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Breaching experiments

Sociologist Harold Garfinkel (1917–2011) studied people’s customs in order to find out how societal rules and norms not only influenced behavior but also shaped social order. He believed that members of society together create a social order (Weber 2011). His resulting book, Studies in Ethnomethodology , published in 1967, discusses people’s assumptions about the social makeup of their communities.

One of Garfinkel's research methods was known as a “breaching experiment,” in which the researcher behaves in a socially awkward manner in order to test the sociological concepts of social norms and conformity. The participants are not aware an experiment is in progress. If the breach is successful, however, these “innocent bystanders” will respond in some way. For example, if the experimenter is, say, a man in a business suit, and he skips down the sidewalk or hops on one foot, the passersby are likely to stare at him with surprised expressions on their faces. But the experimenter does not simply “act weird” in public. Rather, the point is to deviate from a specific social norm in a small way, to subtly break some form of social etiquette, and see what happens.

To conduct his ethnomethodology, Garfinkel deliberately imposed strange behaviors on unknowing people. Then he observed their responses. He suspected that odd behaviors would shatter conventional expectations, but he wasn’t sure how. For example, he set up a simple game of tic-tac-toe. One player was asked beforehand to mark Xs and Os not in the boxes but on the lines dividing the spaces instead. The other player, in the dark about the study, was flabbergasted and did not know how to continue. The second player's reactions of outrage, anger, puzzlement, or other emotions illustrated the existence of cultural norms that constitute social life. These cultural norms play an important role. They let us know how to behave around each other and how to feel comfortable in our community.

There are many rules about speaking with strangers in public. It’s OK to tell a woman you like her shoes. It’s not OK to ask if you can try them on. It’s OK to stand in line behind someone at the ATM. It’s not OK to look over his shoulder as he makes his transaction. It’s OK to sit beside someone on a crowded bus. It’s weird to sit beside a stranger in a half-empty bus.

For some breaches, the researcher directly engages with innocent bystanders. An experimenter might strike up a conversation in a public bathroom, where it’s common to respect each other’s privacy so fiercely as to ignore other people’s presence. In a grocery store, an experimenter might take a food item out of another person’s grocery cart, saying, “That looks good! I think I’ll try it.” An experimenter might sit down at a table with others in a fast food restaurant or follow someone around a museum and study the same paintings. In those cases, the bystanders are pressured to respond, and their discomfort illustrates how much we depend on social norms. Breaching experiments uncover and explore the many unwritten social rules we live by.

Questions & Answers

eplayn philosopher of sociology
Mujahid Reply
explain philosopher of sociology
Mujahid
me
Ashebir
what is the difference between asocialist group on all definitions?
Koko Reply
what is the value of sociology
Banao Reply
What are the patterns of social interaction with regard to gender, religion and education
Norman Reply
define functionalist perspective
Jalil
what is cultural
nusrat Reply
culture is the way of life of a particular group of people
Philemon
culture is the backbone of society.
shahnam
culture consists of the beliefs' behaviour' objects' and other characteristics common to the members of particular group of society.
Zahid
culture is our way of life, customs ,traditions ,norms nd behavoiur
musharaf
can anyone explain what is socialogy as science in detail ?
Sydish Reply
sociology is a science because it adoptes and applies the scientific method . sociology does make a scientific method in the study of its subject matter.hence sociology is a science
Zahid
because its study the systematically about society
Akak
in secince we use tools such as thermometers telescopes microscope verniercliper etc similarly in sociology we tools interview questionare servey case study sampling etc so sociology is a science.
shahnam
scientific study of society is called sociology it involves scientific method, observation, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusions , this study produces theories and facts about society , that's why it is science
sohrab
explayn philosopher of socilogy
Mujahid
is caste system dangerous in politics? how
Zahid Reply
In present days the main caused for winning the election,after that they influence in any field
Akak
by those activities a father will become enemy to his son hence we should control it
Zahid
is it possible that marriage some places is being done between man's
Zahid Reply
No it is not possible.
umar_king
yeah itz hpns
musharaf
but in western some places it is possible as I considered a book there shows
Zahid
dear friends how then there born babies plz help me
Zahid
mee toooo
musharaf
dear friends I just know that there doesn't born babies
Zahid
they dont bother about thier offsprings nd it hpns in very rare cases in western societies
musharaf
ya right
Zahid
what is mean by ID
Bk Reply
what is counter culture
Jalil
what are the importance of social science on health care
Philemon Reply
the social sciences can contribute to preventing and treating illness by pinpointing the env.settings nd social relationships
musharaf
child poverty in social influences
Hash Reply
Often associated to food insecurity, children living below the poverty line are at an increased risk for becoming both malnourished and overweight. This can highly affect a child’s confidence. Moreover, evidence suggests that many of the effects of poverty on children are often added to by their fam
manisha
India is battling poverty for nearly 60 years now. And, with the help of new policies that strive to empower and spread awareness about the fundamental rights of children, along with participation and activities initiated by CRY – Child Rights and You, the children of India are sure to see a better
manisha
Does sociology have to deal with only interaction and society
Glory Reply
no
Illiasu
no it touches every aspect of social system...
Gh
hmm. :-)
manisha
it deals with society also but as whole....
Gh
tells about drawbacks and government plans..and makes us focus on what can be done for improvement. like for. eg. in agricultural practices what farmers need to do for better crops.
manisha
yeh absolutely
Gh
according to Emile Durkheim sociology is study of social institutions also.....
Gh
and financial institutions also like commercial banks
manisha
hmm also study about market as a social institution....
Gh
world topics like globalisation modernization and different movements. government plans.
manisha
socilogy also study process such as..... sanskritisatoion ,westernization and modernization also
Gh
yes
MRM
YES
Anas
yeah
gerardo
how we will define status and role?
Saqib
maybe
gerardo
what are the effects of sociology to education
Ndubuisi
what is culture integration
Tariq Reply
define socialization
Ndubuisi
Socialization iz a process of learning.
Dr
Education for effective citizens and civic responsibility discuss
Ndubuisi
Thank you Dr Muzammil
Ndubuisi
nature of social work , please
Shabir Reply
what is an institution? with examples please
Mriganka Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
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