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Social Breaching

In 1967 sociologist Harold Garfinkel asked his students to conduct a spring break experiment: spend fifteen minutes to an hour imagining they were a boarder in their home, rather than a family member, and then act if that assumption was true. Garfinkel's intention was for the students to violate some of the social norms we take for granted ("social breaching") and consequently make such "background expectancies" more apparent. In this case, when the students were polite and respectful, as if they were staying in a stranger's home, some parents thought the students were mocking them or ill!


  1. Conduct one (or more) of the experiments listed below.
  2. You can explain it as a class assignment only when the experiment is over.
  3. Write up the results in a paper that describes:
    1. Experiment: Which experiment you tried (e.g. “GChat stranger”).
    2. Method: What you did. Describe the specific steps. For example, “I contacted 17 different people. I messaged 10 of them ‘What's up' and 7 ‘How are you?' I found their names by looking through group emails and seeing who was online.”
    3. Results: What happened? What types of reactions did you get? How did you feel? Use Garfinkel's students' descriptions as models (for example, pp. 45-49).
    4. Discussion: Given what we have learned in class about social norms, what did this reveal about communication norms, or the specific norms of the technology you used? Refer back to the class concepts and readings. Make an argument.

Do not spend too many words on steps (a) and (b); focus on concepts and analysis.


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