social norm project

Social Norm Project

The social world we live in is composed of, among other things, thousands of rules, norms, and laws. Some of these are perfectly explicit (in America we drive on the right hand side of the street by custom and law), others are so implicit that we rarely articulate them (we shake hands with the right hand). Some norms are explicitly taught (various rules of politeness) whereas others are probably not taught explicitly at all but are simply passed along through observation (generally applauding at the end of a musical piece, except that we do not applaud hymns in church services). Some norms apply almost universally (say hello — or something equivalent — when you answer the phone), while others may apply only to individual social groups (Jane washes dishes on the nights she doesn’t cook).

Norms can be defined in at least two ways. The first is the pressure we feel to behave in certain ways; you know, for example, that you would be criticized if you spit on someone at dinner. Second, however, even when there is no such explicit knowledge of pressures, norms may exist when there are regularities of behavior; for example, students tend to sit in the same seats in a given class even though they may not feel any particular social pressure to do so.

For this project, you must break a social norm and write about your experience. Try to be clever in your observations by looking for the non-obvious.

Rules for norm violating:

  1. Be safe. This rule trumps all other rules.
  2. You must violate the norm alone (no one else can be violating it with you). However, you can have a friend watch you and make observations.
  3. The behavior you choose may be non-normative across our culture or a small group (like your family)
  4. You many not harm anyone, including yourself. This includes getting yourself in trouble.
  5. You may NOT disrupt your classes.
  6. You may NOT break any laws.
  7. Only break one norm at a time. While violating the norm, act totally normally in every other way. Violating many norms at once simply makes you look like a crazy teenager, thus you aren’t really breaking a norm (people expect teens to act crazy sometimes).
  8. Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

Ideas for norms:

  1. Break rules of social distance: sit down with a stranger at a restaurant even if other tables are clearly available, speak to an acquaintance at an unusually small distance, stand right next to another person in an elevator when only two of you are there, hold hands with a friend of the same sex, surprise a same-sex friend with a kiss on the cheek, stand too close to someone in line in front of you.
  2. Be unusually helpful: buy a small present and give it to a barely known acquaintance, pass out nickels to strangers on the street, make helpful suggestions to strangers on what to buy in a supermarket
  3. Break rules for eye contact: Make too much eye contact (stare) or too little, talk to others while looking at their forehead or ear, stare at strangers walking past on the sidewalk, blink excessively.
  4. Dress inappropriately: dress for a different season, dress too fancy or too casual
  5. Break norms of social etiquette: cut into the middle of a line, ask someone you don’t know for his/her seat in a public place, applaud at the end of a class, randomly greet people as they walk into school with a handshake and a “good morning”

Part I: Research the norm and establish why this is a norm.

Part II: Breaking a norm

Pick a social norm to break. Break the norm around at least three different groups of people. The groups should differ in some identifiable way; the may differ in age, how well you know them, status, gender, whatever. In your Paper and presentation, describe the social norm you violated and how you went about doing so. Clearly identify the three groups you broke your norm in front of.

Part III: Reactions

  1. Describe your own and others’ reactions before, during, and after each violation.
  2. Note any differences between the groups’ reactions and discuss possible reasons for them.

Mechanics: PowerPoint should be 5 slides. You should divide it into sections with headings for each section. Pictures should be included. You can video tape your social norm violation.

Remember, this is the major paper for the class. It is due at the end of term.

Social Norm Violation Paper Outline.docx Social Norm Violation Paper Outline.docx


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