7 posts from January 2011

January 28, 2011

Deviant While Driving?

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

A few years ago while walking through my neighborhood I was surprised by a vehicle I noticed in somebody’s driveway. It was a hearse that was meant for personal use. How did I know that it wasn’t being used in a professional way? The words “Keep Honking, You’re Next” were painted on the hearse. Because this is a family-friendly website, I doctored the picture to eliminate an expletive, but I’m sure you can guess what it is. I was fascinated by the notion of someone driving around a hearse for everyday transportation. It got me thinking: Can the car you drive make you deviant? clip_image002

I like to show this picture to my students and ask whether they would drive the hearse. I ask this knowing that not all of my students have cars, and one might think that a student would take any car they could get. I even ask if they would drive it if it was given to them for free. Typically, in a roomful of forty students, two or three say they would drive it. Then I ask them to consider what their parents and friends would say. I do this to get them thinking about the reactions they would receive. It’s essential to take reactions into account when trying to determine if something is deviant.

Even if offered a free hearse, I think most people would refuse, partly because they’d be afraid of the reactions they would encounter. Put me in that group. If I couldn’t afford a “normal” car and someone offered me a free hearse, I’d decline. I couldn’t deal with the stares I’d receive.

I don’t know how common it is for people to drive a hearse as their daily mode of transportation, but I actually happened upon another hearse during a recent visit to my parents’ house. Parked on my parents’ street was a hearse with a Ghostbusters magnet! Who in the world was driving a hearse in my old neighborhood, I wondered?

My father, who knows everybody’s business on the street, told me it belonged to my friend Bill. I grew up next door to Bill, and I’ve known him since I was five-years-old. I don’t see him much anymore because he lives a few hours from where we grew up. So I caught him by e-mail to inquire about his hearse. I told him I wanted to write about his hearse as a possible example of deviant behavior. I explained that sociologists generally don’t use the word “deviant” as an insult. Rather, we use it to indicate unconventional behavior that may generate negative reactions. I asked him several questions:

1. Of all the vehicles to drive, why a hearse?

2. Have you encountered any negative reactions while driving it? For example, a stare or a dirty look?

3. What would happen if you picked up someone for a date in the hearse? Has this happened? What was the reaction of your date?

4. What do friends and family members say about your hearse?
5. Have you driven it to work? What were some reactions you received?

Bill replied that he was looking for a car to use in the winter. He has a Camaro that doesn’t handle the ice and snow. His plan to buy a “regular” vehicle (a Subaru) fell through. So, with a $1,000 budget, he searched Craigslist and found the hearse. He liked that it was a Buick LeSabre—he once owned one so it brought back fond memories. When he mentioned to his parents that he was thinking about purchasing a hearse, his mother said “Oh honey, don’t buy a hearse.” But the bottom line was that the car ran well and he could afford it, so the deal was done.

clip_image002[5]Bill acknowledged that the thought occurred to him that it was a weird vehicle to drive. But he likes the space it has to offer—he described it as a pickup truck with a cab on it, just a little creepier. He’s already thinking ahead to funny things that he can do for Halloween next year.

And, as a friend suggested to him, it would make for an awesome tailgating vehicle at a Buffalo Bills game (Trust me when I tell you that people bring all kinds of unique vehicles to the parking lots outside the Bills stadium. There’s a huge party scene in the parking lots before every Bills game). Overall, Bill views it as a practical multi-use vehicle; easy to move stuff and perfect to have during mountain-biking season. “The fact that it was used to transport corpses does not bother me,” Bill said, “I once dated a girl who became a mortician.”

As far as reactions, Bill did notice a woman stop in her tracks and stare the first time he drove it to work. While driving, two people have given him thumbs up. Several people have stopped him in parking lots to chat with him and quote lines from Ghostbusters. Three people have actually offered to buy the hearse (One of them likes to purchase unusual vehicles, including an old school bus). Two friends have made comments like “Every guy wants to own a car like this. And you can certainly pull it off.” One of his brothers loves it, his mother is now okay with it, and his father likes it. His nieces and nephews like it too (That doesn’t surprise me considering that children are less confined by convention compared with adults). In answer to my question about dating, he said that a woman he’s dating has friends who think its “cool as hell” that he drives a hearse.

Given that Bill has received many positive reactions, I had to question my assumption that driving a hearse is deviant behavior. Maybe driving a hearse isn’t as deviant as I initially thought it was. After all, if one’s behavior is met with approval rather than disapproval, then we are not in the deviance arena. I offered Bill a theory about some of the positive reactions he received: maybe it’s the case that some people actually respect the choice of an unconventional vehicle. Could it be that conformists have a certain amount of respect for nonconformists? That’s where I fit, anyway. For the most part I’m a “play by the norms” guy who likes it when someone else steps out of line (within reason, which is a subjective judgment).

With a few days to think things through, Bill sent me a message with an example of a negative reaction. He called a repair shop to make an appointment for a 1987 Buick LeSabre but didn’t mention it was a hearse. When he arrived for the appointment, the guy said “You didn’t tell me it was a dead person machine.” Also, when one of Bill’s friends takes the hearse to do some maintenance to it, he drives on back roads so that no one sees him.

Hmmm, I guess it’s a matter of mixed reactions, a lot of which are positive. I would conclude that driving a hearse is mildly deviant. It’s certainly a

long way from serious forms of deviance. I’d have to interview a lot more hearse drivers in order to learn about their experiences and to form a stronger opinion. I still think most people would be reluctant to drive a hearse and those who do will eventually encounter disapproval from others. Let’s put it this way. Suppose there was a deviance scale, with 1 being barely deviant and 10 being extremely deviant. I’d score driving a hearse as a 3. How about you?

I want to restate that sociologists don’t use the term “deviant” as a pejorative. Although “deviant” has a negative connotation in common usage, that’s not what sociologists intend when they apply the term. Both as a sociologist and as Bill’s friend, I don’t think he’s a “freak” for driving a hearse. But I bet some people do (for instance, strangers who might think that but don’t say anything to him, in which case he’s not aware of their reactions). Well, what do you think? Would you drive a hearse?

January 25, 2011

Thinking Like a Sociologist: Beyond “That’s Just the Way it is”

KS_2010aBy Karen Sternheimer

Sometimes it’s easy to look around and figure that the way our society operates is inevitable. On the surface, it may seem that our friendship circles might seem to have evolved “naturally”—we’re friends with people we like and there’s nothing more to it. We also might think that the organization of our schools and other institutions can’t change because this is the way they have “always been.”

For those of you learning about the sociological perspective for the first time, it might be tempting to think about social life this way—that the way our lives are organized, how we spend our time and with whom we spend it—is the result of only our personal choices and little more.

Sociologists look at how broader patterns shape small scale personal interactions as well as large institutions. These patterns can be hard to see when we are immersed in them. Like the air we breathe, they can become invisible, but they are vital to understanding our social world.

If you have ever looked out the window while flying on an airplane, some of these patterns become more visible. I recently took these photos from a flight when we were at an altitude of about 35,000 feet. Notice the patterns of circles and squares that might be less obvious on the ground.


As you can see in the image above, the homes are clustered in one area, and the major roads lead to this small population center. The shapes reflect social interaction: land is sectioned off to delineate property lines so it is clear who owns which land. The way the roads are built shape where people go and how they get there.

How the land would be partitioned and where the roads and homes would go were the result of decisions made by groups and leaders. Often the location of natural resources shaped these decisions: human populations often cluster near water sources and tend to be away from more rugged terrain. The stories behind how boundaries are drawn between states reflect both natural barriers like rivers and mountains, but those boundaries are also shaped by politics, economics, and power. (Check out this video to learn more about How the States Got their Shapes.)

Yes, this might seem obvious, but it is a reminder that specific, deliberate decisions created the patterns that shape our daily lives. And new decisions can alter these patterns as well.


Take, for example, the major economic shift that occurs when what was once a major source of revenue for a town disappears. Many western communities sprang up to mine silver and gold during the nineteenth century. But when the mines were tapped out, people left and the areas became ghost towns. Some of these towns (like the one pictured below) became parks and new patterns of interaction emerge.


So how can these examples apply to everyday life and help us go beyond the notion that “that’s just the way it is”? Below are some questions that are helpful to ask when learning to think like a sociologist:

  1. What underlying factors might be relevant in shaping this pattern? For instance, you might consider your group of friends and think about what broader patterns made it more likely that you would meet and have something in common. Both friendships and romantic relationships tend to be between people with similar socio-economic backgrounds, largely because we are more likely to interact them more regularly than those significantly wealthier or poorer than we are.
  2. What specific decisions or policies helped create this pattern? So often we overlook the important role that policies play. Continuing with the example File:Home Owners' Loan Corporation Philadelphia redlining map.jpgof friendship patterns, we can also consider how policies might have had an impact on race and friendships. Between 1934 and 1968, a federal policy called redlining shaped how banks made loans for home mortgages. Areas with African American residents were shaded in red and were considered too risky for loans underwritten by the government . This policy not only aided in the decline of these communities, but also helped foster both racial and economic segregation in American cities, patterns we still see today.
  3. What new decisions or policies can change this pattern? Just as underlying sociological factors and policies help to create patterns, new policies and practices can change patterns that might at first seem fixed and unchanging. For instance, as Janis Prince Inniss blogged about last year, the number of interracial couples has risen since 1980. There are many possible reasons for this, some of which might be the end of restrictive housing policies like those noted above with the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and of course the 1967 landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia which made state bans on interracial marriage illegal. Change can be slow—as Prince Inniss’s post points out, interracial marriage rates remained flat for decades.

These are just a few examples of how to get beyond thinking “that’s just the way it is.” What other patterns that we often take for granted might have deeper sociological explanations?

January 21, 2011

Social Theory and Siblings

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

Do you have brothers and sisters? Are you very different from each other or are you similar? Many people might report that they are more different than they are similar to their siblings. Researchers have come up with theories as to how people with similar genes and backgrounds can have such different personalities, have different talents, and sometimes make radically different life choices.

A recent story from National Public Radio (NPR) presented three theories about why siblings can be so different. The reporter briefly introduced a Darwinian File:Siblings.JPGtheory of Divergence, a sociological theory of Environment, and a social psychological theory of Exaggeration. She then described how each theory might help to account for the two brothers’ differences.

  1. The Darwinian theory suggests that in order to compete for their parents’ limited attention and secure their survival, siblings might purposely take on unique characteristics in order to maximize the resources devoted to them.
  2. Exaggeration theory suggests that children react to their families’ assessment of their personality characteristics and exaggerate qualities that family members perceive them to hold. This theory is similar to labeling theories and one of my favorite sociological concepts, the self-fulfilling prophecy. Labeling theories tend to examine how social realities are structured as a result of how we label things and people in specific ways. If you call someone stupid, you may only notice the things they do that seem less intelligent. A self-fulfilling prophecy is when a situation or condition is set out as truth yet it is in fact false. The consequence of this information has the effect of actually bringing that situation or condition into reality and then to some extent becomes. Sociologist Robert K. Merton coined the phrase, and gave an example of a bank that was fine in the morning, but during a day filled with rumors of its financial woes finds itself bankrupt at closing because customers heard these rumors and acted upon them, rushing to the bank and withdrawing their assets.
  3. The Environmental approach argues that although siblings grow up in the same families, life events will impact children differently based on their age, and therefore they might have profoundly different environments. According to that theory, the siblings had very different experiences while growing up in the same family. The timing of family events impacted the kids differently depending on their ages. The conclusion of the NPR story suggests that the two brothers’ differences might be best explained by the Environment theory.

File:Mannerheim siblings.jpgAnother example of this type of “environmental” theory is Jessie Bernard’s classic study of “his and hers” marriages, described in her 1972 book The Future of Marriage. She argued that each participant in a marriage has a unique perspective and experience. She also pointed out that men generally had a better experience in marriage than women, a finding that surprised many.

Studies like these can explain some of the mysteries of human relationships. They can also explain why, potentially, a cloned individual will not be an exact copy of its source, since the experience that the clone will have as it grows and matures will be markedly different than that of its DNA donor.

The NPR story got my attention because it was an interesting application of theory and mirrors what we do in class. As you learn different theories, each of which have a unique explanation, it is important to try them on to see how well they explain a specific phenomenon. In some cases, all theories may have something to add, while in other cases, one theory may emerge as more relevant than the others.

Are you significantly different in some way from some or all of your siblings? If so, what social theories might help explain your differences?

January 18, 2011

Gender at the Gym

new janisBy Janis Prince Inniss

Even if you slept through the ball drop in Times Square and missed other signs, there are several major clues that we're at the beginning of a new year.  Many of the indicators are related to weight loss. (There’s a slimmed down Jennifer Hudson in yet another Weight Watchers commercial!) I suppose the hyper focus on losing weight is a result of our overindulgence in high calorie food and drink during the holidays, and also because so many New Year’s resolutions center on weight loss. So as you shop in big and small stores, you'll see weight loss products featured: weights, exercise mats, purported diet aids, and gym clothing. On TV you'll see ads for all of these items, and for gyms.
If you have a gym membership—one that you use—then be prepared for the crowd! Arrive early for your favorite step/cycle or other class because the gym will be packed. All of these “extra” people provide an opportunity to people watch, however. And as a sociologist, people watching is one of my favorite sports. (It’s also one of the reasons that I don’t plug my ears up with music at the gym; I need to hear what’s going on to be fully engaged in my observations! But I digress…)

clip_image002At my gym, most of the cardio machines are on the second floor of a two story building. The second floor overlooks the first and while I sweat and am supposed to be catching up on my newspaper reading, I have a great view of the goings-on downstairs. From my perch above the main floor at my gym, I can witness all kinds of things; in particular, how we “do” gender.

clip_image004In the many years that I’ve been going to gyms, I can’t recall seeing a single man of a certain age with a trainer. Do you know what age I’m referring to? I guess it would be the age at which men think of themselves as in their physical prime, because they appear not to have any interest in being told by anyone how to work out until about age 40 or later, despite the fact that they might be quite clueless about how to properly use the equipment. (Most gyms don’t have regular members under age 18.) I’ve seen young men grunting and sweating “pumping iron” with great confidence, even when their technique was wrong. After about age 40, men seem more willing to get some direction, even from a female trainer…but more on that later.

Women, on the other hand, seem to be the bread and butter of trainers. They are much less likely to strike out on their own with weights or machines than similarly ignorant men. Of course, this is not true across the board, but overall my observation is that women are comfortable in group classes (yoga, Zumba, Pilates, step, kick-boxing and other classes are usually almost exclusively the domain of wclip_image006omen, with a few brave males appearing occasionally). Usually, women are also found on various cardio machines such as stationery bikes, stair masters, and treadmills. But even the most ardent female runners seem reluctant to step into the unknown world of weights and machines.

Yes, lots of women train with free weights and weight machines, many of them without trainers. What I’ve observed though, is that women who don’t know how to use something seem to bide their time and then get a trainer to show them the ropes. For example, Ella (this is the name I’ve given her) is a cardio regular. At least six days a week, she runs or uses some other cardio machine, in addition to attending a spin class! Yet despite her apparent mastery of cardio, a few weeks ago Ella began using weight machines under the direction of a trainer. A man of Ella’s age—I would guess she’s around 30—and fitness level would be far less likely to hire a trainer based on my observations.

clip_image008Another way that I observe gender differences at the gym is by noting the ratio of male to female trainers; males in this profession out number females greatly! (As with other such gendered divisions, I have observed a change in the direction of equality: There are now far more women trainers than just a few years ago and in some areas of the country, the ratio may be about equal.) I’ve also noticed that women are more likely to be clients of the few female trainers.

Why do you think that is? Are men—when they do seek direction in this arena—less willing to take instructions from a woman, in what might still be seen as a masculine endeavor? Would your gender and that of a trainer influence your decision about what trainer to employ? How else do people “do gender” in public spaces?

January 14, 2011

When Our Baby Was Born

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

When I was young I thought a man paced in a hospital waiting room until his wife gave birth. The image in my head was of a new father passing out cigars to celebrate the birth of his child. But my wife has given birth twice now and I’ve yet to spend any time in a waiting room.

For both births I was in the delivery room for the entire time, except when I was asked to step out briefly so that the anesthesiologist could administer something to my wife to relieve the pains of labor. That’s one of the rare situations when it’s acceptable for someone to yell “GIVE ME THE DRUGS,” which was my wife’s catchphrase during our son’s recent birth. Christmas came early for us in 2010, when our son Mack was born on December 10. This blog serves as a sociological reflection of the experience.

One thing that stood out to me was how technology played a significant part on the day of his birth and during the first days of his life. In the delivery room I had a ton of nervous energy. Let’s face it, there’s not much a husband can do during labor except to encourage his wife and do his best to comfort her. There were hours of waiting around before the birth actually happened.

So aside from talking to my wife, I spent some time sending text messages to my brother and a good friend. It was pretty much a way of killing time and sharing my enthusiasm and happiness. When our first son was born in 2007, I don’t recall sending any text messages at all. In fact, if memory serves, the phone I had at that time didn’t even send text messages. For a long time I had no interest in texting and resisted using it as a form of communication. By 2010, however, I succumbed to the texting culture in which we live. So there I was sending text messages while anticipating a major moment in my family’s life.

There’s no way I can adequately describe the miracle of birth. There are no words I can type to do it justice. Let’s just say it’s amazing and mind blowing to see the birth of a baby. Tears of joy spilled out of my eyes when the delivery was successful and our baby had joined the world (this may be one of the few times it’s socially acceptable for a man to cry). The nurse asked me to cut the umbilical cord. I tried to refuse because scissors and newborn flesh seemed like a really bad combination. But the nurse insisted and so I performed the duty.

We called our friends and family to announce our good news, sent some text messages, and, of course, we posted pictures on Facebook. The picture you see is one we put on Facebook, and in response some Mack
people wrote “he’s handsome”--obviously a gender specific term. I think it’s safe to say the same baby in a pink outfit would be called pretty rather than handsome.

Other people wrote to say they liked his name. Would they tell us if they didn’t? Isn’t it a norm to say that someone’s new baby is beautiful and that you like their name? (By the way, remember when Facebook was only for college students? Things sure have changed. My 65-year-old father uploaded pictures from his digital camera onto his Facebook page before we posted pictures on my wife’s page).

Leaving the hospital the first time after the baby was born, I felt different compared to when our first son was born. When our first son was born I felt a dramatic change come over me, and I thought other people could sense it, as if somehow they knew I had just experienced a life-changing event. It was as though there was a sign on my forehead that said “New Father.” This time I felt a different sensation. It was like someone pressed the reset button, and suddenly my wife and I were back to the world of miniature diapers and overnight feedings.

We received gifts—lots of gifts—and it was interesting that some of the gifts were handmade, such as blankets and winter hats. That’s not something I’d expect in a society in which everybody is so busy all of the time. Gift cards are so popular in our society because they make gift-giving an efficient process. Don’t get me wrong, we were happy to receive those too! But nothing compares to the personal touch of a gift made by someone you know. Family members brought over food that they cooked, and that was also a nice personalized touch.

As I write this, our baby is two weeks old, and our first Christmas with him was awesome. A new baby is better than any gift you could find under a tree or in a stocking. Now, if only babies came with manuals, they’d be much easier to figure out! But with uncertainty and anxiety comes adventure and surprises. Babies truly are amazing and have a unique capacity to turn your life upside down.

January 11, 2011

The Medicalization of Beauty

KS_2010aBy Karen Sternheimer

The show Bridalplasty has garnered a large amount of criticism since its debut in November. Featuring brides-to-be competing for cosmetic procedures and the chance to win a high-priced wedding, the show touches on many important sociological issues: gender, culture and beauty, marriage, and rituals.

Another important sociological concept--medicalization--is applicable here. The term refers to the practice of redefining a behavior, concern, or practice as a problem to be “solved” by doctors. At the core of this and other cosmetic surgery- oriented shows, individual differences in appearance are reclassified as problems to be solved through cosmetic procedures.

The process of medicalization makes it seem normal and natural for particular issues to be dealt with via medication or surgery. For instance, children’s behavioral problems can be reclassified as the medical problem of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and handled with medication. This seems normal and even helpful at a time when nearly ten percent of American children have been diagnosed with ADD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medicalization can have dangerous effects. In the 1940s, a new kind of surgery was used to “cure” various forms of mental illness. Lobotomies, described in this PBS film, involved severing part of the brain’s prefrontal cortex in order to produce a calming effect on otherwise agitated patients—sometimes children. This practice continued until the advent of antipsychotic drugs in the 1950s.

You might know people who are genuinely helped by various forms of behavioral medication—I do—and wonder why sociologists even talk about medicalization. Certainly there are positive effects of medicalization.

In the late nineteenth century, peddlers promoted so-called health tonics which often contained powerful drugs like morphine and cocaine. The medicalization of pharmaceuticals has helped reduce the dangerous ingestion of dangerous drugs. Before the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906, patent medicines kept their ingredients secret, so people might have been taking a tonic laced with heroin and not even know it.

Medicalizing various conditions, like Tourette syndrome, which can lead sufferers to speak and move unintentionally, has helped to provide not just treatment but also understanding; other people might have previously blamed sufferers for failing to control themselves.

The concept of medicalization does not ask that we dismiss the institution of medicine at all; the point is that we should critically consider how we think about some things previously believed to be “normal,” and how these issues become problems that have medical fixes. Some behaviors that were once considered to be simply sinful—such as heavy drinking—are now widely thought to be illnesses, and medical treatments and facilities are available to help sufferers.

clip_image002[4]And of course physicians think critically about medicalization too, particularly those concerned with ethical practices. One surgeon told ABC News that the show Bridalplasty violates several ethical principles, particularly the notion that surgical procedures are “rewards” rather than carefully made decisions, weighing the potential health risks with benefits.

It’s also interesting to consider which issues become medicalized, and when. At a time when many doctors are struggling to provide basic care for patients facing rising medical costs, cosmetic procedures are a very lucrative business. Since many procedures aren’t covered by insurance, patients pay the fees directly and doctors don’t have to deal with the bureaucracy of reimbursement.

The appearance of aging becomes defined as pathological right at the same time as we have a very large cohort of aging baby boomers, a ready-made market for new products that supposedly help people look younger. Mix in a tight job market where age can be an obstacle to finding work, and the demand to alter one’s appearance becomes even stronger.

Do you know people who have had cosmetic surgery? I do; in fact I know several. The more we know people who have had such procedures done, the more we see ads and hear celebrity news about new drugs and procedures, the more normal and natural the medicalization of beauty becomes.

Who doesn’t want to do whatever they can to look “better?” This post is not meant to be a criticism of those who seek to alter their appearance, but instead as a discussion of the impact of medicalization. What other effects of medicalization can you think of?

January 07, 2011

Holiday Shopping Breach

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

clip_image002Imagine walking through your local shopping mall, passing many shoppers and stores full of holiday items. It’s cold outside so most people have coats on and are bundled up in many layers of clothing. You’re walking along thinking of what you need or want.

Imagine now that you become aware that something in your field of vision looks odd. It breaks you out of your thoughts and you notice that a shopper coming towards you looks different in some way from all the other people at the mall.

It quickly becomes apparent that this person has a coat and sweater on like everyone else but their legs are bare. Completely bare. No pant legs covering those legs. Really!

You look at their face to try to figure out why their legs are completely bare. You don’t want to look down at those clip_image004legs again just in case it’s not that there are no pant legs but no pants at all. Your quick glance up shows you that they are walking along with an expression similar to others and they are carrying a few shopping bags just like everyone else. Except for those bare legs. Those really bare legs, as far up as you could notice without looking further.

This was my experience today. I took a break from grading sociology papers and went out to walk and pick up some things for the holidays. Was I rewarded with an experience I would not want to experience every day!

As I realized that this person might be shopping with no pants on, she passed me and I continued looking at the woman who was walking behind her and towards me. She had also noticed the bare-legged woman as she came out of a store and walked in the same direction. Her expression was priceless, and she clearly was as shocked and confused by this as I was. She looked down and up and down and up and over at me to see if I too had noticed. I nodded slightly and made a subtle facial gesture to acknowledge that I had seen the same image she had - although she was looking at the person from the rear and because I did not turn around, I’m not quite sure what else she saw that I missed.

As I kept walking in my original direction, I wondered how salespeople would handle it if they were interacting directly with this person. She was carrying shopping bags, so it seemed like she might have already had some kind of sales interaction. However, if that had happened, that interaction did not prompt her to put any pants on!

Two things might explain why the woman was dressed the way she was. One, the shopping bags might not be from a recent purchase. She might be a homeless person simply carrying her belongings through the mall. I did not notice any obvious signs of homelessness, though, so I have no other evidence for that theory.

Second, its possible that she was wearing some sort of really-short shorts, although they would have had to be really short, as short as underwear. Another clip_image006interpretation of the situation might be that she had some mental health issues and was indeed unaware that she was not fully dressed. She did appear to be an older person, although I didn’t see her clearly enough to estimate her age.

I picked up my pace to get home and write this blog because there are so many aspects of this situation that can be analyzed sociologically.(The grading would have to wait!)

What I saw at the mall was first and foremost a great example of a norm breach. This person was most definitely breaking (or breaching) the norm of wearing a full set of clothes while shopping or otherwise inhabiting a public place. The person behind her was noticing this breach and we were communicating through non-verbal gestures to acknowledge it.

Typically repairs follow a norm breach where people will work to “fix” the breach and return life to normal. The other shopper and I did this after our brief eye contact and head nods by continuing our shopping as if nothing out of the norm had happened.

Once security officers, salespeople, or many other shoppers notice her I would predict that a more active repair might occur, where she is either questioned about her mental state and/or asked to leave the mall. Or to put on some pants.

How else might your sociological imagination can help to explain or interpret this situation?

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