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Sociology Actually: Blanket Norms

blanketparkJust 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?

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Bo Cassell is an Associate Professor of Sociology at MidAmerica Nazarene University. In his 20+ years of experience working with youth and young adults, he has directed mission programs, developed youth conferences, and served as a youth pastor. He is the author of three books, including Water, Fire, Wind: The Elements of Following Christ, and Global Christianity: The Life We’re Called To Live-- both of which were commissioned as the preparation reading for two youth conferences attended by over 17,000 teenagers. He has also written curriculum for WordAction Publishers, and published several articles in Group Magazine, Journal for Student Ministries, Youthworker Journal, and Credo Magazine. A student of missions and culture, he has traveled to over a dozen countries, and set foot on every continent except Antarctica. He is a sought after speaker for leadership and youth ministry workshops, college campus chapels, and youth camps and retreats. Bo is a graduate of Pepperdine University, Fuller Theological Seminary, and the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He holds two Masters degrees, and is working toward a PhD. He lives outside of Kansas City.

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Guest Friday, 25 July 2014

About This Blog

OhBehave is the outreach blog of the MNU Behavioral Sciences Department. In matters related to Psychology, Sociology, and Criminal Justice you will find information and updates geared to keep students and professionals abreast of the latest research, professional developments, and important trends in each field. As we seek a life of purpose, the material presented in this blog is meant to enhance and deepen our understanding of people and our world so that we may intentionally reflect the grace and peace of our creator.