In order to understand our adherence to social norms we must understand what they are and the various ways in which they can be broken and violated. These violations can vary greatly and be anywhere between quirky and frightening. The intensity of discomfort associated with these violations depends not only on the violation itself but on the individual performing, experiencing, or witnessing it making the spectrum of reactions widespread and interesting.
There are two ways to truly explore norm violations, to observe others both performing and reacting o violations and to perform them yourself and observe the reactions of others. The first step in exploring this idea is defining our terms. According to our text book mores are the set of values and norms that govern a particular society. We can break mores down into several different groups. The first one being folkways which are informal mores which are informed by societal pressure and insistence rather than laws or violence.
A societies values are the base from which they make decisions dealing with questions of morality, in other words how they view right and wrong. Social norms are the behaviors of the group and the rules that explain what is considered correct and incorrect within the context of that society. Lastly in order to function a society must have a system of agreed upon rewards and punishments in order to enforce the norms and folkways set in place, this system is made up of sanctions. The first violation I observed was something that seems simple but is certainly a norm violation for many people.
There was a woman in a stall in one of the school bathrooms who was having a rather loud conversation with someone on her cell phone. Although talking loudly on a cell phone in a public place can be a violation in itself adding the element of this particular space seemed to make it a more intense violation and therefore more observable reactions. Reactions seemed to be subtle but honest. One woman glanced in the direction of that stall and shook her head slightly, physically reacting with disapproval in this woman norm violation.
Discomfort and irritation were evident in facial expressions and one woman went as far as finding the farthest open stall from the woman on the cell phone in order to avoid the awkward situation of being verheard. In spite of their adverse reaction to the violation two of the three women tried to be as quiet as possible while washing up as to not disturb the woman who was on the phone. This was very interesting and demonstrated how deeply that particular social norm of politeness was engrained.
Even though these women were offended by the phone call they went out of their way to be polite to the woman speaking. Another outside example of a norm violation is the young man that practices what is often called fire and brimstone preaching on our campus. His norm violations include bringing up what ave been deemed to be unacceptable topics without being asked about them. When one asks a question of another this typically takes the previously untouchable topic and then makes it acceptable to a certain point, without this from of social permission the topics still violate the social norms.
The louder he yelled the more intense reactions from others became. His unsolicited accusations of passersby and protesters alike caused potentially the most interesting reactions. Outright accusing people of being sinners and condemning them to hell was a norm violation that directly involved people who had een previously ignoring him in the situation. I found it interesting that people who previously had no interest in the situation would then become involved in order to defend themselves or others, or to show their disapproval of the comment.
The behavior that seemed to upset others the most were his attacks on other spiritual and religious paths and ways. Overall the overarching theme of his social violations and the reactions to them was that of a bully and a varied group of students, some of them victims, some of them willing to stand up, and most of them willing to ignore the situation. There were four main groups of reactions in my observation. The first was the smallest, two older men who agreed with him and argued with those protesting.
Their body language and facial expressions were similar to one another, glossy eyes and a unwavering determination paired with an almost constant shaking of the head while in heated discussion with protestors were the most noticeable. The second, and largest group, were passersby on their way to class. Most had headphones in and glanced at the situation before continuing on. This makes it rather hard to gauge much of a reaction other than indifference. Others who passed by looked disgusted and shook their heads disapprovingly at his actions.
Some who passed by yelled or made gestures that made it clear that they were angry at the situation and the young man performing the norm violations and some of this group joined in the protest to make their voices heard. The last group was made up of approximately 25 people who were protesting the norm violations and the young man in question. These reactions ranged from amused to furious and none involved were shy about their opinions. Their were different strategies employed by these protestors. Some ried to reason with him and make logical arguments, these people left frustrated, amused, and shaking their heads in disbelief.
Some reacted through frustration by performing their own norm violations to prove their point or express their feelings. Most of this group protested passively by simply standing nearby and having conversations or singing and dancing to music played over a speaker, occasionally shouting, laughing, or clapping at things said by others. Disgust, anger, discomfort, disapproval, uncaring, approval, and clearly being offended were all noticeable reactions of those who were in the ituation or those who passed by it. My personal norm violation was simple but effective.
On campus it is socially accepted that when you pass by a stranger you are to ignore them. Looking others in the eye, smiling, or verbally greeting someone you do not know is out of the question. When I did verbally and nonverbally greet strangers that I passed one morning on my way to a class I got a variety of reactions. It is simplest to break them into small groups. The first group being those few people who all had similar reactions in that their body language showed surprise but they greeted e in return with a word or a smile in line with my action.
If I said good morning to someone I got back either a verbal greeting or a smile but if I simply smiled in greeting got only a smile and no verbal greeting in return. The second group reacted in such a way that it was clear that what I had done was socially unacceptable and I received no greeting from this group. What I did receive were looks of confusion mixed with irritation. Most of the people in this group passed me quickly, being careful not to look at me again, after I greeted them. Two of these people who passed me together began a hushed onversation after they went by me.
I could not hear what was said but the tone was certainly one of disapproval and gossip. This project certainly helped illustrate the strong adherence to social norms within different groups and how reactions to things that seem simple can be very strong. We are all socially programmed and live our daily lives by rules that we may not recognize as existing or as having any power over us. Not all social norm violations need to be necessarily rude or violent and norms are not always in place for the betterment of humanity but are powerful none the less.