Sociology Focus

Tag Archives: 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.

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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.
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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