My participant observation took place in the University’s Student Union. I observed three friends who were already seated from 5. 47pm to 6. 15pm and was able to make judgements on social relationships and individual actions. I observed three males, excluding myself. I will refer to them under different names in order to preserve any privacy. Dave and Tony were sat on chairs while Chris was sat on a large seating area bench and was slightly away from them as there were no seats available.
Dave was sat with both his knees up on the seat and no feet touching the floor, he was at an angle to face Tony who sat in the middle. Tony had his feet resting on the table in front of him and would occasionally start shaking his feet perhaps unconsciously. As Chris was slightly away from the others, he was forced to lean forward to be more involved with conversation. Initially, his arms were crossed against his chest, a renounded defensive posture (http://www. deltabravo. net/custody/body. php).
I questioned myself as to why he would take up such a posture, concluding that it was down to fear of not being noticed or being heard in terms of the conversation. He was slightly on the outside and had to make a conscious effort to be more involved, this made him feel vulnerable as he was making more of an effort that Dave and Tony, therefore to help combat the vulnerability he employed a classic defensive posture. Of course, he may indeed have simply been cold or had a stomach ache, but the atmosphere was fairly warm and he had not complained of a stomach ache.
The posture could be down to a lack of confidence and a fear of being judged by the people around him, he doesn’t want to appear to others as though he is out of the conversation, he is very much conscious of what others think. When I join the conversation they are talking about singing that they have heard by someone that they know who is a member of a small amateur band. The tone of the conversation is a critical one, but not overly critical so that it becomes insulting. Dave is often smiling when presenting his criticisms on the subject and reinforces his talking with hand gestures to help explain himself.
The smiling is very calm and relaxed and I feel this is because he wants to make it clear that what he is saying is not meant as an insult and he is not trying to defame the person in question. It appears as though the conversation is driven by Dave when talking on this subject. To further reinforce what he is talking about when referring to specific incidents, he can employ the voice of the person he is criticising into a conversation to demonstrate to Tony and Chris a previous conversation he has had with him.
An example being: “… nd I said to him ‘I dunno, you should work on the vocals a little bit’ and he was like ‘nah I can sing, just need to warm up’ I was like ‘yea alright mate’ and he knew he’d been singing for like an hour”. Upon employing the voice of the singer, Dave changes his tone drastically to a tone that will cause irritation. This meaning that it will further degrade the man in question as someone who is slightly irrational and will depict Dave as the ‘straight’ character simply offering advice, and a character that Tony and Chris can side with.
Another reading could be that Dave is trying to uphold his personality as one full of charm and humour. There may also be an inner frustration building up which leads to a criticism of others, he knows he can only criticise to within the social barriers before him and therefore flowers his speech with charm and smiles. When Dave does this small impression to strengthen his words, he adopts a cross legged approach while on the seat. It is his ankles that cross while still being on the seat.
This is known to psychologists as a sign of apprehension (Introducing Psychological Research – Philip Banyard and Andrew Grayson). My thoughts being that he is unsure of how Tony and Chris will react to his doubts about the singer. It could also be the case that he is very disappointed with the singer himself and is apprehensive about him. Tony then started taking it upon himself to get Chris more involved in the conversation by occasionally repeating parts of what Dave said while looking at Chris. Dave then goes onto alter the conversation, ensuring Chris’ involvement.
He asks Chris a direct question which is involved slightly with the topic. He asks how his guitar playing is coming along. As Chris begins speaking, his defensive posture is maintained and is now accompanied by a slight tapping on his elbow which is done almost in synch with his speech. This perhaps is symbolic that it is a topic that Chris is not especially comfortable in discussing and he wants conversation to digress, his response is short and sharp and he simply says “yes its ok” and is monotonous when answering.
This may be because he has participated in a conversation that criticises somebody’s musical talent and that he doesn’t hold too much confidence in his own talent and wants the conversation to change. He is perhaps scared that Dave will judge him in the same way. Chris may feel as though the question was aimed as a concealed insult, he had just been mocking somebody who wasn’t too good musically and then he moves on to talk to Chris about his musical ability.
It is then almost as though Dave recognises this and proposes an idea to the group of what they could do later on in the evening. The way he poses the question is of particular interest I feel. He asks: “do you two fancy going to the refectory later or something? “. As he poses this question he raises both eyebrows and also alters his tone so that it doesn’t sound like his normal voice. It is as though he has adopted an accent. I believe this suggests a fear of rejection; he is subconsciously scared that his idea will be dismissed and he will be made to feel silly for suggesting it.
By adopting the voice, he is distancing himself from the question and therefore any rejection which could come with it. He also adds “or something” at the end of the question, a further method of evading rejection. By offering “or something” then it is less of a direct and threatening question to Tony and Chris that can change the course of the evening, it offers them a get out clause and again means that if they reject the offer, Dave always has the ‘or something’ part of the question to fall back on.
It is Chris that answers the question while unfolding his arms, he agrees that they should go to the refectory later and makes his lower lip more visible whilst nodding affirmatively. This demonstrates a partiality with the idea, his unfolding of the arms suggesting his high level of reception to it and also shows he is no longer on the defensive (‘Psychology’ Carlson, Martin, Buskist’). He has been put into a powerful position where he has the chance to influence the events of the evening and is no longer vulnerable; it is Dave that is vulnerable because he poses the potentially evening-changing question.
Tony nods but does so half a dozen times and it is a nod that follows through, his head moves down and then goes forward and up as though he is listening to music in tandem with the beat. This demonstrates that maybe the nodding is a tad false and unnatural. He doesn’t want to dishearten Dave by rejecting his idea. The conversation is then interrupted as Tony has to answer his mobile telephone. When talking on the phone his tone becomes more serious and he leans forward. It is a conversation with his father.
Tony starts slowly removing food crumbs from the table in front of him as the conversation begins to progress. Also whilst talking he puts chocolate bar wrappers close to him that are on the table into the plastic cup from which he was earlier drinking. This sudden tidying up suggests that because he is talking to his father, he has framed himself in the mindset as though he was with him. This appears to be a mindset of order as Tony was quick to change his seating posture from one of relaxed idleness to one of concentration and activity as he sat forward.
The fact that he begins to clean up suggests he is very much under the influence of his father and at home he has been told to clean up after himself possibly, his subconscious tells him that because he can hear the voice of his father, the same rules must start to apply. The observation was brought to an end here because we were joined by six other parties and it would be incredibly difficult to remain discreet as I would have to be involved with at least one of the several conversations that would occur.