An unintended breaching experiment: violating the terms of Polygon’s community


Have you ever heard or read about the ethnomethodologists’ breaching experiments? One of the fathers of ethnomethodology, Harold Garfinkel, defines a breaching experiment as follows:

…a procedure would need to modify the objective structure of the familiar, known-in-common environment by rendering the background expectancies inoperative. Specifically, this modification would consist of subjecting a person to a breach of the background expectancies of everyday life while (a) making it difficult for the person to interpret his situation as a game, an experiment, a deception, a play, s.e., as something other than the one known according to the attitude of everyday life as a matter of enforceable morality and action, (b) making it necessary that he reconstruct the “natural facts” but giving him insufficient time to manage the reconstruction with respect to required mastery of practical circumstances for which he must call upon his knowledge of the “natural facts” and (c) requiring that he manage the reconstruction of the natural facts by himself and without consensual validation (1967: 54).

Basically, a breaching experiment is a way to expose the structure of what we consider as common and familiar, which is taken for granted most of the time, by breaching people’s expectations — what is expected from us — in a given situation. Well, the other day I conducted a breaching experiment without pretending it. It must be my inner sociologist, who is always working (what an annoying guy!).

From time to time, I usually try to promote my blog entries using different social networks and Internet sites such us Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Reddit, and specialised forums. The reason I do this is because I want to share my thoughts and research progress with society (I know it sounds impersonal and inaccurate, but it’s an easy way to refer to all of you, people) in a non-(at least not too much)-academic fashion. Furthermore, I want your participation and feedback to help me, help us all, to understand this emergent video gaming culture. My intention is not to attract visitors to my blog just to be admired: I know it’s cranky, flawed and full of failed promises. The blog is not that good. But it’s not that bad either. In any case, my intention is to draw some attention to the blog in order to receive feedback, to feel my work can reach someone beyond the enclosed academic community.

However, one day, I misbehave in the eyes of Polygon’s moderators. Polygon is a well-known online magazine on video games and has these forums where you can socialise with the community(-ies) of gamers. I decided to use the forums to reach some of these gamers, asking them about diaries (like my Diaries from The Forest) as a way to approach how video gamers produce knowledge about video games. I also think I posted something in relation to my Flash Sociological Reviews, again, looking for video gamers reviews and comments on video games. Without pretending it, I was breaching the “background expectancies” of this particular everyday life situation: according to Polygon, I was shamelessly promoting my own personal blog and that’s something I shouldn’t have done. I was betraying the community:

I’m a spammer. All the things I posted (a couple of posts) went, in their own words, to the bin. Nonetheless, the most interesting part of my banning statement is this: “Given your account registration time frame and the content of your posts, we do not believe that you are here to participate in the community and are instead here to advertise to get more views from our readership”. I wanted to participate in the community, but I ended up accused of the contrary.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing this to exonerate myself from this situation. I honestly believe I deserve the ban. There are some rules when it comes to participating on a forum. It’s common sense; we all know how bad are seen those who just post their links and don’t offer any other interaction. But until you don’t tear the fabric of that ‘known-in-common’, you don’t face the consequences and start to see what those guidelines that rule the social interactions inside a specific place — virtual or not — are made of. As always has been, we must behave in a specific way to be part of a community.

One last thing. They say that I must acknowledge my banned status by pressing the button below the ban communication. I haven’t pressed the button yet. Thus, every time I access Polygon when I’m logged in, that message pops up in front of my screen. I’m kind of afraid of acknowledging my “banned status”. If I explained my real (good) intentions to them, would they lift the punishment? What will happen once I press the button? Will I bear the stigma of spammer forever? Why is it necessary to acknowledge my banned status if I’m already banned for all intents and purposes? I think there are more taken for granted rules to breach in order to have a quick, maybe painful, look inside all these common-senseness.

Bibliography

Garfinkel, Harold (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Originally published at the3headedmonkey.blogspot.com.