Social Norms: Conformity and Deviance

In every society, there are unspoken agreements that describe what is acceptable and what is not. These things are called the institutionalized norms. Each society’s norms vary by its culture. Norms, according to Newman, mainly only present a “general framework of expectations. ” So, within a society, each individual must be aware of what he or she can and cannot do. If one was to deviate from a norm, the deviator will then be looked upon society as “untrained” or “undisciplined. ” As a student in this course, I was assigned to violate two of America’s norms.

One of the norms I attempted to violate was to sit right next to someone, despite the fact that there was ample sitting available. This violation occurred on an early Monday afternoon, on Chicago’s Blue Line, as I head home from school, for the day. The train car was fairly empty, probably about less than half a dozen people occupied it. I saw this as an opportunity to do the research so I sat next to someone as soon as I got on the train. When I did sit next to the person, she did not seem to feel uncomfortable. She just simply kept a straight face and looked out the window.

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The person who I sat next to was listening to her iPod and probably just decided to focus on her music instead of worrying about why some random girl, who she does not even know, decided to sit next to her when there were plenty of other seats available. It’s as if she did not really mind that someone was trying to invade her personal space. Going back to when I had made up my mind about sitting next to someone, I felt nervous. I felt nervous about deviating from the norm. How would other people would see me? What would they think of me?

Those questions and similar ones were going through my head as I proceeded with my actions. So, as I sat next to the girl, I tried my hardest to keep a straight face and act like what I am doing is normal… that it happens everyday. I was listening to my iPod the whole entire time the ordeal was going on. I looked forwards and ahead of me, my peripheral vision was kept on the girl, observing how she was reacting to having me sit down next to her. But like I said earlier, she didn’t seem to be fazed about my actions and just continued to do about her business.

However, I, on the other hand, felt extremely awkward. There were so many times when I wanted to get up and move to a different seat. Fortunately, I was able to hold my composure and remained sitting. While sitting down, I tried to look at the other passengers and see how they reacted to me sitting down next to the girl. But, unlike what I had expected, they did not seem to care. They, like the girl, continued to do what they were doing. They did not even seem to notice me sit next to her.

I was a bit puzzled regarding how my predictions about their actions, were completely the opposite. I can only guess that this was because the girl I was sitting next to was also a student and she could care less about what I do, as long as I do not bother her. The others, however, who were a mix of both students and older civilians, probably did think that it was odd of me to sit next to the girl but chose to hide their facial expressions. The other deviance from norm that I did was the one where I had to make eye contact with someone in an elevator, without holding a conversation.

This one occurred on a Thursday afternoon before I had to go to class. I had just gotten out of the train and the digital clock on my phone read 1:30 pm. So, with time to spare, I called my friend, whom I knew was on break and asked her where she was. She had said that she was at the Student Organization Offices, which was located on the third floor of Student Center East. So, to get to where she was at, I had to take a special elevator that only leads to that area. This certain elevator was located near the east side of the bowling alley.

Then, as I waited for the elevator, a guy, who I am assuming was a student, came up next to me and started waiting for the elevator as well. When the elevator finally came, we both got in and it turned out that he was heading to the Student Organization Offices as well, seeing as he punched #3, indicating the third floor. The ride in the elevator was quiet, as it should have been. The two of us were leaning on opposite sides of the small elevator, facing each other. I looked straight at him and tried to maintain eye contact.

It was extremely uncomfortable and the elevator ride felt like hours instead of just minutes. The guy, whoever he may be, would look down and then look at me again as if he was trying to win this staring contest. His face made this sort of weird look, as if asking me, “What in the world are you looking at? ” He would maintain eye contact for a few seconds but guessing he cannot take the staring, he would look down for a while and go back to trying to stare me down again. Fortunately for me, I was able to keep myself from looking away.

Following through with this violation made me feel awkward. Staring at some stranger, at a cramped, silent elevator is something that no one in his or her right mind would do. It’s just isn’t normal. And, add to the fact that the student I happen to stare at seems like an activist because he was carrying poster boards with a thin wood attached to it, I was scared that he would start asking me questions about my views, which would then tempt me to answer him, because if I chose not to answer him, I would just seem rude and snobby.

Finally, the elevator chimed and we both walked out of the elevator, me going out first since I was nearer to the door, and never looked back. After both of these deviations, I felt relieved. Relieved that I had it and relieved that I do not have to do it again…or at least I hoped so. Comparing these two violations, I felt that the elevator one seemed more difficult. I guess it is because there were only the two of us there and that the setting of the deviation was in a small space, not leaving room for any privacy.

The one on the train seemed easier because unlike the elevator, the train car was at least 5 times more spacious and there were others there as well to make the situation more comfortable. Even still, after I did the violations, I wanted to explain to the person why I was doing what I was doing. The reason for that is because I wanted to feel accepted and not be thought as someone who does not follow “the rules. ” The rules meaning that one should not sit next to someone when there are other seats available and the one where a person should not stare at a stranger he or she does not know.

While performing the tasks, inside me, I wanted to tell them, “I’m so sorry for staring/sitting next to you but I have to do this for a sociology paper. ” I think the idea that being able to fit-in into society is so important that there is a need for me to explain my actions. Looking back, conformity is extremely vital in a society. Not only does it set the standards on what can and cannot happen, it distinguishes who understands the unspoken rules and who does not. Conformity is important, ecause it keeps society going. Without conformity, one would not know how to act toward another person. Hence, violating norms showed me that it is important to fit-in. That it is important to be accepted in society and be considered as someone else’s equal, and not feel inferior. It also taught me that those who feel as if they don’t fit in are either going out of their way to “define” themselves and be an individual or are constantly struggling to be accepted into the norms of society.

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