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The written paper should: be double-spaced; about 5-10 pages in length (depending on the number involved); preferably word-processed; adhere to accepted rules and conventions of English grammar and composition; and demonstrate sound argumentation, appropriate use of strong evidence, and responsible use of rhetoric. The analysis should demonstrate an understanding of sociological concepts and theory.Outside resources, if used, should be properly noted and referenced.

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The Strange World of the Familiar: Sociological Inquiry
Assignment #2 (Worth 20%)
For this assignment: 1) carefully observe what’s going on in a few examples of a specific kind of social setting;
2) combine your observations into a description of what typically occurs in terms of social roles or interaction
patterns; and 3) sociologically analyze what you found.
Examples of Social Settings
• courtrooms
• rock concerts
• ski resorts
• grocery stores
• franchise coffee shops • funeral homes
• family restaurants
• dollar stores
• subway cars
• bingo halls
• movie theatres
• children playgrounds
• nursing homes
• bookstores
• fitness centres
• church/mosque/etc. services
• strip clubs
• peewee hockey games
• hotel lobbies
• pubs or clubs or taverns
The Field Work
Select a specific kind of social setting to study. Visit about three examples of that social setting as a participant
The field work involves carefully observing a) the recurring features of the setting, and b) the kinds of social
behaviours and interactions that typically occur in the setting. Regarding the latter, first identify the main social
positions within the setting. Then focus on the characteristic role expectations and status rights that are
associated with one (or two) of the social positions; or on a set of the interaction patterns (i.e., interaction
rituals) that regularly occur among participants in the social setting. You’re looking for what is common,
typical or recurring in the various examples, including what, at first, might first seem to be insignificant, but
nevertheless recurring details.
Organizing and Describing Your Observations
The task here is to combine your observations of the different examples into a single general description of what
you typically found regarding the social setting, the performances of those occupying the social position you
focused on, or the interaction patterns you noted. That is, synthesize your observations into a typical profile of
the setting, a typical role performance, or the typical interaction patterns within the setting.
There may be several social positions in the setting you selected. But if you’re going to observe what occurs in
the settings in terms of role performance, focus on the role associated with one social position (two at most).
Social roles are complex. They involve mastery of certain behaviours, mannerisms and props. They also involve
performing with appropriate feelings, attitudes and beliefs. And since all social positions have a certain status,
role performances also involve the status rights, privileges and prestige associated with the social position.
If you’re going to observe what occurs in the settings in terms of significant interaction patterns, focus on a set
of the recurring patterns of conduct among participants that you found noteworthy as well as the norms, beliefs
and values that are expressed through those patterns.
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The Sociological Analysis
The aim of sociological analysis is to understand what’s going on in the setting by inquiring into the different
levels of significance to the social behaviours. For instance, role performances and interactional rituals fulfill
both obvious practical goals as well as less apparent social purposes and functions. A key to getting at these
different levels is to simply ask probing questions about what is being done, as well as how it is regularly
organized and/or the way it is routinely carried out.
Most things are regularly done don’t really have to be done, and almost everything that is done could actually be
done otherwise. So why are people regularly do this in these settings (that are organized in that manner) in the
way they do? What does it tell us about what’s going on here and why?
Working By Yourself or With Another
This project can be done by one, two or three students. In the case of two or three, the project will be expected
to be of greater breadth, and each member will share the same grade.
If people work together, it is recommended that members discuss:
• what kind of grade each member is expecting
• the energy and commitment each is willing to put into the project
• how the project will be carried out (i.e., how the field work and writing will be divided up: who will review
the final paper to ensure coherence; the specific contribution each member is expected to make by the other
members; how members’ skills and strengths can complement one another).
The Written Paper
The written paper should: be double-spaced; about 5-10 pages in length (depending on the number involved);
preferably word-processed; adhere to accepted rules and conventions of English grammar and composition; and
demonstrate sound argumentation, appropriate use of strong evidence, and responsible use of rhetoric. The
analysis should demonstrate an understanding of sociological concepts and theory. Outside resources, if used,
should be properly noted and referenced.
Submit a hardcopy of the paper. Staple your assignment and include a cover sheet as well as a sign-off sheet, if
more than one student is involved. Do not use plastic covers or other presentation materials.
Plagiarism and Falsifying Authorship
Plagiarism occurs when a student(s) hands in as his/her/their own work, material that consists of, in whole or in
substantial part, someone else’s words. Plagiarism will result in a grade of zero for that assignment. If a group
presents work that has actually only been done and written up by one member, that will be considered to be
falsification of authorship and will be treated as plagiarism. All concerned, including the person who did the
work, will receive zero.
Relevant Articles in E. Ksenych and D. Liu, The Pleasure of Inquiry, Thomson Nelson, 2008
The most relevant reading is “Observing” (pp. 428-441). The article discusses observation as a research method
and how to do an observational field project.
Levin’s “The Sociological Perspective” (pp. 45-56) provides a general introduction to studying the social world
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sociologically and briefly discusses symbolic interactionism, the theoretical approach used in this assignment.
Blumer’s article “The Methodological Position of Symbolic Interactionism” (pp.88-92) discusses the basis of
this theoretical approach in more detail. If the focus of your project is on interaction patterns, then the article by
Geiser , “Goffman: Rituals of Interaction” (pp.146-153) may be useful. And McIntyre’s article “Doing the
Right Thing: Ethics in Research” (pp.454-466) outlines the general principles behind carrying out a field project
ethically and discusses some of the issues which may arise.
Some articles from the Pleasure of Inquiry: Readings in Sociology (2008) by Ed Ksenych and David Liu (note:
this book is on reserve in the Casa Loma Library if you wish to access these articles) which involve analyzing a
social setting with a focus on either role performances or interaction patterns are:
• Miner, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” (pp. 4-9)
• Reiter, “Life in a Fast Food Factory” (pp. 10-17)
• Richer, “The Issue of Educational Opportunity” (pp. 119-130)
• Beagan, “Even If I Don’t Know What I’m Doing I Can Make It Look Like I Know What I’m
Doing”: Becoming a Doctor in the 1990’s (pp. 131-145)
• Bruckert, “The World of the Professional Stripper” (pp. 307-322)
The Sociological Framework Used in this Field Study
The sociological framework used in this field study is “symbolic interactionism”, specifically the “dramaturgic model of social life”.
Drawing on a theatrical metaphor, this framework asks us to view social life as “social actors” performing in social positions within a
social setting or scene. The social positions have typical privileges and expectations connected to them. And the interactions among
the actors are governed by interactional norms appropriate to the situations that arise in the setting. As a result of these social
requirements, there is a degree of typicality to the role performances and patterns to the interactions found among the individuals who
occupy the social positions.
Within this framework, the status of a social position refers to the usual rights and privileges accorded to those who occupy a position.
Role refers to the typical expectations directed at individuals who occupy the social position and their typical responses to those
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expectations. Role expectations have both an external dimension (i.e., costumes, behaviours, props, manners, etc.) and an internal
dimension (i.e., attitudes, beliefs, feelings, etc.) to them. Norms refer to the explicit and implicit social rules (such as formal laws and
regulations, moral injunctions, customary folkways and cultural habits) which prescribe how occupants of social positions in a specific
setting should conduct themselves. In social setting studies, attention is often given to the informal rules and expectations that shape
social interactions.
The Aim of the Field Study
The aim of this study is to observe, describe and analyze what’s going on in a specific type of social setting in terms of social
positions, role performances or interaction patterns.
Specifically, what are common or regular features of the social setting? What are the main social positions available in that setting? If
your focus is on roles, then what are the characteristic status rights and role expectations that apply to these positions? If your focus is
on interactions, then are there any recurring interactional patterns or ritual encounters? If so, then what are the norms that govern
these interaction patterns?
Doing the Field Work
The field work involves visiting a few examples of a chosen social setting to observe what’s happening and to note regularities and
patterns in the setting and people’s conduct.
In addition, you are asked to organize and report your observations using the symbolic interactionist framework. That is, describe
what’s happening in terms of social positions, roles, role performances and/or norm-governed interaction patterns.
Since there are so many things you could describe regarding people’s conduct in any social setting, focus your descriptions on one or
two social positions and how individuals are performing in terms of status privileges and role expectations. Or focus on the recurring
interaction patterns.
Analyzing Your Observations Sociologically
To some extent, observing and reporting what’s happening in terms of positions, roles and/or interaction patterns and norms already
represents a partial analysis of the situation in sociological terms. However, the main analysis involves accounting for and
understanding the role performances and/or the norm-governed interaction patterns in terms of their practical, social structural and
cultural significance. This is not the same as just explaining away what one sees through literal or familiar interpretations, even
though insightful applications of practical reasoning highlight an important dimension of what is, of course, occurring.
In analyzing social settings, it’s useful to remember there are several layers of meaning to social reality. So give attention to what’s
explicitly going on and what may be implicitly or indirectly occurring. The implicit dimensions often become visible when observing
the detailed patterns of how things are actually organized and actually carried out, and then reflecting on why this way rather than
some other possible way. Other levels of meaning have to do with recognizing that what’s going on also reflects broader social
structural arrangements, cultural systems and historical changes, although we may not have noticed this at first.
Relevant Readings in Conflict, Order and Action
The following articles from the reader [Ed Ksenych and David Liu (ed), Conflict, Order and Action, 3rd ed, Canadian Scholars Press, 2001] provide a
more extensive background to symbolic interactionist theory and some key concepts: Herbert Blumer, “Society as Symbolic
Interaction” (pages 100-103); and, Saul Geiser, “Goffman: Rituals of Interaction” (pages 104-111).
Doing the social setting project involves working with “qualitative” rather than quantitative research methods, notably “observation”
and “participant observation”. For an overview of these methods read J. Aaron and M, Wiseman, “Observation” (pages 444-447) and
“Participant Observation” (pages 448-453).
And if the focus of your investigation is on roles rather than on interaction rituals, you may find Aron and Wiseman’s guidelines for
doing a role analysis helpful (pages 460-467), although their approach involves outlining encounters among more social roles than this
assignment requires.
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There are also examples of different styles of doing social setting studies in the reader:
• B. Glaser and A. L. Strauss, “The Ritual Drama of Mutual Pretence” (pages 114-123)
• Stephen Richer, “Equality to Benefit from Schooling” (pages 150-160)
• J. Haas and W. Shaffir, “The Professionalization of Medical Students” (pages 161-171)
• Ester Reiter, “Life in a Fast-Food Factory” (pages 182-188)
• W. E. Thompson and J. L. Harred, “Topless Dancers” (pages 358-374)
Other Relevant Readings
There are many theoretic background readings, further examples of studies, and general overviews of the main subject areas of
sociological study which are cited in your course outline under “Print Resources”. Sometimes it can be useful to check out the
relevant chapter of a general sociology textbook which outlines the broad topic area your particular social setting project falls into.
Internet Resources
Finally, if you would like to draw on Internet resources to assist you in gathering, discussing, and analyzing your research project
findings, there are sites listed in your course outline. In addition, the following general sociology sites may be of some use:
The SocioWeb:
SocioSite: Going Dutch:
Academic Information: Sociology:
Statistical Resources on the Web: Sociology
GSSC 1159: The Strange World of the Familiar: Sociological Inquiry
Writing Up the Social Setting Project
Your social setting project paper should include separate sections which respond to each of the following areas:
Introduction: What is the purpose of your field study? Clearly and explicitly state the purpose of your field
Method: What did you do in your field study? Outline the general approach you took to the social setting
project and the details of how you actually did your particular project.
Results of the Field Research:
What did you find based on the participant observation you did? Describe
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the results of your observations: a) of the social setting you studied, as well as b) of the role expectation and
status of the social position(s) you focused on, or of the interaction patterns you noticed.
Your description should consolidate or synthesize what you observed by focusing on what you “typically” or
“generally” found. Highlight notable particularities as a variation, exception, etc. from the typical or the general.
Use the basic sociological language which frames this field project (e.g., social position, role, status, ritual
interaction patterns, norms, etc.) to organize and present your findings. Finally, remember that details of what
you observed are important even though they seem ordinary and trivial at first.
Sociological Analysis: How can we understand, or account for, what you found sociologically? The most
important question to keep asking about what you observed is “why?”, or more specifically, “why did you see
this and not some other possibility?” Use sociological concepts, other relevant social scientific research, or
sociological theory to assist you in framing and developing responses. If you do, take the time to outline the
concept, research or theory.
The following are some possible angles to also consider in discussing and analyzing your findings
sociologically: a) use your observations to illustrate a relevant sociological concept or process taken up in the
course; b) use structural-functionalism or conflict theory to further interpret and understand the significance of
what you found; c) compare and contrast readings from the course, or other social scientific research of which
you are aware, by highlighting what applies and doesn’t apply to your findings; and d) check out a relevant
chapter from a general introductory sociology textbook in the library and work with it to discuss aspects of your
Concluding Reflections: What did you learn from this project? If you didn’t learn anything from this project,
think about and then write about your own mindset and/or ways you might have changed your approach to this
Assignment originator: Ed Ksenych, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, George Brown College
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