5 pages of Labels in Everyday Life

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this essay asks you to become an ethnographer — a studied observer of everyday life — to identify a category produced by communicative interactions of talk, gesture, and/or artifact use. Each of the social scientists discussed in lecture in Week 6 and 7 talk about how people assign and live through categories in everyday life, though they use various terms like “labels” (McDermott & Varenne), “coding schemes” (Goodwin), and “‘legitimate’ or ‘authentic’ performance or product” (Strauss). Through communicative interactions, people label one another, make standards, and draw boundaries between what is legitimate and illegitimate. You will draw on the labeling practices explained by McDermott & Varenne (e.g. “learning disabled”), Strauss (e.g. “a new school of ‘art’,” “pilots,” or “science”), and Goodwin (e.g. “period of de-escalation”).

Your job will be to detect a category that is organizing some aspect of everyday life around you. Carefully observe what people say and do. Look for how people act on the basis of labels and categories in interaction. Drawing on Strauss, you might look for the subsocial worlds to which people belong and how they draw boundaries between their practices and others. Drawing on McDermott, you might observe how people act based on categories that acquire them and others. Drawing on Goodwin, you might observe how people teach others how to see people and things as examples of a category. And, most importantly, notice what practices rely on those categories, whether taken for granted or in dispute.

Step 1: Observe (Notes of observations)

Observe everyday life and look for a category at work. Examples from lecture include “yoga”, “bikram yoga,” “female”/”male”/”trans”, and “learning disabled”. Do this by opening your eyes as you go about daily life and noticing the ways people organize their relationships through such categories. Categories come to life and are maintained by communicative interactions of talk, gesture, and/or artifact use.

Keep notes on your observations. For ideas of how to observe and document, see McDermott & Varenne, as well as Goodwin, for examples of how to notice and describe details of activities, interactions, talk, and tools. Pocket notecards, emails to yourself, and voice memos are convenient ways to take notes on your observations as you go. Photographs can help you remember physical layout, gesture, or artifacts in a situation.

This observational work is not the sort of thing that you can cram at the last minute, as you can’t control when the world gives you interesting examples.

Step 2: Document and Analyze (6 paragraphs) Make sure you wirte three situations on the college students daily life

Describe and analyze your observations of three situations in which you observed the category in practice. For each situation, give one paragraph of detailed description and one paragraph of reflective analysis drawing on the readings. Make sure your assignment draws on at least two course readings.

Description paragraph: Describe each situation in detail to offer a clear picture of the observed practices so a reader who wasn’t there can see and follow the interaction. Make sure your description makes clear how you know the category was recognized — whether accepted or disputed — by multiple participants in the situation. In other words, your observations should provide evidence that the category mattered to people — that they organized their interactions by drawing on it.

Analysis paragraph: Analyze the situation by drawing on concepts from the readings. Use the readings to show how there is more to the observed practice than meets the eye. This is a chance to be creative with the concepts and arguments from the readings.

Step 3: Submit your description and analyses of situations 1, 2, and 3, along with your collected notes attached to the end of your document. For voice memos, upload them to Google Drive and include a URL link so your TA can access them.

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