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Café as a Set of Social Interaction Report


This report details the observations made on the structural dimension of gender within a set of social interaction. A busy café located in South East London was the setting for the observation, and here, every aspect of the selected object of study was well captured using the participant observation technique. There were various key aspects which needed to be observed from this specific form of social structure in the identified setting.

These aspects included things such as the way people of different genders interacted, identified social roles, and the way the participants applied non-verbal signs of communication, among other strategic aspects as they are shown from this observation.

The observation was conducted on the weekend, on a Saturday afternoon, to be specific. It should be observed here that every day is a busy day for Café owners in London, and therefore, there were no any special considerations that would be applied in choosing the date and time for this particular activity.

The findings of this report under the given setting were observed and recorded in at least half an hour. This time frame may not have been enough to enable us to capture every detail displayed by the object of study, but all the same, it was sufficient to meet the needs of the intended objective. Goffman’s dramaturgical concept or approach has come in handy in the collection and analysis of data in this activity.

Goffman offers a systematic way of conducting participant observation in all kinds of field work (Tseelon 1992). In his concept, Goffman discusses two phases which are crucial for effective participant observation. This particular approach which serves as a key guideline to a successful observation exercise usually revolves around two main phases, which include ‘getting into place’ and ‘exploitation of the place’ (Goffman 2009).

The first phase involves all the necessary plans and approaches that one must employ to penetrate the place of observation and be in a suitable position from where they can easily observe and record information or data (Goffman 2002). Then, there is the other phase which entails full exploitation of the place once one is inside (Miller 2004).

This phase comprises of the most important aspects of the activity such as observation, note taking, and recording where applicable (Murphy & Dingwall 2001). According to Huffman (1989), each of these phases is crucial for effective participant observation and should be taken seriously when moving into the field. These, however, are just some of the many hints of carrying out successful fieldwork using the approach of participant observation as provided by Ervin Goffman in his widely acclaimed point of view on sociology.

To engage in successful participant observation in this particular case, we applied Goffman’s idea of getting into place first, and this would see us pose as customers in a Café that was chosen to be our place of observation. It was a sunny and mild Saturday afternoon, and the atmosphere in Modern Café in southeast London was lively and welcoming to anybody in search of a meal, snack or refreshment.

The main agenda of this particular exercise was to examine the people inside the café, both the staff and the patron based on various aspects of gender. One of the key things that needs to be put into consideration when getting into place is that people don’t like to be observed or recorded, especially when they are not informed about it, and therefore, precautions should be taken in ensuring that the object or subject of the observation don’t get to realize anything about it (Williams 1987).

In this regard, we chose a table that was situated in one of the farthest corners of the Cafe, and this proved to be a strategic point from where we could get a perfect view of the whole place. This way, we were able to study and record many things about the people in the Café without raising any suspicion about our true intentions there.

We systematically paid keen attention to every aspect of the chosen structural dimension, recording the findings as they were observed, and within the first twenty minutes of our time in the Café, we had captured a lot of of-of things in regard with our study subject. Several things related to the issue of gender were observed, and these would range from the way people of the same gender or different genders interacted with each other to how gendered conversations were conducted.

For instance, members of both genders were present, but the majority of the people entering the Café came in pairs comprising mostly of men and women. The pairs would then proceed in a table for two, from where they would take their meals in an intimate way before leaving the cafe.

Lone individuals, were rarely seen in the Café, and whenever they showed up, they were spotted doing something that either tried to catch the attention of other lone customers in the Café, especially those of opposite sex with whom they could spend time with while in the Cafe, or would just prefer to stay alone and leave in the same manner they came after having their meals.

Through their interactions with one another, the people in the Café presented various aspects of ‘face.’ Face simply refers to the claim on social value, which is made by a person and the line they take (Goffman 2005). Some of the common aspects of ‘face’ displayed by the participants here included being in face, out of the face, and in the shamed face as it would be observed from the lone participants when they couldn’t get a companion in the Cafe.

Gestures such as courtesy waves and acknowledgment smiles to the waiters were also common in the Café. Kissing and hugging were also part of the game here. Maintenance of demeanor through acknowledgment terms such as ‘thank you’ and ‘welcome’ was also evident here, as they were used by persons who intended to impress their partners and companions. Majority of the lonely people tried to maintain a negotiable and presentable self, to win the attention of other people around them, especially those of the opposite gender.

Various social roles that were in respect to this kind of setting were also identified from this participant observation exercise. Once in the Café, the customers adopted social roles that would enable them to fit well in the expected behaviors of this kind of situation. In this regard, they behaved in manners that conformed to the standards and expectations of a restaurant.

Some of the social roles observed here would include the roles of friend, companion, husband, wife, and bodyguard. At some points, one or two people went on to assume the roles of an actor and a musician, thus performing some actions or dancing moves to their partners and companions in a backstage behavior. Backstage behaviors don’t adhere to conventions which have meaning to the audience (Borg 2004).

These social roles were influenced by relevant social norms defining the appropriate social behavior expected in a Café or restaurant. As observed from this exercise, social roles and norms played a crucial role in enabling the customers to understand each other under this specific setting, thus helping to bring order in the Café.

Nonverbal signs such as hand signals, eye-contact, facial expressions, and body posture were also evident here. Eye-contact, for instance, was used by partners to bring a subject of interest to each other’s attention. This could be a scene in the small screen on the wall or something else taking place in the surrounding. More importantly, eye-contact was also used by some lonely patrons to summon other lonely people whom they thought could become their companions in the Café.

Touching or hand signal was often used by the majority of the patrons to draw the attention of waiters or other parties of interest in the Cafe. There were many miscues, especially with the touching. Some people saw this as a form of embarrassment, thus responding with a confrontation or resistance.

Civil inattention was also common here because this was a setting under which strangers met nearby. This, however, was of less significance to the setting or encountered witnessed in the Café, since civil attention appeared to be in full control of everything here.

The behaviors of people in a particular setting are guided by some specific social norms (Sunstein 1996). Based on the observation made on gendered conversations, women appeared to be the ones who started the conversation as they made inquiries on various things taking place in the Café, like whether the food was delicious or when they needed a little favor from their male companions.

Moreover, women are the ones who laughed more compared to men. Another noteworthy aspect that was observed from this exercise was that, while women may be a bit harsh while addressing fellow women, they would tend to more calm when speaking to men.

List of References

Borg, M 2004, ‘The apprenticeship of observation’, ELT Journal, vol. 58. no. 3, pp. 274-276.

Goffman, E 2002, ’The presentation of self in everyday life’, Garden City, NY, vol. 14. no. 7, pp. 26-31.

Goffman, E 2005, Interaction ritual: Essays in face-to-face behavior, Aldine Transaction, Chicago, IL.

Goffman, E 2009, Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity, Simon & Schuster, New York.

Huffman, E 1989, ‘UN FIELDWORK’, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, vol. 18. no. 2, pp. 123-132.

Miller, K 2004, ‘Beyond the frontstage: Trust, access, and the relational context in research with refugee communities’, American Journal of Community Psychology, vol. 33. no. 3-4, pp. 217-227.

Murphy, E & Dingwall, R 2001, ‘The ethics of ethnography’, Handbook of Ethnography, vol. 12. no. 17, pp. 339-351.

Sunstein, C 1996, ‘Social norms and social roles’, Columbia Law Review, vol. 96. no. 4, pp. 903-968.

Tseelon, E 1992, ‘Self presentation through appearance: a manipulative vs. a dramaturgical approach’, Symbolic Interaction, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 501-514.

Williams, S 1987, ‘Goffman, interactionism, and the management of stigma in everyday life’, Sociological Theory and Medical Sociology, vol.12. no. 8, pp. 136-164

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Café as a Set of Social Interaction." March 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/caf-as-a-set-of-social-interaction/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Café as a Set of Social Interaction'. 20 March.

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