Articles, writing

An Experiment: Public Deviance

Hey guys!  So today, I am posting something a bit different.  In one of my classes we recently were assigned the task of being deviant in public.  This is basically breaking a social norm or being “odd”in public, and then observing how those around you respond.  While this project does not have to do with writing or writing tips, I wanted to share the paper I wrote for the project with you, because I really enjoyed it and I want to start featuring more professional and essay writing on here.  Hopefully you guys can appreciate a little something different, and enjoy this.


Sixty-Two Tips for Understanding Deviance

Human beings are consistently evaluating the world and its inhabitants, responding to the actions of others in a way that best fits their understanding of the world.  While some may argue that people make their own original choices, the reality is that all human knowledge and opinion has been influenced by the social norms people create and collaborate on together.  My deviance in public project illustrates how social constructionism creates the social norms that are violated by deviance, and it also explains how an individual’s perception and understanding of the world influences how they will evaluate deviance and respond to it.  The project recognizes that the reaction of the audience to the act and the actor is influenced by a constructionists’ viewpoint, and it is through this viewpoint that humanity forms social norms, labels individuals that violate social norms as deviant, and then reacts to deviance accordingly.  My project claims that social norms and deviance are created and defined by the theory of social constructionism, which influences how audiences label deviance; it is through the lens of the audience’s social construction that they define deviance, indicate an act, an actor, and an audience, evaluate deviance, and respond to it.

For my deviance in public act, I performed the action of “tipping” people small amounts of loose change for random reasons or tasks.  For example, in one scenario I gave a dime and two pennies to the Home Depot employee that was pushing shopping carts in the parking lot.  On another occasion, I awarded five cents to the woman using the hand drier instead of paper towels in the public bathroom.  Throughout the deviance project, I also noted human behavior and would frequently tip people who used the words “um” and “like” excessively during conversations, or that were on their phones while waiting in line.  My act of tipping these people is considered deviant because the social norm within this social context is to only tip people with specific roles, such as waiters and waitresses or pizza delivery drivers.  Throughout the course of the project, I provided no explanation of my deviance project to those I was tipping, and I frequently would justify my actions by stating “I was thankful for their service,” or informing them that they had, in fact, “earned this tip.”  The social norm would not justify my tipping reasons or explanations, and, therefore, the action would be considered deviant.  The social norm also involves tipping a larger and more consistent amount than I was, considering that my average tip amount was nine cents.

I began the project with six dollars and forty-one cents in dimes, nickels, and pennies, and throughout the course of the project I used the entirety of it to tip people.  In total, one hundred two coins were given away in tips throughout the project, with thirty-nine of them being dimes, forty-seven being nickels, and sixteen being pennies.  The primary audience and witnesses of this deviance project were strangers at the Home Depot, the Walmart, and the Super America Gas Station all in Andover, Minnesota.  In total, I tipped sixty-two people, and each of these individuals had to respond to my action based on their perception of my deviance.

The reactions of those that witnessed my deviant act were not extremely various, although my action can be labeled as three out of four types of deviance within the four-fold typology (Heckert 28).  The most common reaction was negative deviance, which often included confusion, a request for an explanation, and a refusal of the tip.  In total, I did accept one returned tip, but I justify this action upon the gentleman’s proof of having just used the Coinstar Machine, and I was, because of this, feeling rather empathetic and unwilling to crush the aspirations of this newly, coin-free man.  Aside from this, I never took a tip back despite any protest or questioning I received.

Throughout the project, I had twenty-four out of sixty-two people ask if they were being tipped because of a dare or a survey, and even more individuals questioned my act or viewed it as negative deviance.  In one occurrence, I had a woman ask me if she would win a prize if she got the “lucky coin,” and yet another asked me if I was giving her “fraudulent coins.”  Several individuals asked me similar questions, and nearly everyone I tipped showed signs of either confusion, disbelief, or amusement.  Those who chose to accommodate and accept the tip would typically be confused, but would place the change in their purse or wallet and continue to watch me interact with others, trying to find an explanation.  I also noticed a trend relating people’s reactions to their age and gender.  Middle-aged people tended to view my act as negative deviance, questioning my intentions with the tip or trying to give the tip back.  Women also responded with questions more frequently than men did, and appeared to also view the act negatively.  This, however, was not the case among all people I tipped, and many evaluated my deviance as positive.

On average, positive deviance seemed to be more common among older people or adolescents.  Individuals in both of these categories responded more frequently with laughter, acceptance, or silent, but visible amusement, than did those that were middle-aged.  A similar reaction was seen among men, as the majority of them found humor in my deviance and usually accepted my tip.  The surrounding audience also seemed to find amusement rather than negativity in my deviance, and I got several snickers as I would tip people in checkout lines or doorways.  In one instance, I was tipping people that chose shopping carts over shopping baskets near the Walmart entrance, using the greeting “Welcome to Walmart!  Here’s seven cents for your achievements.”  After about three minutes, the young Walmart Greeter who had been sitting nearby approached me and showed me her latest tweet that read, “Attention all Walmart Greeters, someone with seven cents may be gunning for your job.”  The smile on her face showed she had perceived my deviance as positive, although she was not someone I had previously tipped or interacted with.

Within all interactions, the most common response to my act was emotions of negative deviance, and positive and admirable deviance occurred less frequently.  This act was not viewed by anyone as rate busting because I was tipping people outside of the social norm, and was therefore not overconforming in any scenario.  However, in one scenario I did tip the cashier at Super America thirteen cents, and he said, perhaps sarcastically, that it was “above and beyond” what he had expected.  As the audience, he labeled me and my action as deviant, classifying me as the actor in the process definition of deviance.

This project helps to illustrate the process definition of deviance because the act, actor, and audience can all be identified within it.  Within the social context and construct of the United States, the act of tipping the cashier or the person holding the door is violating a social norm and is, therefore, labeled as deviant.  My two audiences, which would consist of the people I tipped and those who witnessed me tip, would then label me as the actor because I expressed a repeated pattern of tipping outside the social norms.  My deviant actions also persisted over time because I tipped sixty-two people, and this repeated pattern of deviance and persistence over time classifies me as the actor in my project.  In labeling me as deviant, the audience is also subconsciously placing me and my act within the four-fold typology, and they are evaluating my deviance as either positive or negative within their social construct.  This social construct will then influence the evaluation made by the audience, and their response and actions toward my deviance.

My audience had two options of response after witnessing my deviant act: they could either work towards accommodation or social control.  Multiple people responded in each way, with several people accepting my tip and accommodating, and several others enforcing social control by either refusing my tip or by questioning my actions.  Those who accommodated may have still viewed my tip as deviant, but they chose not to enforce social control.  These individual’s accommodating responses may have correlated with a perception of positive or admirable deviance.  In this case they would not have wanted to enforce social control.  However, many individuals evaluated my act as negative and then worked towards enforcing social control by refusing my tip or by questioning it.  The most severe form of social control I witnessed throughout the project occurred when one woman accused me of robbing the Home Depot cash register, and then informed an employee that I was carrying the stolen loot around the store and giving it away.  While the employee chose not to further this enforcement of social control, the woman clearly viewed my act as negative deviance and responded accordingly.  All responses whether accommodation or social control, are relative to the way people viewed my specific act of deviance, and this perception, in turn is influenced and formed by the social construction that each society creates.

The theory of social construction, states that “people can only understand the world in terms of words and categories that they create and share with one another” (Best 105).  Using the theory of social constructionism, the audience’s perceptions in my project are explained.  The social norm of only tipping specific members of society was created by people within a specific social context through the theory of social constructionism.  This is why my action of tipping random individuals was considered deviant and why I was violating a social norm.  Social norms, such as only tipping specific people, are conceived by social constructionism because “constructionism emphasizes the role of interpretation, of people assigning meaning, or making sense of the behaviors they classify as deviant” (Best 107).  Everyone that witnessed my deviant act had two options of response, and the decision of which response was correct was influenced by the social construct that each individual is accustomed to.  Their perception of my action was influenced by the social construction in which they view the world, and, therefore, they could either evaluate my deviance as positive or negative and respond accordingly.  The theory of social constructionism “has become an influential stance for thinking about deviance, particularly for understanding how concerns about particular forms of deviance emerge and evolve, and for studying how social control agents construct particular acts as deviance and individuals as deviants” (Best 107).  Therefore, my deviance in public project accurately illustrates this theory because my audience labeled my tipping as deviant according to a social norm that was created by social constructionism.  This theory also influenced how positively or negatively my audience viewed my deviant act, and then swayed their decision to either accommodate and accept the tip or to enforce social control and refuse it.

My project claims that social norms and deviance are created and defined by the theory of social constructionism, which influences how audiences label deviance; it is through the lens of the audience’s social construction that they define deviance, indicate an act, an actor, and an audience, evaluate deviance, and respond to it.  My act of tipping random individuals was considered deviant because it violated the social norm that states only specific people within society should be tipped.  My project also illustrated the process definition by labeling an act, actor, and an audience.  My audiences, which consisted of those I tipped and those that witnessed the tipping, reacted in various ways to my actions, and labeled me as the actor and deviant in the scenario because I was violating a social norm.  Through the theory of social constructionism, my audience also evaluated my deviance and either responded by accommodating or by enforcing social control.  Those who accepted my tip and accommodated may have viewed my act as deviant, but decided not to enforce social control, and, perhaps viewed my deviance as positive or admirable.  However, those who questioned or refused my tip were practicing forms of social control and viewed my actions as negative deviance.  This project accurately illustrates the theory of social constructionism because the theory promotes the creation of social norms and, therefore, encouraged my audience to view my violation of a social norm as deviant.  The theory of social constructionism also influenced the evaluation of positive and negative deviance my audience made, and effected how they responded to my action.  By incorporating small amounts of change in my perception of deviance, my tipping act, in total, added up to me having a deeper understanding of deviance, and summed up the way social norms are created and responded to in specific social contexts.



Works Cited
Adler, Patricia, and Peter Adler. Constructions of Deviance. 8th ed., Cengage Learning,     2016.













6 thoughts on “An Experiment: Public Deviance”

  1. Interesting experiment, Emily! And nice longer-form writing. You might not get this reference but there’s something vaguely “candid camera-ish” about it; as if people might have expected a camera to suddenly pop out from behind a car of building, catching their reactions to your unorthodox tipping. Also sounds like a slight deviance from the “disruption” model that’s taken the world by storm(ish) 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How interesting that you had people that were both amused by the small tip and others that refused it, citing it as negative. I’m not sure how I would have reacted – probably shocked 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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