Tag Archives: ethnomethodology

Social order in Haiti

After early reports of post-earthquake chaos, news agencies are reporting instances of Haitians creating social order. The New York Times reported that starving Haitians are sharing their intermittent meals, as “new rules of hunger etiquette are emerging.” A portion of chicken, once appropriate for two people, might now be shared with 20.

This may be a sign of failings of the aid community, or of problems at the airport that prevent incoming planes, loaded with food, to land. But in any case, no matter how desperate they are, Haitians are following new unwritten rules about how to deal with their traumatic state, about how to get along with others who are equally desperate.

However disorderly Haiti may appear, Haitians are not in a state of chaos. Following the insights of Harold Garfinkel and ethnomethodology, Haitians are engaged in the everyday co-production of order, in this case including the collective but bottom-up process of dealing with being in a food crisis. There are no doubt myriad other examples of how life in Haiti, even now, continues to be orderly and functional. Now, if only the food would arrive.

‘Thinking outside the Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung’

Ich bin Brüno!Brüno, the latest work by British comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen, has just achieved the highest-grossing opening weekend for an 18-certificate (i.e. adult-rated) film in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

This ‘mockumentary’ revolves around the reactions of various celebrities and members of the public to Baron-Cohen’s portrayal of the eponymous flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista. Since those involved believed they were dealing with a genuine rather than fictional character, their responses to his outrageously exaggerated portrayal of stereotypical homosexuality provide a satirical comment on the prejudice and hypocrisy present within a supposedly enlightened modern society.

Extreme reactions provoked by the filming led to Baron-Cohen being both threatened with assault and arrested multiple times, as well as facing subsequent legal action. This mirrors the response to his previous controversial film of the same format, in which he played ‘Kazhakhstani’ Borat. Not only did this similarly result in legal action, but the ensuing furore culminated in an international diplomatic incident.

Whilst such films may claim to provide a revealing insight into homophobia, anti-semitism, and the like, they also raise uncomfortable questions for the audience themselves. For example, it is debatable as to whether they are truly viewed by all cinema-goers as a sophisticated piece of social commentary, or whether they simply allow the ‘politically correct’ an opportunity to laugh at otherwise unacceptable stereotypes.

In terms of their technical approach, many of the humorous scenarios featured within these films echo the ‘breach studies’ of ethnomethodologist Garfinkel, which examined the responses of unsuspecting participants to deliberate violations of social norms.

In a further psychological link, Sacha Baron-Cohen is the cousin of Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge.

(And in case you were wondering, ‘Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung’ is German for ‘speed-limit’!)

Square-eyeBrüno’s official MySpace page

Square-eyeFilm review from the Guardian

Square-eye£1.99 - smallSmith, J. R. & Louis, W. R. (2009). Group Norms and the Attitude–Behaviour Relationship

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