The Sociology of Everyday Life

According to Goffman, we are all just actors on a stage reading/acting from socially prescribed (and proscribed) scripts. This is especially true when we take on different roles. List two different roles you take as an individual. How do these roles guide your behavior when you are in/around certain situations, places, or people? Are these roles in tension with each other, and if so, how does this tension matter for your behavior and the way others perceive you?
In what ways has the development of social media been good for society? In what ways has it been bad for society? Why is a society that uses social media different from one that doesn’t? How does the usage of social media change the way people interact with, relate to, and perceive/judge each other

The Sociology of Everyday Life
I still don’t know what to make of it. I was riding a public bus from my home in the suburbs to the downtown core of my home town. Fresh out of college, I had scored a great job with a promising future in bank management and was looking forward to spending the next few days in training downtown. There was standing-room-only as I grabbed onto the overhead rail towards the back of the bus and held on for the 30-minute ride. The attractive scents of perfumes and colognes wafted from the men and women dressed in suits, ties, and other business attire. People practiced the norm of what sociologist Erving Goffman called civil inattention: the conscious attempt to study something other than the strangers around you in a crowded space. All eyes carefully studied the passing scenes of the street through the bus windows or studiously read drug store novels they had brought with them.

Then, “it” happened. Two strangers, a man, and a woman were occupying the same seat just a few feet ahead of me. The man, seated next to and looking out the window, suddenly gave out an incomprehensible yell at the top of his lungs that sounded something like “HIIIII-YA-YA-YA-YA-YA-YA-YA-YA-YA-YA-YA!” As he did, he turned his head from looking out of the window to the young woman sitting beside him. When his yell ended, he simply turned his head again and continued looking out the window.

I and all of the other passengers were completely dumbfounded. We had no idea what had just happened or what caused this man to offer the shrill yell that pierced the hazy quiet of our morning bus ride. What should we do? I felt for the young woman sitting beside him, who must have died a dozen times while sitting beside him. What was he going to do next? Pull out a knife? Attack the woman or someone else? Something had to be done.

What happened next was just as fascinating as the man’s scream. Nothing happened. Not a thing. The young woman didn’t move. People on the bus kept their attention keenly focused on anything other than the man who had just yelled out. Everyone, acting in concert, simply pretended as if nothing had happened at all! Total silence and inattention were the collective, conspiratorial response. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that those with Turret’s syndrome sometimes yell out inadvertently. Was that perhaps what caused the unusual behavior? And even so, how could it be that all people on the bus would so conspicuously respond by totally ignoring what had just happened?

Sociology is not just about “big” things. It’s also about very “small” things – things you experience all the time and might not have realized could be theorized as part of social science. But there is, in fact, a rich tradition of sociology that does precisely this. In this last portion of the course, we will look up-close at the things we do – and gain greater insight into why we do it.

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