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Walking Backward in Public Essay

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Updated: Apr 2nd, 2020


Society has norms, which define how people should behave in various social environments. As people have different behaviors, norms set boundaries of these behaviors. In essence, behaviors that people exhibit should be within the confines of social norms. Any form of behavior that is not in tandem with certain social norms is a deviant behavior. In the society, deviance emanates from non-criminal behaviors such as violation of etiquette or originates from criminal behaviors such as robbery with violence.

In this view, the experiment focuses on non-criminal behavior to illustrate deviance in a public place. Specifically, the experiment entails walking backward in public pavement, a behavior, which violates social norms. Since the society expects people to walk forward, anyone walking backward exhibits a deviance. Walking forward is a normative behavior that the society upholds as a normal behavior, while walking backward constitutes deviance.

The behavior of walking backward is dependent on the circumstances and social environment for it to be deviance. For example, in sports, sportspersons usually perform various forms of physical exercises in which some of the physical exercises entail walking backward. In this case, walking backward does not constitute deviance. However, in public places such as streets, where there is a lot of congestion, walking backward is deviance.

In such a public place, the society expects people to be cautious in the manner they walk to avoid colliding with and hurting others. Fundamentally, since walking backward in public places is offensive and likely to hurt others or cause accidents, the society classifies it as a deviant behavior.

Therefore, the essay seeks to describe walking backward in a public place as a deviant behavior and analyzes reactions of the observers in relation to sociological theories. Moreover, this essay hypothesizes that observers would scorn at the behavior of walking backward because it an offensive and a childish behavior.

Literature Review

Since deviance is a behavior that violates social norms, it varies according to norms that are in different cultures, religions, races, and ethnicities. This implies that what is deviance in one region is not deviance in another region due to the differences in cultural, religious, ethnical, and racial norms. As the deviant behavior of walking backward varies according to the place and age, it implies that it is a relative behavior. In this view, relativist theory is applicable in the description of the deviant behavior of walking backward public.

According to Kosut, relativist theory holds that deviant behavior varies from one place to another depending on the social norms, which people hold in a given society (73). In this case, how people perceive the behavior of walking backward vary according to the age of the person acting and place of acting.

In essence, if a child walks backward, it is not a deviant behavior. Moreover, if a sportsperson walks backwards in a field, it is also not a deviant behavior. However, when an adult walks backward in a public place, people would consider it a deviant behavior because it violates social norms that determine etiquette and decorum. Hence, relativist theory effectively describes why people consider walking backward as a deviant behavior in a public place.

In a comparative analysis of the deviant behavior of walking backward, examination of tattoos indicates that the relativist theory is applicable. During the advent of the tattoos, the society perceived them as symbols of deviant behaviors because people rarely tattooed their bodies. The meanings of tattoos have changed with time depending on the people, who have them on their bodies. The history of tattoos shows that they have crossed many social boundaries since their inception.

The tattoos emanated from the brothels of Buenos Aires, but they have spread into military, colleges, prisons, and clubs in modern society, where people use them as symbols showing social ranks, identity, and fashion (Kosut 74). This means that the perceptions of tattoos are a dependent on meanings that different social groups give.

For example, prisoners use tattoos in identifying their gangs, while modern musicians use tattoos as fashion. Although the society perceives tattoos as symbols of deviant behaviors, different social groups use tattoos as social symbols in defining their identities and values.

Since the perceptions of tattoos have changed with time, it means that social norms have accommodated the emergence of tattoos as social symbols, which have nothing deviant in them. The transformation of tattoos and artists in the 21st century shows social norms to be dynamic, as they have accommodated new behaviors in the society. Kosut argues that tattoos and artists have become important elements in the fashion industry because they depict artistic works, which reflect the creativity of humans rather than deviant behaviors (76).

The existence of variation in the way people perceive tattoos depicts the existence of diverse norms in the society. While some social norms regard tattoos as artistic works of beauty, others associate them with deviant behaviors such as crime and prostitution. Since the perceptions of tattoos vary according to social norms, the relativist theory is effectively applicable in their analysis in various cultures.

Given that social norms have transformed for centuries and have continued to recognize tattoos as social symbols that have nothing deviant in them, the transformation supports relativism. The ancient culture perceived tattoos as symbols of deviant behaviors such as prostitutions, crime, and drug abuse. However, as the use of tattoos infiltrated into other cultures and groups such as musicians and noble people in the society, they gradually ceased to be symbols of deviant behaviors.

Kosut states that artists of tattoos has managed to convince the modern society that tattoos are works of arts, which have nothing to do with deviant behaviors (78). The adoption and use of tattoos in the modern society as symbols of fashions contrast that of the past society, where they represented deviance.

Kosut argues that the emergence of tattoo culture in the 21st century has made a significant number of cultural groups to regard it as artistic works with noble aesthetic value (91). Hence, as tattoos exhibit relativity of deviance across social groups, they have some similarities with the act of walking backward.

In comparison with tattoos and walking backward, binge drinking depicts relativity of deviance. While some traditions perceive binge drinking as a normal behavior, which make people to indulge in alcohol during celebrations and parties, other traditions regard it as a deviant behavior. For example, students perceive binge drinking as a normal behavior because they often drink alcohol for entertainment purposes.

On the other hand, parents perceive binge drinking as a deviant behavior, which make the youths to be addicts and lose focus in their lives. Such differences in perceptions of binge drinking show that social norms determine if people perceive binge drinking as a deviant behavior or not.

Leppel argues that traditional culture view binge drinking as a deviant behavior, while conventional culture promotes it as a normal behavior (519). In this view, such differences in perceptions of deviant behavior indicate that the social norms of traditional and conventional cultures vary significantly.

From the two contrasting points of drinkers and non-drinkers, binge drinking portrays relativity of deviance. While drinkers perceive binge drinking as a civilized behavior, which allows them to entertain themselves, non-drinkers perceive binge drinking as a deviant behavior. Leppel holds that students, who have ample time to spend in colleges, perceive binge drinking as social behavior that is in tandem with their social norms (520).

The norms of students promote the behavior of binge drinking because they perceive it as a leisure activity that they can enjoy whenever they want. This explains why peer pressure approves such behaviors and encourages young people to indulge in drinking.

Since binge drinking leads to addiction, students usually forget their studies and indulge in unhelpful behaviors, and thus make binge drinking a deviant behavior. Overall, the important concept here is that the relativity of deviance occurs because of the variation in cultural norms that different groups of people hold depending on their social environment.

Social bond theory forms the theoretical basis of binge drinking among students in colleges. In elucidation of the deviant behavior of binge drinking, Leppel asserts that the attachment bond, as social bond theory describes, has significant influence on binge drinking (521). Fundamentally, social norms that families and peer groups nurture determine how individuals perceive deviant behaviors and acquire them.

Furthermore, Leppel argues that beliefs, which people hold regarding the behavior of binge drinking, determine their predisposition to binge drinking (522). While traditional norms perceive binge drinking as a deviant behavior, conventional norms in colleges regard it as a normal behavior. Hence, whether a behavior is deviant or not is dependent on the place and norms that governs it. Therefore, the essential concept of the binge drinking is that it depicts relativity of deviance, just like the use of tattoos and walking backward in public.


The study employed a participant-observational design in studying the behaviors of people in response to the deviant behavior of walking backward. In the design of the experiment, the study participant walked backward in a pavement in a public place and noted the reactions of passersby by observing their gestures and listening to their utterances.

The passersby were the target audience, as well as the participants of the study. To obtain many participants and audience, the study conducted the experiment in a busy street in a city, where many people pass. The target audience and the participants were people of various ages, races, and gender. In the measurement of people’s reactions, the study examined variables such as movements, gestures, and utterances that people made when they observed me walking backward along the pavement.

Analysis of Findings


How people moved during the experiment was one of the important findings that the sociological study noted. During the experiment, when I walked backward, I observed that people started to avoid the pavement and changed the direction that they were taking. Such movements show that people perceived walking backward as a deviant behavior, which contrast their walking styles. When people encounter a deviant behavior, they depict explicit behaviors that show their disapproval to the deviant behaviors.

According to Brauer and Chekroun, sociologists argue that “the more deviant the behavior, the greater the likelihood that a bystander will express his or her disapproval to the deviant behavior” (1521). The argument explains why the people, who were passing along the pavement, started to retreat and used other routes because I was walking backward. The distance, which the people diverted from the pavement, shows the extent of their disapproval to the deviant behavior of walking backward.

Keen observation indicated that the numbers of women, who avoided the pavement, were significantly many when compared to the number of men. For the avoidance of the pavement took the perspective of gender, it implies that the deviant behavior was aggressive and thus women tried to avoid lest they become victims of such behaviors.

Brauer and Chekroun state that social norms require people give way in narrow passages such as pavements to allow other people to pass quite easily without having to squeeze along the narrow lanes (1535). When some people saw me walking backward in their direction, they started running away to give way to the deviant behavior. In this view, they understood that I might collide with them since the deviant behavior was not only aggressive, but also offensive and risky.

When people realized that someone was exhibiting deviant behavior in the pavement, they deserted the pavement. After about 20 minutes, the people left me alone on the pavement because nobody wanted to associate with the deviant behavior I was exhibiting. When people encounter violators of social norms, they dissociate from them because they not only disapprove their behaviors, but also find them aggressive and offensive.

Brauer and Chekroun add that people usually avoid violators of social norms because they do not want to conflict with them (1532). Fundamentally, violators of social norms appear to be abnormal, and therefore, they can violate other norms and cause additional troubles. Hence, the best way to overcome deviant behaviors and violators of social norms is to avoid them.


One of the gestures that people depicted when they saw me walking backward is frowning. People frowned at me because they disapproved the deviant act I was performing in the pavement, where they were supposed to pass. According to Leppel, responses that people exhibit following a deviant behavior depict their social norms (521). In this case, it is evident that people frowned at the act of walking backward because they did consider it as a deviant behavior, which violates their social norms.

Essentially, people enjoyed passing along the pavement without encountering any form of disturbance, but walking backward was a deviant behavior that obstructed them and thus they frowned at it. Deviant behaviors make bystanders to become hostile as they find is disgusting to entertain deviant behaviors in public places (Brauer and Chekroun 1526). Thus, the bystanders exhibited hostility as they frowned at what I was doing along the pavement.

Another important gesture that passersby exhibited is smiling and laughing at me because they were surprised. The passersby took their time to stand and look keenly at me in a bid to understand why I was behaving that way, yet I was a mature and respectable person. Some people took the deviant behavior as a prank because they wondered what made a person like me to perform such acts in public places with great courage and zeal that I depicted.

Apparently, people remained stranded as though they were receiving some form of entertainment from a person, who was walking backward along the pavement in a busy street. Brauer and Chekroun assert that the primary reaction that people display when they experience a deviant behavior is an expression of shock (1529). Since a deviant behavior violate social norms, people have to wonder as they seek to find an explanation as to why a certain behavior happened.


Utterances that people made as they watched me walking backward formed the bulk of sociological data that the experiment generated. I heard people disapproving the deviant behavior as they termed it a childish. According to the relativist theory, deviant behavior varies according to the place, age, gender, and the timeframe (Kosut 80).

In this case, the behavior was deviant because the age of the person, who was performing it was too old to conduct such an act in public places. The society can only allow children to perform such acts in public places because they are still naïve and oblivious of ethics.

Moreover, some people found it annoying to see me walking backward along the street and commented that I should take them to the field if I were doing some form of exercises to avoid causing obstruction and injuring people unnecessarily. Such comments depict relativity of deviance in the society.

The behavior of walking backward depicts relativity of deviance because the action is deviant because I did it at the wrong place. If I had done it in the field, one could have understood that I was performing physical exercises. However, since I performed it at the public place such as a busy pavement, people perceived it as a deviant behavior, which has the potential of causing obstruction and accident. Thus, the behavior appears to be deviant because I did it at the wrong place.

As walking backward is a deviant behavior, passersby, who found it to be a detestable behavior, threatened to beat me if I do not behave well in public. Others hurled insults at me saying I was causing obstruction on the pavement and thus they should prosecute me for the offensive behavior in the public place.

When people encounter deviant behavior, they tend to exert social control on the violators in a bid to compel them to desist from performing a deviant behavior and comply with social norms, which are in the society (Brauer and Chekroun 1529).

Evidently, the threatening utterances and insults show the attempts that passersby made in a bid to correct the deviant behavior I was exhibiting. Therefore, analysis of the observations supports the hypothesis that the people scorn at the deviant behavior of walking backward because it violates social norms.


From the experiment, it was evident that people perceived walking backward as deviant behavior because it violates social norms of etiquette and decorum. A normal person should always walk forward in accordance with social norms.

Analysis of movement, gestures, and utterances shows that people disapproved the behavior of walking backward because it was against social norms, which depict etiquette and decorum in public places. Therefore, the public ought to behave well in public places lest they violate social norms and invite behaviors that exert social control.

Works Cited

Brauer, Markus and Peggy Chekroun. “The relationship between perceived violation of social norms and social control: Situational factors influencing the reaction to deviance.” The Journal of Applied Social psychology 35.7 (2005): 1519-1539. Print.

Kosut, Mary. “Mad artists and tattooed perverts: Deviant discourse and the social construction of the cultural categories.” Deviant Behavior 27.1 (2006): 73-95. Print.

Leppel, Karen. “College binge drinking: Deviant versus mainstream behavior.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 32.1 (2006): 519-525. Print.

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