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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Watching the English

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

Stumbled on this book at the library. Thought at first it was some sort of travel guide. Then I saw it was the work of a social anthropologist who was attempting to observe her own culture and build rules about their behavior. More than the 'participatory observation' of the ethnologist, since she actually provokes reactions by going to railway stations and doing things like bumping into people and seeing how they react.

As a physical scientist I have always been suspicious of sociology. It always appeared to be statistically interesting, but the results very suspect. I liked her approach though. She was trying to formulate fairly well proportioned rules. Still admitting that they were sometimes wrong, but useful guides for behavior. I suspect some of the results are comparable for other cultures, with differences in degree.

And why not try observe the English? Because its not like observing a jungle tribe. We Americans are close enough so that the outcome can be understood within our own culture. I have spent some small amount of time in England, and am an anglophile, especially with regard to literature. The legendary English quirkiness, at least compared to Americans, is also interesting to observe. The author says that she found that some Brits were buying this book to figure out how to act in public!

So you end up with a set of social rules. Could a set of rules be used to simulate a social group or develop AI rules to predict interactions? Still pretty hard, I think. What she provides is the closest I have seen to making me think about the possibility of including such rules as AI tasks about consumer beahvior in differing contexts. Worth a read.


Captain Karen said...

A friend of mine in the UK sent me a copy of this last year and I loved it. I think it was his subtle way of telling to stop asking so many silly questions about him and his countrymen.

Franz Dill said...

A colleague writes:

Polish people in Britain are being told the weather is a good subject with which to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But is it? The Magazine's Tom Geoghegan puts the theory to the test.