Social Hierarchy in Public Space
On 24 October this year, between 6 pm and 7 pm, my partner and I were at Berkeley Bowl market meaning to fulfill the class assignment by identifying the signs of social hierarchy. Berkeley Bowl is an independent supermarket that offers products of the best quality possible. The supermarket has stores in different parts of America and sells a wide variety of organic and natural foods, primarily grocery. We chose to carry out our assignment at Berkeley Bowl because of the variety of people visiting the place. Due to the supermarket’s reputation, we were sure that we would meet many people from all walks of life, and therefore obtain information needed to address our topic. We arrived at the place by taking a bus from our campus. We settled for Saturday evening because we anticipated that many people would come to the place to shop and for recreation because the weekend had already started.
Social Hierarchy at Berkeley Bowl Market
Social hierarchy is the differential access to various resources based on belonging to particular social classes. The first place we visited was the café. To be able to observe the visitors and therefore to learn more, we bought some snacks. While being there, we realized that people who sat near the pathway ordered more food and, in most cases, they were families. From the kinds of meals that were served, one could define the social class the group belonged to. Such groups of people were loud, and everyone could hear them talk about how they hate one type of food and like another. On the contrary, those who sat on the far ends were served with less priced food. The majority of the people in the café were white. I was able to note that when a group of black people came in, they sat at the table in a distant corner, quickly finished eating what they had ordered and left, without drawing other visitors’ attention.
The reaction of people to one another was also an indicator of their place in the social hierarchy. A group sitting in the middle of the café ordered different amounts of food, and they were laughing in high-pitched voices. They made the place noisy. From where we were sitting, I could see facial expressions on other people’s faces that showed their dissatisfaction.
I also noticed an unpleasant racial reaction. Every table had four chairs; a black man came in and sat on a chair that was at an empty table. He ordered a pizza and sat alone. Even though other tables seemed full, no one took a seat at the same table with him. That showed how black people are being unconsciously perceived in the US.
Besides the way people sat, the type of foods they ordered also was an indicator of social hierarchy. People who chose distant corners of the café to sit down did not order costly types of food. Most of them bought pizza, sodas, coffee and other simple meals. They were the people who talked in low voices, and they stayed the longest at the place. Those who sat at the pay desk or not far from the pathways ate the most expensive foods the café offered. They were the people, who ate foods such as sushi and meat platters, they then bought a yogurt park, which they walked away with. This group of people spent less time at the café, and left right after finishing their meals. I could hear them discussing issues such as work, children, and business.
After the café, we went to the supermarket. We wanted to observe the purchasing trends and behaviors that might be related to social hierarchy. While observing customers at the supermarket, I noticed that people who bought many items and had their shopping carts full used credit cards at the cash desk. For example, a white couple with a young child walked from shelf to shelf picking items. They did not appear puzzled or frustrated by the prices because they spent little time to check the prices. I was also able to identify a group of shoppers that were paid much attention to the prices of the goods they picked. In some cases, a person could spend a considerable amount of time comparing the prices of the different items before he or she picked one. Most of these people did not use a credit card to pay preferring to pay in cash.
Differences and Similarities in Observations
Most of the observations that my partner made were similar to mine. Both of us observed that people who ordered expensive types of food at the café were happy, and they talked loudly. This group of people appeared confident. Both of us also observed that people who did not order a lot of items in the café sat at a distance from the center. Regarding the amount of time spent inside the café, both of us noticed that people who were sitting at the far end of the room appeared to have more issues to discuss, and they ended up spending more time despite purchasing less costly meals. At the supermarket, both of us observed that people who purchased many items did not seem to be concerned with prices, while those who bought only a few products took minutes to study the difference in prices.
Though most of our observations were similar, some of them differed. While I observed that there were less black people in the café and that that people that came in the café avoided tables with blacks, my partner observed the opposite. For example, I saw an example of a black person who spent all his time alone, while the whites preferred to sit at other tables. My friend observed harmonious interaction between different races. She even recorded cases of people of different races coming in the café, sharing some meals and then leaving. The difference between our observations is a clear indication of how scientific ethnography can be undermined. The reason behind this is that ethnography is based on personal observations and interpretations that result in its subjectivity. Perceptions of the observers play a significant role in the analysis and hence put the obtained results at risk of being invalid.
Upon arriving at Berkeley Bowl market, I went to the café. At the cafe I noticed that there were fewer black people in comparison with whites. People who sat near the pathways were in groups, most of them being families. Those who sat at the far end of the room were in small groups of either two or three people; they ordered cheap foods and kept discussing their ideas for a long time. Those who sat near the pathways ordered more lavish meals; they were noisy, and they left as soon as they finished eating. They talked much, and one could see them argue playfully. Such people provoked different reactions of other visitors. A family was seated almost in the middle; they were loud and their laughs were probably annoying everyone. From my place, I could see dissatisfaction of the rest of the people expressed on their faces. Particular groups of people ate different types of food. The majority of the people who sat at the far ends ate simple meals including snacks, while those who sat near the pathways ate costly food. They appeared to be relaxed and in jubilant mood. I noticed a situation that showed unintended racial discrimination. While most tables appeared full, a black man who sat down at a table alone kept his solitude all along during the meak as no one attempted to share the table with him; people that came in chose other tables that were almost full. At the supermarket, I noticed different couples that were buying many items who they did not spend any time to compare the prices; and when they went to the cashier, they paid with credit cards. Another group of people, mostly women, was keen to study the prices, and they made their payments in cash.