V. sent in a delightful video by Levni Yilmaz illustrating how detailed social rules of behavior can be, how others can create consequences for us if we don’t conform, and how some people are targets of others almost no matter what they do. The people at the top of the hierarchy, remember, must maintain the hierarchy, lest they end up no better than anyone else.
See also our post featuring Yilmaz discussing how to sit on a bus.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Fernando — September 27, 2010
He shouldn't have given up on the book bag in the first place.
Meera — September 27, 2010
"[H]ow some people are targets of others almost no matter what they do."
As a fat person who was also a fat kid, I can certainly attest to this. It's not really about the books at all.
Anon — September 27, 2010
I remember doing the bookbag over one shoulder thing. It hurt (a lot!), and sometimes I would have big bruises and marks on that shoulder.
It's the price I paid for "coolness" back then. These days, I realize that it was all pointless anyway.
Cyn — September 27, 2010
I was the girl version of this. It took me a bit too long to figure out that it was absolutely a social requirement for a girl to carry her books against her chest. Oh how humiliated I was by all those days spent strutting around with books under one arm. Sigh.
MissDisco — September 27, 2010
The joys of home education. Or the joys of being educated not to give a fuck!
b — September 27, 2010
"They were so aghast that anyone would do anything so nerdy, they simply didn't know how to deal with it."
I can only assume that this is basically how I managed to be the smartest and nerdiest person in school my entire life and yet never get bullied. I think the bullies were just confused by me, and so stuck to more run-of-the-mill targets.
Sue — September 27, 2010
I can't listen to the audio, but am familiar with the concept.
One day, I was walking home from jr. high with some girlfriends. We were carrying our books against our chests. Two popular boys came by and made light fun of us, saying our style of carrying the books was flattening our chests. The other girls immediately dropped their books to the side. I didn't budge, because the boys were clearly manipulating us, and oh, yeah, science.
But since I wasn't a social leader, nobody cared. As noted, much of these conventions have to do with demonstrating power and reinforcing hierarchies.
Not much has changed. The people who really need to read Sociological Images never do.
Ben Ostrowsky — September 27, 2010
Note that "most people" carry their books in a backpack slung over one shoulder, whereas "girls", by contrast with people, do not.
David B Traver Adolphus — September 27, 2010
If my kids ever in up in public school, I'm going to equip them with knives so they can shank the first kid who pulls this crap. Far better a quick trip to juvie than the 12 years of hell I experienced. The crazy kid is generally left alone.
Lisa — September 27, 2010
The unwritten rules like this are hard for those at the social periphery to grasp- I was able to eventually figure it out in high school in a couple months, but no one made a big deal about it or mocked me.
One might think that these things improve once you get to college, but they don't, it only gets worse socially and bookwise. As an engineering student my backpack usually weighs 35-40 lbs, between my laptop and huge books. On a good day, I'm 5'3" and 125 lbs.
I once got harassed by a group of people hanging out on a second story balcony while I was walking home from the library at 12 PM.
"Hey look at that girl with the huge backpack!"
"She probably doesn't have any friends!"
I was just happy to be going home that early- the previous two nights I had so much work to do I finished work at 4 AM and had to sleep at school. I ignored them as I walked past their house, and that only got them more angry at me. I wasn't about to argue with people who think they are cool- I know they are jealous I'm going to win at life, or at least I rationalize it that way. I had thought that people get stop caring enough to taunt people in their face in high school, but I guess some people never outgrow it.
Haley — September 27, 2010
This is somewhat foreign to me. I just graduated from high school in 2009 and I'm a college student. Everyone I knew carried their books in their backpack, properly worn over two shoulders. I saw some women I didn't really know with their books in huge purses, but not many.
I never carried my textbooks around. We didn't have lockers, and with my health problems, lugging 25% of my body weight up the hill was pretty much impossible. I was allowed to keep one set at home and one at school.
The only thing I noticed was that rolling backpacks were decidedly uncool.
Joseph — September 27, 2010
Kids are brutal. I know that doesn't seem very incisive, but that's the zen comment.
Zula — September 27, 2010
My high school forbid backpacks from being carried in the hallways - for "safety reasons" that were mostly unfounded. That can definitely change the dynamics of what different styles of "book carrying" meant to students.
Basiorana — September 27, 2010
My high school banned rolly-backpacks unless you had a medical exemption because people kept tripping over them, and we had a couple split lips. It was quite crowded in the halls. I found that most people gave those with the backpacks a broad berth not because they didn't think it was nerdy enough to tease them, but because those things are DANGEROUS.
Lauri Lee — September 28, 2010
This book/bag bullying is strange from my perspective. I get there are social conformity issues with books and bags, but this seems extreme to me. I grew up in NZ, went to 3 different high schools in the '80s. A large ordinary public high school, an alternative high school, and because my alternative high school didn't offer a final year, my last year I went to a high school that had alternative elements, like no uniform (yes we generally wear uniforms post-primary school in NZ) and also encouraged returning adult students.
Although social conformity was more vicious in high school #1, and certain bags were cooler and definitely over one shoulder was the preferred way to carry a back pack, and just about nobody would carry books without a bag (stigma - must have been too poor for a bag), as far as I'm aware bullying didn't happen in terms of books and bags. This evidently wasn't the bully's criteria for a victim. Could be that I'm wrong, this school was also streamed, and being in the top stream I may have been sheltered from this dynamic in a peer group where this sort of thing may have mattered less.
High school #2 - nobody gave a shit, you did your own thing, you could carry your books in a plastic bag for all anyone else could care, or just not carry any. We were all misfits in one way or another. Bullying did happen, again for different reasons.
High school #3 - despite the fact no high school is bound to have a high level of maturity, this high school with the numbers of adult students in the final year gave the place a reasonably mature feel. Bags were either practical or ways to individuate yourself, not to conform.
University - the odd snigger at anyone who carried a briefcase.
Seems like high school books and bag conformity thrives in certain social climates and not others.
J-dizzle — September 28, 2010
At my school(s) you HAD to carry your backpack on ONE shoulder only (two shoulders was for losers or nerds, and you could only be a nerd if you were a boy, so all girls definitely had to abide by this rule). Then 'single strap' bags became cool which made this automatic. The thing is, this is SO BAD FOR YOUR SPINE. I had a half-hour walk to the bus, a 6 hour day of school and then another half hour of walking home, all with about fifteen kilos dangling perilously from my right shoulder. Significant back and neck pain inevitably ensues. Leaving vital books at home and doing badly in school was often the better option. Now that I am a grad student with an office to leave my books in and don't have to lug all that shit around I am so much happier and healthier.
SociologicalMe — September 28, 2010
This is excellent, thanks for posting- I'm teaching Social Psychology and was having trouble coming up with an example of "observational learning" that resonated with college freshmen.
Chlorine — September 28, 2010
The high school I went to followed this pretty well, except you could wear your backpack with two straps ONLY if it was one of those sporty ones that had belts you fastened over your torso as well, because it made you look like you were in an action movie and going to jump out the window at any moment or something.
Everybody had the same brand of backpack pretty much, black or blue Jansport ones. I had green construction tape on mine so I could tell which one it was.
Phoebe — September 28, 2010
At my school Carrying books means you are in Health Occupations, which makes you uncool because your saving lives while the rest of us are making things and fixing cars (yeah, I don't get the logic either). They do homework, we goof off and make lightsabers.
AnneC — September 29, 2010
The sheer ubiquity of this kind of thing just amazes me. If I had to hazard a philosophical guess, I'd say that whenever you force a herd of immature primates together in one place for hours a day, every weekday, you're going to find said primates finding *any possible reason* to ostracize their peers.
My main memories of this whole bookbag conundrum (as a female nerd, mind you) are of (a) getting picked on for wearing both straps, (b) getting picked on for not having a Cool(TM) backpack (in Connecticut during the early-mid 1990s, the Cool(TM) backpacks were either Jansport or LL Bean, with the occasional Eastpak thrown in -- I usually had "generic" backpacks), and (c) when this random kid on the bus in 7th grade GRABBED my uncool backpack and proceeded to rip both of the straps off of it. It was a serious load of WTF in any case and I am really glad those years are over.
I have to wonder if the backpack-straps thing was in any way related to the Overalls Rule, which (when I was in junior high at least) dictated that if you chanced to wear overalls, you could not actually employ both shoulder straps and avoid having "FARMER!" yelled at you (this happened to me plenty, especially considering I was also fond of plaid flannel shirts long before the whole grunge thing took off...I just liked them because they reminded me of camping). CoolKids(TM) wore overalls with one strap disconnected, so that it dangled down their front and back on one side. REALLYCoolKids(TM), however, wore BOTH overall straps disconnected, for that popularity-enhancing Butt Bib Effect.
Nella — September 30, 2010
Though I am currently in my last year of high school, I have never experienced any sort of book/bag bullying. In fact, at least five of my close guy friends carry all their books at once in a book bag/side bag as seen in the first part of the video. Now whether the lack of bullying comes from the fact that I just stay out of those crowds, I don't know.
I usually carry my binders in a stack in front me or in front of my chest.I do this not because I am self-conscious or because someone taught me that it was how girls are 'supposed' to, but because I discovered through trial and error that it was the most secure way to carry three binders, a pencil case and a textbook at one time.
The single strap backpack seen everywhere still. I find it fascinating how prevalent these sort of 'guidelines' for attitudes at middle and high school are. I simply wanted to note that the consequences and experiences can vary.
Literary Links Friday – 10.1.10 « Rarely Dusty | A Good Book Is… — September 30, 2010
[...] 2. Sociological Images: Social Rules, Conformity, and Consequences: Carrying Books [...]
Sally — October 18, 2010
OMG. I have lived this.
When I grew up everyone had backpacks. For a long time, you only carried them with one strap over your shoulder. After a while, it changed.
I remember reading that when the shopping cart came out, they (not sure if it was the inventor, the store owner or both) paid women to push them up and down the aisles of the grocery store like they were shopping. Before that, no one would use them, even though they were more convenient. Once it was perceived that all these other customers were pushing carts, it was "safe" for everyone else to use them.
And hope you'll forgive me a link to my blog, rather than reposting all my thoughts on the subject. A couple of months ago I wrote ad nauseam about picking a new purse. It's a grown up version of what Len is talking about. It was about what everyone else would think of my purse as much as it was what I really wanted.
Time Traveller or Tomboy? You Decide! | Showbiz-i.com — November 1, 2010
[...] Or is she merely a tomboy, i.e. carrying her books the way a boy does? [...]