Erica’s Human Ethology Assignment

I observed a party on Friday, February 8, 2013. This party was in the “East Edge” apartment complex near the University of Alabama campus. I arrived at approximately 10:00 pm. The environment was very dark and the room had a strobe light and several black lights. Because of this, the party-goers clothing was glowing. The room had a disorienting effect on the party-goers. The room was not very smoky, but there is a strong smell of cigarette smoke and marijuana.  There was extensive alcohol and marijuana use visible. The people at the party do not have a particularly unifying appearance (i.e. hipster, fraternity), however many people at the party have tattoos and facial piercings. In general, by the time I arrived, the majority of the people at the party are heavily intoxicated. There is an abundance of playful flirtation that is demonstrated through “butt slapping” and “grinding”. However, there does not appear to be any serious efforts at picking up a member of the opposite sex. I was not able to bring a voice recorder or notebook without attracting significant attention. It was a fairly small party. However, I took notes on my phone in order to not attract attention. Many people at the party were on their phones, so I did not look out-of-place.

I chose an average looking female for the “focal” study. She entered the party with a man who looked approximately the same age. It was very clear that she was the date of the man, and it was also clear that she was not familiar with most of the people attending the party. For the first few minutes of the party she sat alone on the couch. Her date (who appeared to know the majority of the party-goers) left her on the couch as he greeted his friends. She sat on the couch, occasionally adding to a conversation that was going on to her left, but overall remaining quiet. She appeared fairly uncomfortable and spent a portion of time biting her fingernails, sipping on a beer, and refreshing her Facebook newsfeed on her iPhone. She was sitting with reasonably good posture, with her shoulders back and chin up. She had her legs crossed, but continuously uncrossed and recrossed them. It appeared that she tried to get more comfortable or appear more relaxed by uncrossing her legs and slouching slightly, but she ended up reverting to her proper posture. After a few minutes, her date returned to her side. She looked obviously annoyed, but kept reassuring her date that she was fine, just a little bored. The date remained near her for a while longer. Soon after the date rejoined the female on the couch, several of the date’s friends wished to be introduced to the her. He introduced her, and she smiled and shook all of their hands. She quickly changed from being sullen to sociable. A girl who appeared to not know either of them particularly well asked the female “Is he your boyfriend?’ Although the male hesitated in response, the female replied very quickly and firmly ‘no’.  A male nearby who had been periodically looking over at this female (although she did not seem to notice or acknowledge him) came over and sat down next to her on the couch. He introduced himself and both the female and her date appeared to be fairly uncomfortable with this new male entering the situation. The female enters into a conversation with the new male about their hobbies, which quickly transformed to a conversation about their college majors. The male who she came to the party with looked increasingly uncomfortable with the entrance of this new male. Periodically he would place his hand on her knee and upper thigh, as if to display claim for the female. Eventually the new male realized what the “date” male was attempting to show. The girl appeared to not want the man to touch her leg like he was doing as she turned her body away from him each time he did it. It was unclear whether she did not like to be ‘claimed’ by someone, or she was uncomfortable with the physical interaction.

The scan sampling was less significant of an observation. Every 5 minutes in my 15-minute time slot was very similar. The first scan at the start of the 15 minutes, the majority of the people in the room (approximately 20 people in the room) were drinking, playing beer pong, playing “battle shots,” taking a hit off a bong, and dancing in the strobe light. The second scan was very similar. People were still playing the drinking games and dancing, however the marijuana was hidden away as more people started to arrive.  At the third set of 5 minutes intervals, many people (about half of the party) went outside to smoke cigarettes. Other than smoking, the people on the patio were talking. It was much quieter on the patio than it was inside the apartment, so polite conversation was possible. At the last scan, the people who were on the balcony came back inside. At this point, there was very little alcohol being consumed, but the people were dancing more frequently and with more vigor. A few people sat in the corners alone, but they were the minority in this scan of the room.

In both my focal sample and my scan sampling I noticed several stages of the singles-bar courtship. In the focal sample, the girl experienced talk and touch with the male she entered the party with. She did not employ any means of “attention getting” as her date already was interested. The new male who entered the situation achieved “attention getting” by attempting to assert dominance over the situation. He also talked to the female. However, because of the original male placing his hand on her legs, he backed away from the situation. I generally did not see the a “recognition phase,” but otherwise the people I observed followed the five stages in the order they were given. Tactically, I struggled with observations because I knew several of the people there. It was difficult for me to judge the situations without assuming the intentions of certain people simply because I knew their personalities. In addition, because I knew many of the people, I was continuously interrupted by people asking me if everything was okay, and asking about why I was sitting by myself. If I did this assignment again, I would definitely bring a voice recorder or I would go to a place where I’d be less likely to run into friends or acquaintances, such as a crowded bar.

Author: Johnna Dominguez

Johnna Dominguez earned her BA in Interdisciplinary Studies: Cultural Studies and Body Politics from the University of Alabama's New College in May 2011. In her senior thesis, Johnna explored the embodiment of identity through sexuality and sports by observing and studying Alabama football fans and participants in the local burlesque troupe, the Pink Box Burlesque. In her Master's thesis, she is investigating the psychological and physical stresses associated with southern women who get tattoos. After completing her Master's in Anthropology, she hopes to return to school for a Master's in Public Health.

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