Students in Christine Abbott’s Sociology 2000 class have been breaking the rules all over Corner Brook.
The Grenfell sociology professor asked her students to “break a norm”, and then write about it: Which norm did they break? How did it feel? What were the reactions of others around them?
The submissions from her students ranged from eating off other people’s plates and spitting on the floor to submitting a poorly written paper on purpose, and driving through a drive-thru on a bike.
“The assignment is meant to have students experience the ‘power’ of behavioural social norms in our daily lives,” said Prof. Abbott. “By challenging themselves to break a social norm, they experience what it feels like to be other than what is considered ‘normal’ by the majority of the population. And while many wrote of the anxiety and stress they felt before breaking a norm, they ultimately found the experience to be freeing and empowering.”
First-year student Jessica Osmond of Gander, NL, decided to invite her friend, Kathi-Lee Regular of Baie Verte, to an evening of fine dining – at McDonald’s.
“When I finally came up with my McDonald's idea, it just instantly grabbed on,” said Ms. Osmond. “I knew if it made me and my friends laugh just talking about it, we would definitely turn some heads and get some good reactions actually doing it.”
She said it was the total absurdity of the concept that struck her – to dress up to the nines, spread out a table cloth and drink pop out of wine glasses.
“It was the idea of setting up a fancy table at McDonald's and eating our food with knives and forks,” she said. “It was just so utterly random and unexpected from anybody from any type of background.”
Ms. Osmond said she actually found that breaking the norm was “fulfilling.”
“It felt so good to put ourselves out there and completely astonish people to the point where they didn't even know how to react,” she said. “Both Kathi-Lee and I agreed that we felt so free while doing it, that we wanted to do things like it all the time. In a way, you almost feel a sense of power. Even though people thought that we were the subjects for their observation, we were actually observing and analyzing them.”
After breaking such a norm, she reflected, one comes to realize how ridiculous some expectations in our culture really are. Ms. Osmond said the sociology course has helped her understand the underlying boundaries that infiltrate our subconscious.
“You begin to question ‘why is this such a big deal?’” she said. “Many of the things for which people are looked down upon could be avoided if society didn’t form all of these 'rules' that we are expected to obey.”
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