can I negotiate my grade in your class, then?

In Introduction to Sociology courses, we often teach the concept of a “norm” by breaking one. These “breaching experiments” (most often associated with Harold Garfinkel’s brand of ethnomethodology) can take the form of sitting amongst the students, as if waiting for someone else to lead the class, speaking in another language, or teaching through interpretative dance (Ok, I’ve never heard of anyone doing the last, but I’d like it if you would take this as an incentive). One of the classic breaching experiments is to negotiate the price of consumer goods, things that are usually treated as having non-negotiable prices (e.g., a pack of gum, a gallon of milk). One of the writers for Esquire Magazine, Tom Chiarella, did exactly this, starting with a hot dog. At one point he seeks the advice of Herb Cohen, who tells him:

“You always have something to offer. Loyalty. Future business. Increased volume. Whatever. You have to think about their needs. You have to create an offer that gives something rather than takes it away.”

You can read the whole piece at Esquire’s online magazine.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “can I negotiate my grade in your class, then?

  1. We may not contribute many comments, but our loyal readership is something we give to you. You lucky girl. More posts, please?

  2. Jenn Lena

    It is true that comments are few and part between in these parts. I despaired of this a few months ago and considered closing up shop, but I didn’t start the blog for this reason so I won’t use it as a reason to shut it down. That said, I do wonder sometimes if there’s more I could be doing to stimulate discussion, alternative perspectives, etc. Then again, that just amps up my responsibility and I rather like that I write when I care to, and about what I wish. As always, I’ll do my best, with gratitude that some of you are interested. Especially Tina, who is my favorite.

  3. Sarah S.

    I thought I was your favorite.
    That’s bs, man.

  4. Jenn Lena

    So playing favorites encourages comments?

  5. Bridget

    I used to text during lecture to break the norm. As of last semester though, I couldn’t do it because I had such behavior problems BEFORE that day and didn’t want to give my students the idea that texting was okay. I don’t think I’ll be doing interpretive dance. What really has worked for you?

  6. Jenn Lena

    @Bridget: Explaining to them that you can no longer break a norm by texting seems like a great way to teach this lesson!

    I don’t belabor the norm issue in my class, nor do I spend much time on ethnomethodology as a method. I used to give them a breaching experiment paper, though, which they loved although they tended to miss the point (by, for example, writing 3 pages about what happened when they wore high heels to work out in the gym).

    If I teach intro again, I might have them read and discuss this article, especially since it will prime them for our discussion of the social construction of markets.

  7. Ha! Point taken. I didn’t step back and think about how my inability to do it anymore was as teachable (and perhaps more so) than doing the breach itself.

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