Lantern

Please accept my apologies for my belated post on Halloween. You see, I don’t really know how to “do Halloween.”

It’s not my fault that I don’t know how to “do Halloween.” I blame conflicting messages from the various agents of socialization in my life. I am constantly surprised by the extent to which others decorate for the holiday and invest in costume planning. Why would people invest this much time and money in Halloween?

My ambivilance towards the holiday is challenged by the presence of my 6-year-old daughter. And Pinterest and Facebook. Thanks to the kid, I have to act like I have some idea what is expected on this holiday. Thanks to social media I’ve learned I should carve a pumpkin, do something creative with fall leaves, visit a corn maze, visit a haunted house, make a homemade costume, participate in a costume contest, and make Halloween-themed food. These are just a few of the ways in in which I have failed at doing Halloween properly. In sum, my Halloween socialization has been influenced by my parents, the Internet, movies, and my child.

Let me begin by describing the Halloween of my childhood. I grew up in the era of imaginary razor blades in apples and Halloween costumes which consisted of plastic masks and what can only be described as a decorative garbage bag. My mother with her home economics degree (yes, that is a real thing), would never dress me in one of those suffocation-hazard outfits (though I did wear the plastic masks). She handmade my costumes before Pinterest made it a thing. I have no memory of picking out a costume at a store (except maybe when I went as a black cat). One year, I went as a clown (for the umpteempth time) complete with camouflage make-up.

I keep using the word “went” as if that means something. Where did I go? I’m sure your thinking, “trick-or-treating, of course.” Well, sort of. Continue reading

Don’t Rummage Through my Things! Moving & Deviance

How do you behave when visiting someone’s home? Do you go through their medicine cabinet? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath describes how all the moving-related house guests (i.e. movers, realtors, inspectors, etc.) behave differently from other types of house guests clarifying the boundaries between normative and deviant house guest behavior.

Happy Family Moving

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m moving.

By selling our home, I’ve come to realize just how guests in one’s home are supposed to behave. When you sell your home you are forced to open it up to a bunch of strangers (i.e. realtors, movers, inspectors, etc). For lack of a better term, I’ll call all these folks moving-related guests. What I’ve learned through this whole process is that moving-related guests’ behave differently than regular house guests. By observing moving-related guests behavior we can see clear boundaries that separate normative (i.e. follows the rules) and deviant (i.e. breaks the rules) house guest behavior.

First, non-moving related guests in your home should not open cabinets and closets in your home.

This move requires us to hire movers. I’ve never hired movers for an interstate move. I’ve hired movers for a cross-town move before, but never for anything this big. And yes, we know we could save a lot of money if we did it ourself. We’ve moved ourselves (and with the help of friends and family) about five times (excluding moving dorms and undergraduate furnished apartments). We have a lot of experience moving ourselves, which is why I know to pack books in small boxes and try to only pack stuff from one room in one box. Fortunately, with upward mobility (as my new job does pay more money) comes a moving allowance from my new employer enabling us to better afford hiring professionals to do the heavy lifting.

The first step in hiring professional movers is to call them up and give them an inventory of all of your possessions. Then, if you find the moving cost estimate reasonable, schedule a time for them to come do an in-person estimate for a more precise estimate. Unlike potential homebuyers, movers go through your stuff in your presence. They open your cabinets and closets right in front of you! They do not behave like normal visitors to your home! Having the movers come in for estimates gave me a glimpse of what other strangers are doing in my house when considering whether to buy our home or not.

Now, of course, visitors to your home might snoop in your medicine cabinet, clean while you sleep, or open a coat closet to hang up their coat, but rarely do they open random cabinets and closets. They open things intentionally (i.e., the coat closet) or without your knowledge (i.e., the  medicine cabinet).

Overnight house guests have slightly different expectations. I have been the overnight house guest to two different people within the last six weeks. In the first scenario, the person is a new colleague of mine who invited me to stay in her home while I house hunted. While I was told to just help myself to food (and dig into the cabinets for correct dishes), I felt like I was violating the norm of not going through another person’s cabinets. In the second scenario, I stayed with my sister. Family is different. Further, I was there to help her with her newborn twins. Because she is both close family and the purpose of my visit was to help, I had no choice but to get into cabinets and even dresser drawers (to put away clean clothing). In neither of these scenarios was I snooping, but I certainly felt like I was approaching the line between normative and deviant house guest behavior. I took care to clean up after myself and did my best to not disturb the placement of any items in cabinets or closets. I made it appear as though I had never been there.

Second, moving-related house visitors should make it appear as though they have never been there.

Of course, one expects a kitchen full of dirty dishes after a dinner party. I also expect my daughter’s room to look messier after she has had a friend visit. But when strangers visit your home, you expect your home to appear exactly as you left it. Most of our house visitors have done this, but I’ve walked into our bedrooms and seen closet doors not completely shut. Occasionally a light is left on in a room where it is normally turned off. The visit that stands out, however, is the one where all of my daughter’s Lego people had been disassembled. I spent a half hour reassembling 30 Lego people (on this day we also had three showings, one mover coming to give an estimate, and a property manager checking the place out to potentially rent it). We moved all of her assembled Legos to the top shelf of a bookcase so that other children of would-be-homebuyers would have no choice but to leave them alone.

House visitors vary in the standard of leaving a home as they found it. Importantly, the type of guest and the purpose of their visit informs how they are expected to behave in the home they are visiting.

Dig Deeper:

  1. The author writes, “moving-related guests’ behavior clarifies the boundaries between normative and deviant house guest behavior.” Explain the difference between normative and deviant behavior using an example unrelated to house guests.
  2. What norms of house guest behavior should the following people conform to when visiting your home (or dorm room): your closest family member or friend, an acquaintance, someone you are dating, and a repair person?
  3. How do our expectations of house guest behaviors change depending on the house guest’s age? For example, are there different standards for young children, teenagers, and adults? Give an example.
  4. Visit someone’s home (with their permission). You could visit your family, a friend’s dorm room, or even use a work-related experience if your job requires you to visit people’s homes (i.e., delivery person). Immediately after ending the visit, make notes regarding your own behavior during the visit. In what ways did your behavior conform or deviate from typical house guests norms?

How to Ride in an Elevator in Five Easy Steps

Social life has norms and sociologists seek to uncover, explore, and understand these norms. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores the norms of riding an elevator and what elevators can teach us about conformity and deviance.

Have you ever ridden in an elevator? What did you do? I imagine your elevator trip went something like this:

  1. You arrived to the elevator doors and pushed either up or down and waited for the elevator to arrive.
  2. The elevator doors open and after verifying it is heading in the direction you desire, you step inside. You move towards the back of the elevator if many people were getting on the elevator with you. If the elevator is crowded, you might even opt to let this car pass and wait for the next one. Once on the elevator, you take your position and turn around to face the doors. (What do you do if the elevator has doors in both the back and front of the elevator!?)
  3. You push the button to the floor you need and only to the floor you need unless someone else says they need a different floor. Under no circumstances do you push all of the buttons–no matter how much the lit up buttons may resemeble a Christmas tree. Resist the temptation!
  4. You cease any conversations with the people you boarded the elvator with. You do not talk to anyone else on the elevator. There are only two exceptions to this norm. First, you may ask new passengers what floor they are going to if they themselves can not easily reach or push the floor buttons or you are overcome with politeness. Second, if this elevator is in a building you live or work in, then you may talk to other people on the elevator. Otherwise, you do not talk to anyone–including people you know inside the elevator.
  5. Once you arrive at your floor, you exit the elevator. You do not wish your fellow passengers goodbye. You leave as silently as you arrived.

While conversations are often limited on elevator rides, some elevator norms are much more strictly followed. Norms are guidelines for behavior. Watch the following video about elevator behavior: Continue reading

On the Menu: Fried Cicadas, Hummus, and Guacamole

Bugs. They’re what’s for dinner? The foods we eat are a product of our culture and as our world becomes more interconnected we have seen the delicacies of one culture spill over into another. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath defines this process as cultural diffusion and explains why she just might serve fried cicadas at her next dinner party.

Fried Cicadas

A feature of culture is that it varies across time and space. Think about it. The clothing that you wear as a young adult probably looks a bit different than what your grandparents wore as a young adult. Food, like clothing, is a cultural artifact and what counts as food varies across time and space. Along with your clothing, the food you eat probably differs from the food people in other cultures eat and perhaps deviates from what your grandparents ate when they were your age. For example, I never ate guacamole until I was an adult and have since introduced it to my 90-something-year-old grandmother.

Today, guacamole is quite commonplace and no longer “exotic.” Hummus, is another example of a once “exocitc” food for Americans, yet is increasingly popular. Hummus originates in the Middle East and its popularity has spread to the United States. The process of cultural products (e.g. foods, clothing, music, etc) gaining popularity in one region and then spreading around the world is known as cultural diffusion. As foods and other cultural products diffuse into a new region they can quickly go from being “exotic” to being “ho-hum”. Continue reading

Hot Pants in the Frozen Aisle: Shaming & Norming the POWM

The popular “People of Walmart” website has achieved a cult-like following, with an accompanying book and merchandise for faithful followers. Public shaming as a form of social disapproval doesn’t just happen in the town square anymore. As Ami Stearns argues in this post, public shaming on user-submitted sites like “People of Walmart” can effectively mark norm boundaries and reinforce classism, sexism, and more.

Walmart

The next time you consider running into Wal-Mart wearing skin-tight cheetah-print leggings and matching sport bra, please reconsider. You may become the latest object of ridicule on the website “People of Walmart (POWM).” From its humble beginnings as a small-scale site for friends to post pictures of unusual characters shopping at Wal-Mart, www.peopleofwalmart.com has taken off into an Internet phenomenon where those who dare to breach appearance norms are captured with photographic evidence for the rest of the world to examine. To supplement the main page, there are videos, a Twitter feed, a Facebook Page, and just to cover all the requisite social media bases, a Tumblr. Users from all over the United States of Wal-Mart are invited to submit photos and a witty caption to the main website for dissemination to the rest of society. The photos that are included on the POWM website feature individuals deemed “inappropriate” in looks, hairstyle, clothing, or general appearance.

Continue reading

Your Presence is Requested at Our Divorce Party

Are divorce parties just another excuse to throw a party? A Hallmark created celebration? Or just another example of celebrity excess? Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how a divorce party may be an opportunity for a couple to transition into their future roles as ex-husband and ex-wife.

The arrival of a wedding invitation may be exciting, but not out of the ordinary. The arrival of a divorce party invitation, well, that’s another story.

This summer—during the height of wedding season—Jack White, of the rock band the White Stripes, and his model-wife Karen Elson invited close friends and family to a party to celebrate both their 6th wedding anniversary and upcoming divorce.

Don’t believe me? Check out the invitation here.

Why on earth would a couple choose to celebrate both their wedding anniversary and divorce at the same party? While it may be difficult to wrap our head around celebrating these two events at the same party, let’s focus on the divorce part of the event.

It would be very easy brush off a divorce party as just the kind of thing that celebrities do, but there are divorce party planners and divorce party suppliers. Even Hallmark offers cards recognizing the newly divorced. We may never know which came first—the business supporting divorce parties or divorce parties themselves, so let’s get back to my main focus:

Why would anyone want to celebrate their divorce—especially together?

Divorce like marriage denotes a change in a person’s achieved status. Status refers to the honor or prestige attached to a position in society and can be achieved or ascribed. An achieved status is just what it sounds like: something one achieves, like graduating from high school. An ascribed status is something we are born with, such as race or something that occurs naturally, such as aging.

Marriage transforms statuses, men into husbands and women into wives, which is something that is seen as an achievement and to be celebrated. American women are still likely to take on the Mrs. title and change their last name denoting their new status and roles as wives. In other words, marriage is seen as transformative and something to be celebrated.

Divorce, however, turns men into ex-husbands and women into ex-wives. This change in status could be seen by the individual as achieved (if they wanted the divorce) or ascribed (if they did not want the divorce). Divorce could even be something in-between because a person may wish to remain married, but not under the current circumstances. Even if individuals in the former couple want to celebrate their divorce, to do so together is somewhat perplexing. Or is it?

In the case of Karen Elson and Jack White, it appears that they intend to remain close and continue raising their children together. Elson and White are doing divorce differently, but perhaps in the future more couples will see divorce as something to celebrate together as well. Perhaps they view a happy divorce as a way to continue a happy parenting relationship even if their marital relationship has ended.

Another issue in a divorce is what sociologists call role exit.  If statuses are the titles we hold, then roles are the behaviors expected of a person with a given status.  So as a husband Jack White may have been expected to be monogamous, a romantic partner, and confidant.1  Now that they are divorced there is work that each will have to do to inform everyone of their new status and communicate to the world that they will be behaving differently.  When we leave a status behind, the work we have to do to change society’s view of us is a key part of role exit.

What does this mean for us non-celebrity types? It’s possible that divorce parties are a result of changes in marital patterns. Couples today are getting married for the first time at an older age than in the past, they are more likely to cohabitate prior to marriage (or instead of marriage0, and con tray to popular belief, they are less likely to get divorced.

Perhaps divorcing couples (especially those with children), are attempting to have a “good” divorce to limit the negative consequences divorces can cause to children. How divorce happens, impacts children differently. A divorce that is rather peaceful is going to harm children less (if at all) than a divorce that pits parent against parent. High parental conflict—married or not—is not good for children. Having a divorce party, especially when children are involved, reaffirms the couple’s commitment to the children while ending their commitment to each other. In this way, the divorce may be reframed as positive event and helps solidify the goals of the divorcing couple for the family overall.

Of course, a cynic might consider divorce parties just a result of good marketing. Perhaps no one ever considered a divorce party until they learned of businesses catering to celebrating divorce. So it really could just be Hallmark’s fault.

Now the most important question of all: Do I get the wedding gift I gave a divorcing couple back at their divorce party?

Dig Deeper:

  1. Why might divorcing couples decide to have a party to celebrate their divorce?
  2. What are the implications of divorce parties on society? To families?
  3. How has divorce impacted your life? Do you think a divorce party would have made things better, worse, or the same? Explain.
  4. There are plenty of negative examples of divorce in popular culture. Can you find any positive portrayals of divorce in popular culture? How does it differ from negative portrayals?

Sociology of the Drive Thru

Living on the west coast often means partaking in the joys of In ‘n’ Out Burgers. One day, instead of just ordering up a Double Double, Alexa Megna received an extra side of sociology with an impromptu lesson on norms. In this post Alexa asks, what happens when things break down and we enter into the normless world of anomie.

In-n-Out-burger---eating

I have a confession to make. Are you ready? Here it is: I love In ‘n’ Out. You know the burger joint on the west coast that is infamous for it’s tasty burgers, fries, and shakes? (For all of you east coasters, it’s like a better version of Five Guys. But that’s my own bias.) One day I found myself craving a Double Double from In ‘n’ Out. I just had to have one. So as I wheeled up to the drive thru line all I could think about was the Double Double heaven I was soon to be in.

Until, something funny started happing. The truck in front of me completely skipped the “Order Here” speaker box. He just drove right through. “That’s weird,” I said to myself as my turn at the box came up. Then I waited. And waited. I started looking around wondering if this was some joke. Why was the loud voice in the little box not talking to me? After looking around at the car behind me and huge expanse of space between the truck in front of me, I quietly said, “Uhm… hello?” Nothing. Continue reading

The Lady is a Feminist…or is She?

There has been a recent rise of conservative, evangelical women identifying themselves as ‘feminists.’ And there has been an equally strong backlash among prominent feminists who take issue with these women claiming the ‘f-word’ for themselves. What is a feminist? Can one who believes in separate gender spheres also truly promote gender equality, or are they merely kidding themselves, or worse, promoting a wacked-out femogyny? In this post Angie Andriot explores the many faces of feminism for answers.

Lady Lilith

"Lady Lilith" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

While perusing Facebook recently, I came across the most intriguing question:

“Is being a lady antithetical to feminism?”

Well….now there’s a conundrum. And boy howdy did it spark a debate! Heck, we couldn’t even agree on what it means to be a lady. For that matter, what’s a feminist? Let’s break it down, shall we?

  1. When I say I am a female, I am referring to my sex. This is a biological category.
  2. When I say I am feminine, I am referring to my gender. This is a social category.
  3. When I say I am a lady, I am referring to my…..manners? “Breeding?” Social class? Self-actualization? Depends on who you ask. This is definitely more evaluative.

Being lady-like typically means that you are exuding a particular kind of femininity: a well-mannered, polite, self-possessed sort of femininity. Here’s what comes to my mind when I hear the term: A lady is mild-mannered. A lady does not curse or shriek or holler. A lady is modest, chaste, and virtuous. She is the counterpart to the gentleman, and she balances him out by letting him pull out her chair, open the door for her, and perform other such chivalrous acts. But perhaps most importantly, a woman who thinks of herself as a lady, first and foremost, has embraced gender norms and sex distinctions. Women, at their best, are ladies. Men, at their best, are gentlemen. These are complementary, but distinct categories.
Continue reading

Posted by Angie Andriot under ,

The Clitoris: Most. Awkward. Discussion. Ever!

Some conversation topics are really awkward. But why? How do cultural norms and practices shape our feelings about certain subjects? Have you ever wondered why some topics (like sex) are awkward or embarrassing? Looking at the broader context, we can see culture and power as a guiding force not only for what gets constructed as acceptable sexuality but also comfortable conversation topics.

Public Speaking Anxiety“Okay class. Today we’re going to talk about the article ‘Women and their Clitoris.’1” An awkward combination of snickers and silence fell over the room. In my excitement about the sociological point the authors made, I had forgotten about the potential for awkwardness. Here I was, a 35-year old woman, standing in front of 50 college students saying the word clitoris – and with sociological enthusiasm no less! I felt my face turn red and despite my preparation, I was at a loss for words. Hiding my discomfort was impossible, so I said, “okay, look, this is just as awkward for me as it is for you, so let’s just all say it together. Ready? Clitoris!” Most of my students played along but this pithy attempt to lessen everyone’s embarrassment just made it worse. As I began to doubt the usefulness of the article and worried about how the next hour would go, I remembered that this is exactly the point the authors made. It was not inherently awkward, but because it was about the clitoris – that mysterious lump of flesh and nerves that’s sole function is to give women sexual pleasure – we all squirmed. This is just not something we talk about in our culture – and certainly not in a sociology class. Continue reading