Ethnomethodology, a term created by sociologist Harold Garfinkel, focuses on how members of society have created and maintained the “ordered social world in which they live.” This includes their formation of the meanings behind social norms and actions, which have been created through their constant cooperation and ability to “recognize and produce” these structured social events. To study this concept, breaching experiments are used, in which social rules are broken to understand social rules and norms through the examination of people’s responses. On Tuesday, November 1st, our sociology class conducted our own breaching experiment by dressing in costumes the day after Halloween. We sought out people’s responses, as we were deviating from the “norm” by wearing costumes the day after Halloween.
For my breaching experiment, I dressed in a “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” costume, which consisted of neon clothing, a purple hat, and neon Nike dunks. In my first class, my friend laughed at me, and after I told him I was doing a sociology experiment, he told me he thought I was just having fun. In the quad, friends approached me and told me that I looked “super hipster.” When I told them it was for an experiment, they said they weren’t sure if I was dressed in costume or if I was really trying to be a “hipster.” I thought it was VERY obvious that I was in costume, but apparently not! In the marketplace, a friend asked me if it was “still Halloween.” Others smiled at me, stared, or laughed. Only a few people figured out that I was dressed as the Fresh Prince.
I seemed to notice my own reactions to this experiment more than others’ reactions. I found myself avoiding eye contact with people I didn’t know. Or I smiled to give the impression that my outfit was a joke. I kept having to remind myself that other peoples’ perceptions of me didn’t matter. This relates to Mead’s concept of the “Me” vs. the “I” – even though I tried not to care how others viewed me (the “I”), there was still a part of me that did care (the “me”), which was evident through my subconscious actions (avoiding eye contact/smiling). I also found myself exemplifying Goffman’s concept of dramatic realization, which explains how performers emphasize important facts about themselves that the audience might not have identified otherwise. During my experiment, I felt the need to automatically tell people that I was dressed in costume for a sociology project. Without this explanation, I thought people assumed I was not dressed in costume.
There are many obvious social implications of breaching experiments: people may be confused as to why you are breaking the social norm, people may think you are “weird” for breaking the social norm, or people may recognize that you are breaking the norm but do not react. The reactions I received, and the reactions that anyone receives while conducting a breaching experiment, show how breaking a social norm is considered “deviant behavior.” Generally, people do not respond respectfully to this “deviant behavior”—I received stares, laughter, and commentary from others—and because of this, people are discouraged from breaking the norm. People may hide their “true” identity (the “I”) because of the possible negative consequences. Those who frequently “break” the social norm as a means of self-expression should be given more respect—as we’ve recognized through this experiment, it is very uncomfortable to break the norm. Who are we to judge, anyways? Why do we concern ourselves with the “deviant behavior” of others, if their actions or appearances do not pertain to us?