Absolutely relatively deviant

This Saturday morning I went out to grab some breakfast with a friend of mine down the street from my apartment. Usually, the norm for any customer at a store or dinner would be to order what they want, pay for it, probably thank the cashier and leave. This time, I decided to break the pattern of that expected behavior by giving each cashier lady a small gift/remuneration for her hard work.

The first place I went to grab a bite and to perform my positive deviant act was Panera. I had the right to a free pastry for my birthday there and I knew I wasn’t going to take it before it expired. So I decided to give it to the cashier lady at Panera. I came by to claim my treat and when she brought me a cinnamon scone in a bag, I said: “Well now you keep it. It’s my positive thing of the day”.

That’s where the violation of the norm was: giving the Panera employee something I was actually purchasing from Panera wasn’t part of the “ritual” customers usually go through in this situation. The lady, who didn’t seem to be in the best mood while I was in line, was pleased with the unexpected gift. Her reaction was a little awkward, though. It seemed as, as soon as she perceived the violation of the norm, she tried to finish that moment of breach of expectation as soon as possible. People waiting on the line behind me didn’t seem to be paying too much attention to the event.

The second positive deviant act was at a convenience store right next to Panera. I always go there and know most of the employees. This time, a lady that I had never seen before was working at the cashier. We were talking a bit while I got my stuff together. I was apologizing for being kind of out of it today ‘cause I had taken a bad exam. When I gave her a tip, she started laughing and said: “Oh, really? Is that because you failed the exam?” I couldn’t help it but laugh it off myself. She seemed to be entertained by this norm violation. Her reaction was funny and a lot more spontaneous and less contained than the lady at Panera. It honestly made me want to do this kind of positive deviance more often. Again people around didn’t have any significant reactions to what was happening. I also found it interesting that she was looking for a reason behind the positive deviant act while the lady at Panera just took the gift and didn’t seem to question the situation at all.

I’d say my positive deviance of the day would be relatively deviant because it’s something that is not too out of context. At the cashier, I was paying for what I had purchased and decided to give the lady a gratuity for her job. Waiters get tips, taxi drivers get tips, why shouldn’t cashiers? Same thing with the pastry: I wasn’t going to take it anyway, why not give it to a hard working lady to brighten her day? It breaks the norms, but it isn’t s big deal. My concept of absolute deviance, considering the positive aspect of it, would be and action that causes a much stronger reaction to the other person and that is a lot more out of context. If I started serenating the cashier lady out as a gift… Now THAT would be absolute deviance.

VIDEO for the adventurous positive deviant acts! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5KROd2ZIeo


Inequality in the classroom

          Just by reading the title “Race vs. Class: The False Dichotomy”, I knew this The New York Times article would be perfect for my next post. The article covers an interesting facet of stratification, which is a person’s position in the hierarchy of society compared to its other members. The writer focused on whether to take race or class into consideration when approving students to Colleges and Universities and also the weight that both factors have in society to this day.


         According to the article, class is an important factor when it comes to which members of society will have access to good-quality education. The author also states that using class as a decisive factor on College applications wouldn’t be a way to generate more diversity to the learning environments. This substitution would only emphasize the stereotypes in society and all of its inequality. By mentioning the different positions that individuals and groups have in an institution, the author is also addressing the process of stratification, mentioned in the paragraph above.


         Economic inequality is clearly present in this text, since people don’t always have the same economic resources to afford the preparation for the SAT’s or even to attend an educational institution. Usually students who are members of a common medium/upper social class have economic capital to invest in preparing themselves for these exams and have a bigger shot at a College career. That shows that a minority of students has more economic power and prestige, having also a significant advantage in comparison to lower classes. Besides being an apparent evidence of classism, this also exposes the capitalistic ideology, in which economic differences play an essential role in society and in the current competitive individualistic market.


         I’d say that culture is definitely a factor in this article because culture is a lot about our beliefs how we interact with and see the world around us. It is within any kind of social institution and should be taken into consideration in the analysis of any social phenomenon. An example would be when the text mentions how society deals with race on a day-to-day basis. That is a part of cultural values and norms that society has adopted with the passing of time.


         What I thought was very interesting in this particular article was how the author had a very strong opinion on how not taking race into consideration in admissions decisions could emphasize the clear inequality in society. But at the same time, she mentioned that to have a diverse environment, it’s also important to have members from different social classes so people can be aware of different realities than their own as they are educated. I wish she had gone deeper on how stratification affected people from certain races, leading them to having less access to opportunities in the academic world.








Stanford Prison Experiment: Responsibility for our own humanity

          Members of society learn how to behave and interact with the world around them through socialization. Sometimes, groups of individuals are separated from the rest of society and put into what we call total institutions, where they have to go through a process of resocialization. A prison would be a good example of a total institution. Once in that environment, people have to learn a new set of norms, rules and how to take on new roles that come with their roles as prisoners, guards, and so forth.

         In Stanford’s Prison Experiment, Sociologists wanted to analyze how having a more powerful position could change someone’s behavior. The “guards” of the experiment had to behave according to their new role, which came with a high level of authority and no restrictions. Having that much power made these men be resocialized. Their new social roles and environment requested them to perform different norms and behaviors.

         Their focus was on how people respond to a cruel environment without clear rules. The biggest issue of the experiment was that it got to the point where it wasn’t just that anymore, it was the dehumanizing the human beings involved. These men ended up doing things that were considered unthinkable to society. They were constantly testing the limits of their power, seeing how far they could go. We tend to think that people who do such things are evil human beings. What the experiment proved is that regular good-hearted people can be changed by the environment they are inserted in and lead to acting in ways they never thought they would.

         Individuals are affected by society just as much as they affect society itself. Regardless of that fact, members of society must take responsibility for their actions. The people who tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib were without a doubt affected by the environment they were in, but that doesn’t give them the excuse to act in such a “deshumane” manner. Leaving them unpunished would blurry the lines of what humanity’s common primary beliefs. If all members of society had the right to stay unpunished by justifying cruel behaviors with desocialization, what would the world turn into?










When is your “Lover’s Day”?

Who wouldn’t want to have a day in their calendar made just to celebrate love? Well, that’s what Valentine’s Day is for. This ritual is celebrated by many different cultures from all around the world. I was born and raised in Brazil and on that day there’s a typical pattern of behavior: couples are expected to exchange gifts and see heart-shaped decorations all around. Romance is the big theme everywhere, indicating that love is one of the important values of the local culture. Also, it’s a day that businesses rely on to profit. These establishments usually provide certain products and deals adapted to the spirit of that celebration and expect to sell a bigger amount of merchandize than at a regular time of the year.

What a lot of people don’t know (that included me until not long ago) is that this social event is celebrated in different ways and has its own background according to each culture. Human beings end up considering their own particular cultural habits as the “normal way to behave” when comparing it to other cultures. We call that tendency ethnocentrism. Because of how we develop a certain loyalty to our own society’s beliefs, it’s a lot more common to see people instinctively acting that way than using cultural relativism. Cultural relativism states that each culture should be analyzed according to its own values, beliefs and environment.

In Brazil we call Valentine’s Day “Dia dos Namorados” (“Lover’s day”). It’s celebrated annually on June 12th, right before Saint Anthony’s day, who’s recognized for blessing young couples with happy and prosperous marriages  [1].

Moving to the U.S., I was really surprised to find out that “Dia dos Namorados” was called “Valentine’s day” and celebrated on February 14th each year. The ritual itself isn’t too different, but I thought it was so odd that the timing is so distinct from my home. At first, I didn’t even associate the name of the celebration with what it actually meant in my culture. Little did I know that this fest day in America had a different story behind it, celebrating the Feast of Saint Valentine.

I didn’t quite understand either why quite a few friends exchanged gifts of that day as well, since in Brazil it’s very clear that only couples took part in that ritual. If a friend sent me any gifts on that day in Brazil, I’d take it as a love declaration. All of my friends in the U.S., though, exchanged either cards, boxes of chocolate or roses even though none of us were romantically involved with each other. You would rarely see this sort of behavior in Brazil.

My surprise with this social phenomenon was due to the process of socialization, which refers to how we learn to interact, behave and perceive the world around us according to our cultural values. I was taught to behave and interact in a certain way on that social occasion. “Dia dos namorados” to me was basically exclusive to couples and supposed to happen in June. Period. Therefore, being in an environment with different rules being applied to that event became somewhat of a foreign experience to me.

By: Laura Rizzotto.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dia_de_São_Valentim

Different language, same pride.


Music and art have endless ways of being created. I’m a singer/songwriter born and raised Rio de Janeiro Brazil and my art is music, written mostly in English.  I started singing at a very young age and, when I was 11, I spent a year living in the US (Minnesota, to be more specific) with my family. That was also the time when I started writing my own songs and they naturally came to me in English. Since it was a natural process, I kept on writing like this my whole life and found myself being criticized time to time for not writing in my native language (Portuguese).

There was a certain kind of prejudice involved. People from Brazil questioned why I didn’t write in Portuguese as often, since it is such a beautiful, rich language, saying that I was not honoring my roots and culture by singing/writing in another language most of the time. At the same time, people in the US would question if I could ever write as well as a native-English speaker could, since I lived in the US for such a short amount of time and considering it isn’t my first language.

According to C. Wright in his book “Excerpt from The Sociological Imagination”, issues “ have to do with the organization of many such milieux into the institutions of an historical society as a whole” and trouble “is a private matter: values cherished by an individual by him to be threatened”. Depending on what point of view you take, you could analyze the problem mentioned earlier as either. So issues would be matters that affect society in general and troubles, individual personal problems.

It is a known fact that some of the biggest Music Companies were originally founded in the USA. Universal Music, Warner Music, SONY BMG and many others are just a few examples. The American music industry has gained so much strength over the years that it has taken oven over international grounds. Globalization helped making their music and culture very accessible to people from all around the world. Many students and professionals who work with music aspire to build a career in the entertainment industry in the USA, where most of the opportunities for this business are.

That’s why so many artists all around the world have started writing in that language. The journey to being successful in the entertainment industry is already tough enough for anyone, so shouldn’t musicians at least have their full support from the people in their countries in pursuing their dreams? Saying that an artist should only express himself in his first language could be considered an issue. It narrows horizons for artists in society and holds them back to create beautiful life-changing works of art. Artists should be able to express themselves freely in whatever language they choose to thrive in the paths they have chosen.

A lot of times foreigners might never speak English as well as an American would, but they might bring different points of view to the table. Different languages have different expressions and this variety of ways of saying the same things brings a new color to music and lyrics. Prejudice can make this extremely ineffective.

This situation can be also viewed as a personal matter. I love and respect my first language (Portuguese), but writing in English is something completely natural to me. I’m a strong believer that what we write is a reflection of what we listen to, and I can’t help the fact that I connect with a genre in which the majority of the songs have English lyrics. Being criticized and not respected for doing something that is completely harmless and natural can affect an artist very effectively.

When people from the music industry in the US already don’t take my work seriously before even listening to it because of my non-American roots, considering the language I am writing in, it’s definitely trouble. Being from another country doesn’t make someone any less capable of succeeding in this field.

I would say that the criticism for writing in a different language then your own is mainly trouble because, even though the number of musicians doing so is constantly growing, it is still a minority compared to the ones who write in their first language. I’m not the common rule, in that sense. But it’s important to keep in mind that every song has a message in it, and this kind of attitude keeps that message from being delivered, or sometimes, even written. And who knows how important to society that message could be?

I’m excited to see what different points of view and realizations sociology can bring me by analyzing things for what they are, regardless of the personal value they might have in my life. As a songwriter, getting different points of view is always interesting and inspiring. Can’t wait to see what comes out of this class!