"Norm" Behavior

Francois Ewad's "Norm" Behavior Observation in Columbia, SC

Contributed by Austin Howard Student at University of South Carolina
December 05, 2014
howardai's picture

           With a Mass Observation on Main Street in Columbia, South Carolina the main observation I noticed was the idea of a “norm” behavior described by Francois Ewald in his “Norms, Disciple, and Law”. Several things perked my curiosity including why this behavior was so common among citizens and the effect it had on the community by confining to this choice. I also took an interest in the layout of the Main Street area to see if this tied everything together.

            Ewald states “The norm is the principle that allows discipline to develop from a simple set of constraints into a mechanism” [Norms, Discipline, and Laws pp. 141]. Essentially he states that under remedial constraints of discipline, or surroundings, people will resort to act into a specific manner that over time functions like a machine. These mechanical responses can range from conformity (doing nothing), to responsive behavior (calling the police), to radical behavior (revolting). In order to be a “norm” behavior these responses also cannot be random, but instead systematic and almost expected. These ideas are related to Richard Grusin’s idea on premediation and Jonathan Crary’s idea on being smooth. Both relate to the idea of nothing being different or surprising to cause drastic behavior and being smooth/calm in the behavior they enact. Crary summed this up stating “It not only incites the individual subject an exclusive focus on getting, having, winning, gawking, squandering, and deriding, but is fully interwoven with mechanisms of control that maintain superfluousness and powerlessness of the subject of its demands.” [24/7 pp. 32] They provide the systematic approach to create the behavior Ewald describes. Ewald relates a lot of his work to Foucault’s Panopticism in his article relating to the concept of law. His focus pulls on the idea of “the juridical” and how that aids in the overall idea of a norm behavior. When people know of the system being enforced, as law and order, they encounter what Slobogin described as “double vision”. The double vision idea is derived from philosopher Jeffrey Reiman who stated that “when you know you are being observed, you naturally identify with the outside observer’s viewpoint, and add alongside your own viewpoint of your action” [Public Privacy pg. 94]. Together all of these points lead to the creation of a norm behavior. The question now is how is this being portrayed in the modern day society? What the societal results of these actions? Most importantly, does this behavior even exist?

            When conducting the Mass Observation on Main Street I thought of ways of provoking behavioral responses. With our discussion on surveillance this semester a lot of our findings focused on optical technology (cameras) and their impact on society. I decided to bring along a DSLR to not only capture a continuous video of my videos but to also capture pictures, that would prove beneficial, and use it as a prop to see how people would respond.

            During the observation I noticed almost everyone resorted to ignoring me. There were no hand gestures to cover faces, no changes in walking pathways, or even questions as to what I was doing in the area with the utensils I had. This brought up the early ideas of Crary and Grusin for me. My simple presence and use of a camera wasn’t enough to provoke a response from people because it was not surprising to them on a scale to adjust their behavior. I also noticed the conformity the group had to the area’s rules. Each pathway laid out was followed and every street sign was followed (stop lights, stop signs, etc.). It wasn’t until our behavior was noted that we began to toy with the system and see the results of our actions (Video 1).

This also proved that we, ourselves, conformed to the norm behavior our “subjects” were conforming to. The group I was with also noticed the speed at which the group was moving. We took time to consult our observations, take pictures, and look for any and all citings of surveillance. As a result there was an instance where we were a block behind the crowd. I also noticed the group was led by our class instructor Dr. Cooley. Foucault’s Panopticism discusses having an overseer over each area to maintain control and this was perfect example. Throughout the entire observation, despite having the freedom to observe any way we chose, the entire group followed the path Dr. Cooley provided. Finally, I noticed there were several surveillance type cameras surrounding the area and there were several Camera boxes (provided below) on the street that provided Intel from 4 different views in one central location.

The images provided (below) show exactly what the camera could possibly see and the range of view projected also. We noted 3 cameras boxes during our observation, each with 4 cameras attached to them.

            When reviewing the footage, I took extra detail to the people outside of the group in the video. Taking a look back I noticed the slight details I overlooked. There were some people that diverted from our passage. Whether this was intentional or not, it was interesting to note that at first glance I overlooked other people’s reaction to us. The footage also revealed the traffic flow of the area. The observation took place on a Monday afternoon from approximately 2:30 until 3:20. This is relatively late afternoon while majority of people are still working or have returned from a lunch break. Overall there was a low average of people having around 5-8 people on camera, aside from the group, at a time. Everyone seen on camera, not in a car, was walking. The busiest intersection was the Gervais Street and Main Street intersection. Ironically, this was where the most cameras were seen (2 camera boxes of 4 cameras, 3 building cameras). With the constant traffic flow it makes sense for the area to be highly monitored but the main reason is probable to the State House being at this intersection also. On the State House Grounds, the State House, several monuments, and the Confederate Flag can openly be seen and easily accessed. During the walk we did have one citizen who confronted us asking if we were looking for historic buildings on the street due to me holding my camera (Video 2). We shared with her that wasn’t our goal but she still shared with us locations of buildings. This confirmed the notion that we were being noted but people were conforming to the norm (being unresponsive) rather than engaging us like the woman did. Another occurrence was outside of a restaurant. Due to the clarity of the windows we could easily be seen and caught the eye of a worker within. At first glance he appeared to look over and ignore us but through the camera I noticed he consistently looked up at us and even moved his work outside. Again, it is unknown if his movements were intentional because of us and me holding a camera but it suspect due to the restaurant being a site of consumption.

            The layout of Main Street, in my opinion, was a strong factor to how we and the community responded during the observation. Within the area of our walk we passed by several banks, an apartment complex, a few restaurants, an art exhibit (that we entered), 3 hotels, 1 student apartment complex, and a few local businesses. Each building had a large amount of windows with a combination of open blinds and closed blinds. Majority of the businesses and banks had their windows open on the lower floors to see through, even if there were offices on that floor. Many of the hotels had closed windows immediately after the second floor. When going down the street our group encountered confusion deciphering between the hotel (Sheraton) and student apartment (The Hub) due to being able to see within the rooms. We witnessed what appeared to be a laundry room with Gamecock apparel and raised questions as to why a hotel would display this for others to see. As a spectator it was interesting seeing how our view of a simple space effected our judgment of the institution.

Looking at overall picture of the observation the idea of security sums up why I feel everyone reacted in the manner they did. Any space that is expected to have a lot of people or activity is coincided appropriately with an array of cameras. It’s unknown if the video on the camera is as clear as the images provided above but either way the area is watched. With the business provided an open window they provide a view to watch the area just as much as they are being watched themselves. Conformity to the norm is a behavior that causes citizens to blend into the surroundings. As a group we stood out and brought attention to ourselves through looks and, for some, diversions from their initial paths. To see the effect of the Ewald’s “norm” behavior was interesting to see and experiment with.

Comments

howardai's picture
Response from
Austin Howard

December 08, 2014

Re: "Norm" Behavior

Mark and Darryl,

For me both of your ideas coincide together. From my writing, I stated that there are typically 3 behavior responses to any action or visual. A person will either do nothing, respond in a passive way, or respond in a radical way. When creating these systems the idea is to have as many people systematically or mechanically having the action or response you want. With this in mind I do believe the natural response we are advised to follow is to do nothing which was observed. The second response that is allowed is a passive response. In fact, there are times where it's encouraged (calling the police, rescuing a kid from the middle of the street, etc) but this response is triggered when someone else disobeys the Crary idea of being smooth. This as a result provides why Grusin's idea of premediation (being able to know these incidents happen and being prepared for it in many forms) is also a factor in, what I called, the "Norm" behavior.

In the situation where the woman responded to us, I would call that behavior in the passive response category. It is socially acceptable and one of the things we were prepared to encounter. Our shock came from seeing someone comfront us after mentally establishing that we were not going to receive that type of feedback.

As for the camera setup, I do believe that this is normal behavior. My answer is strictly for this current age and time though. It has become a part of culture to know and understand that cameras are placed everywhere. Unless we take the time, like in this observation, to search and see where they are it's just assumed there is one something, or someone, watching 24/7. Building this ideology took years to come to a place where this is "normal" and we have a "do nothing" response. Essentially, if a behavioral response from majority of people in a space is nothing or passive then the action, overall, is normal (meaning it's foreseen, understood, or socially accepted).

DarrylUSC 2015's picture
Response from
Darryl Burkett

December 08, 2014

Re: "Norm" Behavior

On Main Street did you think the way everything was set up for security (cameras, their boxes etc.) was normal behavior or not? Why or why not?

Response from
Mark Cooper

December 08, 2014

Re: "Norm" Behavior

I totally dig this post for its demonstration that attention to norms also makes the exceptions stand out—and seem to require an explanation. I also like the demonstration that it is possible to appropriate the surveillant powers of the state. People are used to cameras on Main Street. Yours is just one more. To me, the most interesting exception here it the woman who thinks you must be seeking historical sites. How do you understand this exception? This is deviant conduct in one way, but perhaps also follows a different set of expected, socially useful, behaviors? 

Response from
Tandria Fireall

December 07, 2014

Re: "Norm" Behavior

You make a great point about the confining nature of imposed behavior. The regulations and laws are in place to prevent congestion and maintain safety, but these laws also limit the freedom(s) of the citizen body. To act against what is already in place could result in being rejected by society or perhaps even death. The only choice that’s left is to comply or die.   

Response from
Grace Miyaji

December 07, 2014

Re: "Norm" Behavior

Your implementation of live footage aides in painting a much better picture while reading your paper/ observations. Your observation of essentially being ignored was something I found interesting, as one would expect some people would be curious as to why you were filming on Main Street. I guess that observation was a statement about how people are used to being filmed/ surveilled/ watched in today's society. 

howardai's picture
Response from
Austin Howard

December 08, 2014

Re: "Norm" Behavior

I completely agree. The portion of my observation I wish I did was engaging the people, or subjects, and asking them those questions about how they felt with me holding a camera or what they personally thought. There were several times where I held the camera up and showed attention but also times where I just had the camera dangling from my neck. The personal feelings of the people in the area would have solidified and wrapped up the observation.

cooleyh's picture
Response from
Heidi Rae Cooley

December 07, 2014

Re: "Norm" Behavior

To what extent is expectation or assumption a disciplinary outcome? That is, what does it mean that you were presumed to be a tourist and that your group were surprised to find Gamecock apparel visible in rooms you presumed to be located in a hotel?

howardai's picture
Response from
Austin Howard

December 08, 2014

Re: "Norm" Behavior

This idea follows what I think Ewald was trying to make aware in his writings. The government, society, and local community has established a depiction of what is to be expected in a day to day life within the city, the wildlife, the suburbs, and so forth through news updates, media footage, and simply living the experience. This, as a results, provides the Grusin and Crary ideas I discussed in the writing. In our minds we, already being a part of the "norm" system, have our assumptions and ideas of how things should be structured or seen. Majority of the movies I watched of hotels provide a clean look or a "home away from home" feel to them. With that, on top of personal experiences of visiting a hotel, my natural behaviorial response is to expect a certain flow and look. I've been provided enough information to expect a result from the hotel (premediation) and my actions didn't deter me engaging the hotel (being smooth).

To be discipline is habitual and structured. From my previous experiences, current encounters, and perceived notions of what should be there I've already been disciplined to presume how I'll engage each action. Any fluctuation from that will disrupt my initial thoughts but won't throw my off enough to completely change my actions, decisions, or goals.