Blogs by MidAmerica Nazarene University staff and faculty.
Sociology Actually: Blanket Norms
Just for fun, a Summer sociology blog thought...
I was at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival in Kansas City, and sitting with a friend, we were talking about how sociology is actually, all around. Very often the invisible social rules that we all play by are in place to limit our individual desires, and to define the situation that might otherwise be undefined.
As we waited for the play to start, there we began discussing the social rules that govern our behavior. Right there in front of us were a number of rules related to seating in an open air park that were all put in place to balance the tension between what we want to do as individuals, and what we must give up as individuals in order to have the benefits of social order. There were some rules that were formal-- written down by the event organizers-- no sitting in the "aisles" (which in the grass field were outlined by yard lights), and there was a section for taller lawn chairs, and a section for blanket seating which were marked off by signs.
The most interesting thing however, is the number of norms-- the sociological term for rules that govern our behavior-- the invisible, informal, unwritten, but still agreed upon and followed. Since I was in the "blanket on the ground" section, most of my observations concern behavior in that area. Here is a list of what we observed, the unspoken rules that everyone (of North American culture) knew and followed:
* Once you put a blanket down, that is your claimed space, no one else can move it, steal it, or walk across it. This applies even if the blanket is unattended. You do not need to be present to defend your blanket, everyone knows not to walk on it or touch it.
* Blankets must be neatly laid out flat. Any blanket that is crumpled or not neatly laid out does not make any claim to space, and can be touched, or even moved aside by others.
* Blankets are not allowed to touch the blanket of someone else. A "neutral zone" of 2-3 inches minimum must be kept between blankets, preferablly 6 or more inches. If someone wants to move into that zone, they must ask permission of the other blanket owner.
* Blankets must have one square edge facing the stage. They are not allowed to be set down in a "diamond" shape, with a blanket corner pointing toward the stage. (Remember, there is no written rule for this, but everyone follows it).
* There is a two blanket limit. No matter the size of your group, you are limited to two blankets. One person may stake out a section of two blankets, but it is assumed that more friends are coming. But it is perfectly acceptable for groups as small as 3 to have two blankets, and groups as large as 8 or even 10 must still stay on two blankets.
* Even though this takes place in a grassy park, because this space is defined as a theatre, all other theatre rules and norms apply. Although there is no rule listed, stated, or posted anywhere, you are not allowed to stand or kneel on your blanket during the performance. If you do so, the crowd will sanction you, yell at you, or even throw popcorn at you. Although there are no chairs to sit on in the blanket section, it is assumed that you must sit on your behind, or recline in the blanket section (this one is especially interesting, because other rules are verbalized-- you are told not to use cell phones, but no one tells you that you can't stand or kneel, yet everyone knows it). Other theatre norms, such as no talking during the performance are strictly enforced by others in the crowd.
These are the ones I observed-- can you think of any other "invisible rules" that I missed?