Breaking Folkways




My social experiment on breaking a folkway involved speaking loudlyon my cell in an elevator full of strangers. Although theconversation was not real, I made it appear as if I was talking to anew girlfriend I was keen to impress. The elevators section wassilent as people for the elevator to come descend for us to board.Some of the questions that I posed to the imaginary friend werepersonal and intimate. Ordinarily, such conversations should be heldin private or at a distance away from other people without makingthem overhear the conversation.

Eavesdropping has been looked down upon in many societies includingthe American society. Therefore, talking on a mobile phone in anelevator means that the people inside the elevator with me have tolisten to my conversation albeit unwillingly. Therefore keeping adistance while on a mobile phone or at least speaking in hushed tonesdoes not place the neighboring person to an uncomfortable situation.Eavesdropping is viewed as immoral and talking on a cell phone in thepresence of other people is immoral and unethical (Kornbaum, 2011).Keeping a distance from other people while on a phone or talking inlow tones shows respect and civilization. This allows peacefulcoexistence and avoids annoying or disrupting other people andmaintains general civility.

The event took place the midafternoon of 26th June at XXXYBuilding where I used an elevator alongside other people. I waiteduntil all the people entered the elevator and joined them last whileI was still on my phone. There were six people, two males and fourfemales, three of medium age and one elderly lady. My conversationpertained to me begging my friend on the other end of the call toprovide information on how his date was like. I pestered him to tellme whether they had been naughty on the first date. I also enquiredabout the appearance and looks of the supposed date. The conversationwas interspaced with giggles and laughter. I only did not lookdirectly into the people in the elevator but used the mirrors on thewalls to see their reactions.

Although no one in the lift complained about my behavior, I couldtell they disliked it. I noticed that the elderly woman was the mostuncomfortable one. She shifted on her feet severally and threw lewdside looks. I had anticipated she would be the one to tell to shutup. However, no one did. The males, who appeared strangers whippedout their cell phones. However, I could tell they were listeningsecretly to my conversation as they gave each other knowing lookswhen I asked my ‘friend’ whether they had used protection. One oftwo ladies, about the same age as my mum, just shook her head andlooked downwards in disapproval and utter embarrassment.

Given that what I was doing was not illegal, there was no way thatthe people in the elevator would use legal means to restore socialorder. The elderly woman stared me straight through the mirror tocommunicate her disapproval. I felt guilty and lowered my voice abit. The gents’ attempts to keep themselves busy and ignore myconversation would only restore social order to them only. Theelevator stopped on the fourth floor and the two males made a move toleave and as did so, one of them bumped into my left shoulder soforcefully that I dropped my phone. He did not even apologize andlooked at me with a sneering smile. The elderly lady did not mincewords and told me straight “that serves you right” which equatesto social sanctions (Andersen &amp Taylor, 2014). I picked up phoneand pretended to hung up. I figured that while the men understood thecontent of the conversation, they did not approve me doing in frontladies.

The higher income earning group has a more sophisticated idea ofcivility and etiquette. The working class also respects phoneconversations way better than the others. This is observed when somepeople request one to leave a room so that they can have a privateconversation on the phone or excuse themselves from a room when theircell rings. For other people in different cultural and socialgroupings, conversing in a cell phone in front of other people isnormal. Additionally, this norm varies with age groups. Aconversation on my cell in front of my friends is normal and evensome try to listen or even forcefully join the conversation. However,the same cannot happen in different age groups. Kornblum (2011) saysthat norms change with context and eve with time as it the case withnew norms of cellphone use which were nonexistent a few decades ago.

Banking halls, libraries and other public spaces have developed lawson cellphone use. While the conversation might not even discernible,the act alone is distracting especially when in library. Where theconversation is loud and one is forced to overhear, it isembarrassing. Before I undertook the experiment I expected people tohave a common attitude towards the same. For this reason, I feltguilty and embarrassed to do it. It contravened my manners.Afterwards, I felt sorry and even apologized to the lady and told herI dint know I was being so loud. All in all, I found it very tocarry out such an experiment that actually contravenes my beliefs andmanners.

The experiment further assured me that my manners are on point. Itgave the chance to see how people perceive norms, measures theyemploy to restore broken norms and the degree to which broken normsinterfere with normal life. From this, I have learned that peoplevalue their private space. Measures, both legal and even illegal, canbe used by individuals to enforce social norms that they feel arebeing violated.

Social research is guided by a set of ethical requirements and rules.One of the key requirements is that the safety of individuals is notcompromised. Another ethical requirement is that the privacy ofindividuals is not compromised such as the names of the subjectsrevealed without their authority. In the current case, I ensure thatsubjects’ lives were not put at risk and that their identities wereconcealed. Moreover, the subjects were not aware of my research as itwould have comprised my study. Such an approach is allowed in anobservational approach which is what I used (Andersen &amp Taylor2014).


Kornblum, W.(2011). Sociology in a changing world. New York: CengageLearning.

MargaretA. &ampTaylor, H. (2014). Essentials sociology. New York: CengageLearning.


The project hasbeen an eye opener to me in a diverse way. One of the issues thatcaught my attention is the attempt by the public to restore socialnorms by employing several means. Reacting to these norm and folkwayviolations is not enough but suppressing the anomalies is criticaland can be a source of disagreements and conflict. Anotherinteresting point is that there are variations along gender,cultural, racial and age lines on how people perceive certain normsand folkways and how they react when these norms are broken. Allthese aspects are widely discussed in theory in class and in theliterature but seeing it at work makes me understand the concept ofbreaking and restoring norms better.