Torvarken recently ran into an…ethnographic situation. On an escalator. Sometimes these things just happen.
Recently, a trip into Saluhallen in Lund, with our sights on the second floor Systembolaget (a government-ran alcoholic beverage store) set forth the following ethnographic analysis on human interaction with technological artifacts, in this case the relationship between us and a new escalator.
We passed through the sleek new entrance, flagged on either side by small, cozy, chrome-and-chalkboard lunch counters and restaurant-ettes, and nearing the end of the single hall, we hung a hard left and approached the escalators. Distracted, our conversation came to an abrupt halt, our feet shuffling to reverse the forward momentum and redirect it with a sway to the left—the escalator to the right, our intended path, was on its way down, down, down. Thrown, we backpedaled and looked around to finally take in the environment we had casually auto-piloted through. We laughed self-consciously at our mistake —who messes up an escalator?—and started up the ‘correct’ left elevator. We surprised ourselves by a repeat performance on the way down.
What was wrong with us, failing at moving stairs? As we realized that the escalators were ‘switched’, that is, up on the left, down on the right, we were made less self-conscious but were left wondering…were we theonly ones making this mistake? And perhaps more interesting, why did the answer to the problem seem so obvious—why was ‘up to the right’ normal and the reverse unnatural?
Time for a quick and dirty ethnography.
Despite the small visual cues laid out to direct the traffic—green LED arrows up and red bars down at the base of the escalator, as well as a ~1 meter long white arrow floor sticker pointing to the front of the ascending stair— individuals were tripping over themselves to take the ‘right’ way up.
so c.j. pascoe writes this whole ethnography about masculinity in american (us) high school and focuses on the way masculinity is created through acts that may or may not attach to the male body. it is a very readable piece and i would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in critical ethnography. there is a great chapter on “compulsive heterosexuality” that’s worth reading. however, i found it a bit lacking in one department and that was the connection to radical feminist thought. don’t get me wrong, pascoe does have some radicalism in there (she even cites jefferys many times to illustrate her points!). but when we get down to her theoretical underpinnings, it’s pretty obv that she hasn’t made the final leap.
she does concede that gender is made up of relational and institutional practices- it is not merely a personal narrative and projection that we will into existence (despite how much you truly believe in “lady brains”). of course, the focus of this ethnography is not just the institutional practice of heterosexuality as defining for young men’s identities as “real men”, which takes the form of “getting girls”, school rites of passage like homecoming and dances, the lack of anti-sexual harassment policies and enforcement in school, etc., but the ethnography mainly focuses on defining factor to the relational aspect of gender for boys: homophobia.
she writes, “homophobia is indeed a central mechanism in the making of contemporary American adolescent masculinity… fag is not only an identity linked to homosexual boys but an identity that can temporarily adhere to heterosexual boys as well. the fag trope is also a racialized disciplinary mechanism.”
but the specter of the fag, as she describes it, isn’t really about homosexuality. that’s why it can “adhere” to het boys, too. “male homosexuality is not pathologized, but gay male effeminacy is. the lack of masculinity is the problem, not the sexual practice or orientation” [italics hers].
hmm, that sounds an awful like misogyny, doesn’t it?