Tag Archives: Membership Categorisation Analysis

Banksy vs. the ‘viewer’s maxim’

Banksy flower throwerIn some of my previous news edits, I have discussed how Harvey Sacks’ (1995) Membership Categorisation Analysis is a useful methodological apparatus for social psychologists wishing to examine the deployment of identity categories and the practices that get them produced. In this news edit I want to briefly outline one element of the ‘viewer’s maxim’ and suggest, some pieces of Banksy’s satirical graffiti trade on challenging its ‘relevance rules’.

Sacks argued that the everyday use of categories rely on some ‘relevance rules’. One of these is ‘that it proposes that for an observer of a category-bound activity, the category to which the activity is bound has a special relevance for formulating an identification of its doer’ (Sacks, 1995: 259). In other words, the identity (category) of the doer can be ascertained from seeing a category-bound activity being done.

Suppose you were to observe a person throwing flowers. You might expect the identity of the flower thrower to be a member of the category ‘romantic person’ or perhaps a ‘festival goer’ (e.g. The Lotus Throwing Festival in Bang Phli, Thailand). It is probably unlikely that you would expect to see a person dressed like the one in Banksy’s ‘flower thrower’ (see inset picture), presumably a member of the category ‘rioter’.

Since specific activities tend to be associated with particular category members, for the ‘viewer’s maxim’ to work, observations of these in practice necessarily produce expectations of normative behaviour. When a disjuncture occurs between activity and doer, we hold the doer accountable for their non-conformative behaviour. Of course with artwork, we can only question the motive of the artist for challenging what we expect to normatively see.

square-eyeSocial Psychology and Discourse

square-eyeThe Handbook of Discourse Analysis

square-eyeThe New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory

Mothers, Sex Tapes and Gender Morality

Coleen NolanColeen Nolan’s recent televised revelation that she made a sex tape provides an interesting example of how talk and discourse is saturated with moral work. Her self-confession allowed for a host of consequential moral assumptions to be made about her making of a sex tape. These assumptions rest on the known-in-common attributes that are associated with gender categories. The apparent ‘shock’ experienced by her sons, panel and audience about the revelation allows us to see her actions as a ‘breach’ to the common-sense cultural knowledge about how ‘moral types of women’ (e.g. mothers) should behave.

Wowk’s (1984) research from a murder suspect interrogation and Stokoe’s (2003) neighbour disputes research provide interesting examples of this moral accountability in practice. Their data revealed that peoples’ perceptions of morality, in relation to women, were aligned with specific activities and characteristics for ‘good mothers’ (e.g. ‘sexually discreet’, ‘mother-as-childcarer’) and ‘bad mothers’ (e.g. ‘being overtly sexual’, ‘swearing’). They also found that moral judgments were often non-explicit and smuggled in through indirect references to illicit behaviour in order to subtly police moral boundaries. Coleen’s sons, the panel and the audience therefore, by their very (re)actions, can be seen to be unavoidably engaged in producing and sustaining a gendered moral order out of the particulars provided by Coleen.
square-eyeLoose Women – Coleen Nolan

square-eyeColeen Nolan shocks the Loose Women TV audience – and her sons – as she admits to starring in a sex tape

square-eyeSocial Psychology and Discourse

square-eyeMothers, Single Women and Sluts: Gender, Morality and Membership Categorization in Neighbour Disputes