An observation of a high school re-union was followed by an interview with two of the people attending for this ethnography. The two attendees used for the interview were one male and one female. After identifying some of the possible rationales regarding the culture of the reunion in the observation, the interview was conducted on the basis of the rationales. This was then analysed and compared to some of the findings from cultural research and theory before a conclusion of sorts was made. Observation
The group environment and context for the observation was that of the Aliso Niguel High School Class Reunion, Class of 1999. The High School is located in Aliso Niguel CA. The reunion being observed took place in Irvine, CA. There were approximately 300 people present. The general patterns of behaviours amongst the people consisted of lots of mingling and idle chat. Some of the people were notably more reserved than others. It seemed as though the single people were working harder to start conversation and were far more approachable.
In contrast, couples didn’t seem to portray the same type of inviting body language when on their own, but became more confident when with a spouse or friend. Approximately, 80% of the attendees held drinks in their hand as a norm and there were also presents and cards being exchanged from the outset. From overhearing the participant’s conversation it seemed as though many of them still lived in the Southern California area and this became a main source of conversation throughout. The interaction was generally based upon excitement, smiling and heightened voices at notably louder than normal volume.
With regards to dress codes, there didn’t seem to be much evidence of diversity. This was particularly notable in the case of the females. The majority of them had light hair past their shoulders and the clothing style that was adopted by the attendees was strikingly similar. There were very few obese or overweight people that attended. These people perhaps did not attend as failed invites were not taken. There were clear indications of sub-groups at the gathering, although they seemed to carry conversation with the rest of the attendees in accordance with the larger group.
Amongst the males there were indications of many stereotypes such as “meat head” or “gym jocks”, as I overheard one female state. Although as many of these people are now approx. 27-30 years old, it was harder to categorize them in such terms. There did seem to be a stronger merge between coupled groups and singled groups rather than any cross over. There appeared to be a symbol of people trying to meet a certain criteria throughout. For instance, there was a group of approximately 15 females.
I overheard that all of them got married within the last 2 years and many of them either attended and/or where present at each other’s wedding. This could be indicative of a desire to follow patterns and trends in behaviour as though as everyone else is getting married then so must they, so that they aren’t left behind. Contrastingly, the males seemed to compare status in relation to possessions, such as career, cars, and houses paying particular attention to the location of the houses. There appeared to be a great deal of stereotypical role playing.
This was perhaps due to the situation and the fact that earlier identities were known by other attendees. Expectation of success may have accentuated the desire for the attendees to exaggerate their status so as to appear successful. I felt that many of the attendees really liked re-living the past. They may have either really enjoyed their high school years, or were very curious as to what their classmates were doing now. However, this could also be a test of identity or serve as a self measuring experience on the basis of their peer’s behaviours and successes.
Interviews The questions that I asked were qualitative, semi structured and thematic in nature focusing mainly upon stereotypes and reasoning. This was to see if the thoughts of the interviewees compared with what seemed apparent about the culture of the re-union gathered from the observation. That is to say, was this something of a self regulation exercise for the attendees or was it an exercise in cultural normality? On being asked for their reasoning in relation to the re-union, the male interviewee stated that: ‘No one takes it seriously.
Certainly not me. ’ The second female interviewee stated in relation to the same question that: ‘You kinda get to know everyone personally again‘. These responses suggested two different rationales. In the case of the male, it appeared as though the reunion was something of a casual affair that could turn out to be fun as long as it wasn’t taken seriously or that anything was invested in the occasion. Whereas the female’s response indicated that there was a personal form of intimate gratification involved in seeing other people again.
The latter response would suggest that there is some form of self regulation going on in relation to peers (Devine, 1989). Whether this was merely for the purposes of satisfying interest or to measure oneself against the progress of other peers was less clear (Tajfel, 1982). On being given and questioned about some of the stereotypes of others observed at the re-union, the male interviewee stated that: ‘The stereotypes you have mentioned are generally applied to people you haven’t interacted with. They’re based upon ignorance. They go away once you get talking’
This indicates a difference between known and unknown people, which is common in western individualistic society (Hofstede, 2001). It appeared that the male attendee was not willing to accept or perhaps did not realise the significance of stereotypical role playing and instead took everyone at face value once a conversation took place with another. This rejection of stereotypes was also found in the response of the female attendee who stated that: ‘I don‘t really know, I always talk to people at parties and they always seem friendly, bar one or two. Is that a stereotype? …ha ha! ’
This raised some interesting points. For instance, although the attendee may well have pre-conceived notions about certain stereotypes, the individuals may have felt that they were the only people that perceived them in that way (Devine, 1989). Due to the experience of the situation that reinforced certain social norms, this stereotype may diminish or grow regardless of the former social group. This was put forward by Gudykunst, who suggested that, “Some of our stereotypes are unique and based on our individual experiences, but some are shared with other members of our in-groups.
The stereotypes we share with others are our social stereotypes. We may know what the social stereotype of a group is, but still hold a different view of the group. ” (Gudykunst, 1997, p127) On asking about what they felt they had gained from the experience of the re-union and what others may have also gained, the male attendee stated that: ‘I found out all the different directions that people have taken. It’s not just about getting married, buying a house and having kids. Most people have branched right out since then’ The second female attendee stated in relation to the same question that:
‘I feel good that everyone seems to be doing so well. Everyone’s the same, but do their thing differently, if you know what I mean’ The notion of difference was clear in the responses of the interviewees. It would appear that although the roles and social norms were fairly similar and the content of the conversations were uniformly based upon success, the overview was based upon everyone’s success and happiness maintained through a degree of different life styles. This was again perhaps unsurprising given the individuality that is so common to western cultures (Hofstede, 2001).
The emphasis on success and progression was also unsurprising for similar reasons. However, the amount of actual difference that was displayed at the re-union in terms of dress code and normative behaviour could be seen in contradiction of this difference (Tajfel, 1982). It would appear that such difference was only referred to in conversation rather than in actual behaviour. It would appear that sub-cultures were compromised at the re-union and stereotypes were overlooked as long as the attendees followed the correct social norms whilst at the re-union.
Bibliography Devine, P, G. , (1989) Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Automatic and Controlled Components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 5-18. Gudykunst, W. , & Bond, M, H. , (1997) Inter-group Relations Across Cultures. In J. W. Berry, M. H. Segall, & C. Kagitcibasi (Eds. ) Handbook of cross-cultural Psychology: Social Behaviour and Applications, 3, 119-161. Hofstede, G. (2001) Culture’s Consequences, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Tajfel, H. , (Ed. ) (1982) Social Identity and Inter-group Relations London: Cambridge University Press.