Weirding the Normal. Unfamiliar Setting. Familiar Setting. Compare The Two (Essay Sample)
You will be donning the hat of a sociologist and conducting an ethnography and/or participant observation. Prepare for this assignment by reviewing the readings and your notes on culture and socialization. This assignment asks you to do something in the present - DO NOT write about past activities.
Date, time, and location of your observations must be included for Part 1 and Part 2 below.
Part 1: Unfamiliar Setting
You are going to go out into a social setting that you are unfamiliar with and document what you see. You will go anywhere where people are gathered that you have not previously been before. Examples: perform your observation in a church, club, store, coffee shop, park, or any other location that you've never been before. Questions to guide and keep you focused:
What are the people doing in this space?
What are the norms for this specific place?
What do you think the values are?
What symbols are present and what might they mean?
Are people in groups or are they alone? If they’re in groups what do you notice about the group dynamics?
Are people talking to each other or on their cell phones?
What language is being spoken?
What may the behavior of this setting say about society as a whole?
Part 2: Familiar Setting (with fresh eyes)
Go into a familiar setting and do the exact same thing as above - document what you see. Observe the norms, values, symbols, the language of the place. Except, look at everything as though you have never been there before (much like an outsider might, the way that Horace Miner wrote "Nacirema", making everyday ritualistic behavior around body hygiene seem weird and abnormal). This is the most difficult part of the assignment. It is harder to see the familiar as something extraordinary but if you actively use your newly formed sociological lens to view the world and see the strange in the familiar you can see otherwise hidden idiosyncrasies in your familiar world.
Much like Part 1 above, do the same for Part 2: Write down people’s behaviors, rules of behavior, expectations of how to behave in those given circumstances, etc. The point here is to see the ordinary as extraordinary. In essence, you will be ‘weirding the normal’, that is, (1) making visible all the social rules that guide the activity that are normally taken for granted and (2) speculate as to how following the rules is enforced. Once again, make sure to use sociological terms and concepts.
Part 3: Compare The Two
The final part involves comparing the two settings.
What do you notice is similar and what is different and why?
What became apparent that you would not have otherwise noticed?
The paper should be 4 minimum full pages but not more than 5 pages; double-spaced; 11-12 pt font; Margins: 1" (top, bottom, left & right).
Weirding the Normal
Sitting at the park, it is interesting to note the high number of people serve this facility. There are all manner of people ranging in age, social class and even race. I feel that sitting at this bench, I will be able to experience the full environment that stands before me. Behind me and a few yards away is a street, and the space before me is the open space of the park, dotted with trees, lashes of green grass, dustbins along the partway and benches that are scattered across the mesh of pathways in the park. It is important to note that most of the people are simply seated on the benches minding their own business. A few of the people are walking along the pathways, while others are seated in groups on the grass. There is a norm among the people, where not much is said beyond the greeting of the people coming to join me on the bench. After they are seated down, they do not utter another word. They simply sit there for some time and then leave. As if thinking about something and wanting the space and time to themselves. For those that are walking on the pathways, they rarely talk to those seated on the benches or even seated on the grass.
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