FAU Public Spaces Unwritten Rules Memorandum

Analytic Memo #1 – Analyzing Social Interaction and Inequality in Public Space

In this module, we have considered how everyday interactions in public spaces are governed by unwritten rules and norms. We have also seen how these rules and norms are informed by social inequalities of race, class, and gender. In this memo, you are going to apply insights from the module to analyze a local public space that you frequent in your daily life. To do so, you will conduct systematic observation of how people interact in a public space of your choosing, identify unwritten rules and norms that govern interactions in that space, and consider how those interactions are shaped by social inequalities.

The first step is to spend at least one (1) hour observing and taking notes on how people behave and interact with one another in a local public space. The space you observe is up to you. It can be a park, a mall or shopping center, a market, a street corner, a beach, a basketball court – really anywhere that people congregate and interact in public. This can be a space that you already visit regularly, or one that you are less familiar with but are curious about.  However, I want you to visit and observe this space not as one of its users, but rather as a sociologist who is trying to decode its unwritten rules.

As you observe and take notes on this space, you will need to look especially for two kinds of patterns. First, what general or shared patterns to do you see in all (or most) people’s behavior in this space? Do people in this space walk a certain way? Talk a certain way? Engage in certain activities? Avoiding engaging in others? Do you see frequent ways of communicating with each other using verbal or non-verbal cues? Do you see anyone acting differently from most people in this space? How do others respond to this deviation? Are there ways in which people enforce (or remind others of) the dominant norms of behavior in this space?

Second, think back to the readings by Elijah Anderson and Kristen Day, and consider what patterns of race, class, and/or gender you observe in this space. Does a particular racial, gender, or class group predominate in this space? Why might this be the case? What “signals” indicate that the space is “for” a particular group of people? Do people act (or react) differently when members of a non-dominant group enter the space? How? Alternatively, if the space is socially mixed, how do members of different class, racial, or gender groups use the space differently? How do they interact with (or avoid) each other? Is this a segregated space? Is it a “cosmopolitan canopy”?

You do not have to answer all of these questions. They are just to get you thinking about the kinds of patterns you might look for. You do, however, have to take detailed notes of what you observe in order to complete this assignment successfully. You will need to provide specific examples from these notes as supporting evidence in the memo. The more you write down in your observation notes, the easier (and more compelling) your writing will be. 

The next step is to chose your concepts. After conducting your observation, you will analyze what you observed using at least two concepts or ideas from the module readings. This must include at one concept or idea from the essay by Jane Jacobs (“The Uses of Public Sidewalks”), and at least one from EITHER the article by Kristen Day (“Constructing Masculinity and Women’s Fear”) OR the article by Elijah Anderson (“The Cosmopolitan Canopy”).

The final step is to write your memo. After you have decided on the concepts you are going to use, write a memo of between 900 and 1,200 words that describes social interactions in your public space and analyzes those interactions using the concepts you have chosen. The memo should be written in well-structured paragraphs using formal, academic prose. It must have the following six components:

a) An original title that gives the reader a clear idea of what you will present in the memo.

b) An introductory paragraph that introduces the reader to the public space you observed AND establishes a thesis statement (i.e. the overall sociological argument about interaction in the space that you are going to be making in the memo).

c) One to two paragraphs in which you describe and analyze the general rules of social interaction that you observed in a public space. In this section, you must apply at least one concept from the reading by Jane Jacobs to interpret your observation. Make sure to clearly introduce, explain, and cite (with Chicago Style, Author-date citationsLinks to an external site.) the concept from Jane Jacobs, and provide descriptive evidence from your observation notes that clearly demonstrates how this concept is relevant to understanding interactions in the space you observed.

d) One to two paragraphs that analyze how inequalities of race, class, and/or gender shape interactions in the space you observe. Again, you must clearly introduce, explain, and cite at least one concept from the readings by Kristen Day and/or Elijah Anderson, and provide descriptive evidence from your observation notes that clearly demonstrates how this concept is relevant to understanding interactions in the space you observed.

e) A concluding paragraph that recaps your argument and explores how paying attention to inequalities of race, class, and/or gender, either fits into, challenges, or changes Jane Jacobs’ theory of how urban public spaces are regulated.

f) A reference page that includes full citations for the readings that you drew concepts from. Make sure to use Chicago Style Links to an external site.for your citations and citations.

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