15 thoughts on “An outbreak of awkwardness at The Guardian

  1. I’m a big fan of getting stuck in below the line for my CiF pieces. Let them rant for a bit then remind them that an actual human being wrote it. Also you can get good comments so you need to endorse them and reply. People tend to a lot less crazy when they know the author is reading.

  2. Happy New Year AUFS folks. I avoided reading the comments (I know how they tend to degenerate) but liked the article, and it makes me want to read the book. I have a question, though, and probably it is already answered in the book, so forgive me. The article immediately made me think of Garfinkel and his ‘breaching experiments’ – certainly there’s an overlap with the phenomenon of awkwardness that attended his (more often his students’) experiments, and these do indeed show up (were designed to show up) the presence of a social norm.

    But I wondered about your phrase “Social norms have steadily eroded throughout the postwar period, particularly in the wake of the upheaval of the 1960s.” Is it that they’ve eroded or is it rather that they’ve changed? I seem to remember someone more recently tried to recreate Garfinkel’s experiments and found the same awkwardness, or even the same reluctance to undertake or continue the experiments when embarrasment was either experienced or anticipated. I recall that one of the norms being breached in the original ’60s experiments was one about informality: when dining with one’s family the norm is not to address them in the same langauge as e.g. one would a landlord/lady. Perhaps there’s a greater informality in everyday norms today but this is still a norm, and arguably (and paradoxically) quite a strict one. For example, we’d notice (and experience a certain awkwardness) if someone went all Cambridge-propositional-logic in the comments to this blog. So my point is one for there having been ‘change’ rather than ‘erosion’ in norms. Tangentially, there’s probably some link here to arguments Pete Wolfendale and others have been making about the unavoidability of norms. Anwyay, I’d like to know what you think.

  3. This is pretty surreal. If all my fave bloggers start writing in CiF I may have to start reading the Daily Mail just to establish some cognitive space between old and new media.

    Regarding CiF comments the article is apolitical so it should be fine.

  4. My preference for “erosion” rather than simply “change” is that it has become more difficult to know exactly what the norms are. For instance, what is the appropriate dress for a given setting? Even if someone does give you an answer, it’ll often be some inscrutable thing like “dressy casual.” We’re constantly tripping up, but without knowing what it would look like to do the right thing.

    Comments have basically been fine so far, I think.

  5. Point taken, but were they ever that clear? The rationale for Garfinkel’s breaching experiments was that if norms were as obvious and in the foreground as social theories like that of Parsons implied, then we would immediately know what to do as social actors. Garfinkel’s advance over Parsons was to show how much norms remain in the background and need work to clarify.

  6. But my broader point is that awkwardness is more fundamental than social norms and all social norms reach their end — if there really were exhaustive norms covering every situation, awkwardness would never arise. Some social orders are better at covering up awkwardness than others, though, and I think we live at a historical moment when the social order is remarkably ineffective. Whether it was more effective in the past or not is not that important to my argument overall.

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