SOC 385, Blog 4: Microsociology
March 8th, 2013
Goffman’s study of micro-sociology revolves around the ways by which people interact in small group settings. He explains that the main goal of interaction is to attempt to control the behavior of others. By presenting ourselves in a certain light, we frame the way that others see us and, in doing so, control the context of our interactions. These interactions, in turn, are guided by a social script of sorts. The everyday conversations we have with strangers and acquaintances alike are directed by this script. One example can be found in virtually every retail and grocery store. Whenever customers check out at the register, they are asked a very simple “how are you today?” and it is expected that they always reply with an equally simple “I’m fine.” It does not matter whether or not the customer is truly feeling fine because the cashier does not intend to learn about the customer’s actual feelings. Asking, “how are you?” is not an actual question but a part of the social script meant to denote politeness. Similarly, the reply “I’m fine” is what is expected of us, regardless of the truth behind it.
While our class experiment may not have been an actual flash mob, we definitely did breach social norms by refusing to follow the social script that dictates appropriate large group behavior. Inner Circle, a space used for everything from quiet studying to chatting with friends over lunch, is not typically a place where one might hear loud birdcalls. By working together to scatter across the area and create these minor distractions, we disrupted the social norm. Because no one knew quite how one should react in this situation, the reactions we did receive varied widely. In the beginning, it seemed as if most doubted they even heard the noises. They might glance up and look around but didn’t react in any other way. As the noises grew louder and more common, some began to laugh while others became irritated. One group of students told us we needed to “just grow up” and at least two others joined in the cawing. Overall, we confused the other students enough to trigger mixed reactions.
In breaching the social norm of not cawing in inner circle, we bred our own type of minor chaos. Students didn’t know what was going on. People were confused but most still did not ask what was going on. There is simply no page in the social script that dictates behavior in this scenario. By portraying ourselves as a scattered group of students who enjoy spontaneous birdcalls, we invited chaotic responses. Some thought we were silly, others called us immature and others still had no clue what to think. As Goffman might suggest, we controlled others’ behavior by providing a lack of context, explanation and understanding.
While our experiment was a small one with minimal results, it can still be seen as reflective of a breach of social norms more broadly. When people act oddly or things occur outside the norm, we do not know how to react. We rely so heavily upon this social script and the idea that we portray ourselves as ordinary people that doing something different throws off the balance. We step outside our comfort zones and force others to do the same. In this way, we set up the social context for chaos.