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The Sociology of Doing Nothing: A Model "Adopt a Stigma in a Public Place" Exercise

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Abstract

The "doing nothing" assignment is offered as a methodologically detailed, theoretically grounded, and easily implemented exercise for teaching students about stigma. It also provides students with the opportunity to "do" sociology and to learn about everyday interpretations of social life. This paper provides a discussion of the advantages of this stigma simulation, safety issues related to the exercise, and methods teachers can use to assess student learning. Goffman's works on stigma and Scott and Lyman's concept of "accounts" frame an analysis of student reports. A composite narrative of doing nothing highlights how the experience unfolds from beginning to end.

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... Research shows (see Mooney and Edwards 2001;Scarce 1997;Wright 2000) that this type of experiential learning allows students to reach deeper and more personal understandings of sociological theories and concepts. A number of good exercises involving Goffman's approach have been proposed: Larson and Tsitsos (2013) use a "speed-dating" exercise to highlight the concept of impression management, Brown (2003) describes a classroom activity that allows students to experience the social response to embarrassment, Sharp and Kordsmeier (2008) have a teacher simulate a social faux pas to have students gain a deeper understanding of face-work and tact, Hanlon (2001) utilizes an out-of-class activity to allow students to experience the "stigma" of engaging in a public unfocussed activity, and Rabow, Stein, and Conley (1999) designed an exercise in which students take on a stigmatized 690793T SOXXX10.1177/0092055X17690793Teaching SociologyMcCoy research-article2017 1 State University of New York, College at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, NY, USA role by wearing a pink ribbon that signifies support for gay rights. ...
... While these activities are useful in getting students to think more deeply about Goffman's approach to public behavior, the majority of them (see Brown 2003;Hanlon 2001;Rabow et al. 1999;Sharp and Kordsmeier 2008) do not focus on routine face-to-face interactions that were the basis of much of Goffman's work and are the type of interactions most commonly experienced in everyday life. Instead, they tend to highlight atypical embarrassing interactions or deviant public behaviors in which a person gives a "ruined" public performance in front of a large audience. ...
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