Month: May 2019

Cutting Words: Etiquette as a Tool of Exclusion

Kenneth Best – UConn Communications

While researching the cultural processes of inequality in community organizations, sociologist Andrea Voyer found that manners and etiquette often are noted in racial, ethnic, class and gender exclusion.

In studying a parent-teacher group in a public school, for example, white and wealthy PTA parents rejected the efforts of volunteers of poor and Latinx parents who they considered “rude.” And within an elite black church, more affluent church members determined that lower-income newcomers were “not the right kind of people” for the church based on their use of language and more casual dress sitting in the pew.

Such examples led Voyer to a new area of study.

“I realized that expectation of manners made it acceptable to judge and exclude in ways that were reproducing social inequality,” says Voyer, a research professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an associate senior lecturer in sociology at Stockholm University. “As a result of that research I decided to study etiquette itself.”

Voyer is studying “Emily Post’s Etiquette,” the book written by the doyenne of manners first published in 1922 and currently in its nineteenth printing with the most recent update, “Emily Post’s Etiquette: Manners for Today,” published in 2017. The 19 editions include more than 7 million words and 90,000 pages of text. The research is supported by a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

Voyer is taking an innovative approach to the study of etiquette by utilizing the emerging research approach known as computational sociology, which uses computer science to study the social world. Computational sociology can take two major forms — big data analysis, which follows established models of social network structure and analysis by gathering as much information as possible; or a data science approach, which focuses on content analysis. Voyer is using the content analysis approach.

“By adopting a study of multiple editions of the same book what I get to do is look at exactly what changed, from edition to edition,” she says. “The benefit is that the research is almost like a panel study. Each time a new edition is written, it’s written in some relationship to the book that came before. When I see a change across editions, I can identify it much more easily but I can also try to find out where it came from.”

Voyer will have access to the archives of The Emily Post Institute, which the writer established in 1946 and has continued to publish new editions of the book by Post’s family since her death in 1960. Correspondence between Post and her publisher could provide insight on changes from edition to edition, Voyer says. The Institute has a website with etiquette information and programs for business, weddings and children. It also publishes etiquette columns and created the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast.

“The language [in the book] has changed, the structure of the book has changed but in addition to that the underlying ideas of manners have shifted as well,” Voyer says. “The biggest, most obvious example of that is that in the early books Emily Post begins with a discussion of what she considers a reference group that she calls ‘Best Society.’ The point of the book is to describe what the best people do so other people can learn and emulate that. Over the years what you see is the emergence instead of this idea that manners are for everyone and you don’t have to have some reference group that is the social elite of society; that there is this common sense courtesy and kindness. You see this happening over the course of the different editions of the book.”

In noting some of the changes in language over the years, for example, Voyer says in the 1922 edition of “Etiquette,” verb words used to discuss manners are the more rigid “can” and “ask,” while in 2011 the verbs change to the more flexible “allowed” and “permitted.” The guidelines for smoking for “gentlemen” and “ladies” in locations such as “ballroom,” “table” and “drawing room” appear throughout the first edition of the book, along with indications for the time and place for smoking. In more recent editions, there are more definite circumstances in which smoking is allowed or permitted.

Voyer says using this approach to research in social sciences was not an option during her training as a scholar so she has attended seminars to learn how to utilize the methodology to both explore new areas of research and transfer knowledge to graduate students assisting her with her research.

“One of the great things I’m excited about with this research is providing the opportunity for students to get trained in this approach and gain facility in computational sociology,” she says. “It’s my hope that there will be students who will want to do substantive work with their own questions.”


For more information, visit Uconn Today 

Graduating Sociology Major, Lorianny Carrion

Lorianny Carrión

BA, sociology major; English minor

Hometown: Hartford, Connecticut

Clubs: NRHH (National Residence Hall Honorary), LSAMP Scholar, McNair Fellow

Scholarships: Leadership Scholarship





Q:Why did you choose to study (this major/minor)?

A:I started off in biology, but I ended up switching because I realized I had always been struggling with science classes and I was excelling at everything else. I switched the beginning of my junior year. It was pretty scary because I thought it was late in the game, but it all worked out pretty well. When I was in SSS (Student Support Services), the summer before freshman year, I was taking a sociology and an English class, so it’s actually ironic that I ended up with this as my major and my minor. I was always interested in sociology and I always liked reading. I’m taking my LSATs in July, so hopefully by next year I can be in law school.

Q:Tell us more about your SSS experience.

A: SSS is UConn’s support system which is aimed towards first generation students and students of low income to help them settle into the college experience. It provided me with the confidence that I could do well in academic settings because I got recognized as an outstanding student in both of my classes. That really meant a lot to me, because it made me feel like I’m supposed to be here and I am a good student. It also gave me a good circle of friends that I still talk to to this day, and I’ll probably still talk to them after we graduate.

Q:Who is your favorite professor and/or class? Why?

A:My favorite professor has to be Associate Professor in Residence of Sociology Phoebe Godfrey. She’s my favorite professor because she structured class differently in the sense that I felt like I could participate more. We did journal entries and scanned them, so I was could draw and things like that. It motivated me to be more honest with myself and with the readings, and allowed me to engage more with what I was learning.

She’s also my favorite because she motivates me and gives me guidance. I go to her when I have problems. She helped me figure out so many career questions. She’s trying to help me publish a book now that I ended up presenting as a project for her class, so it’s just very different.

Q:You’re publishing a book?

A:I presented a book in class instead of writing an essay. She knows I’m really into art and I really like drawing. She gave me that option and I took it, because I thought it was better than writing a 20-page paper! I presented it, and she told me she was really interested in helping me publish it. It’s a children’s book that I watercolored and then related back to our class. It was in a class called Energy, Environment, and Society. So, I had to relate it back to how children’s relationship with the environment is very different because of our school system, in terms of how students aren’t allowed to engage with things outside, we’re very strict with it, and it forces us into a box.

Q:In what other ways was that class different?

A:It felt really freeing in a sense. At first, I was kinda lost because I didn’t know what I was going to be graded on. I guess that’s one thing students always focus on cause you’re forced to focus on the grade that you’re getting but this allowed us to engage more with what we were reading. I felt more like a student that way because I wasn’t stressed about whether or not I’m in the A or B range.

Q:What did you accomplish during your college experience that you’re most proud of?

A: A sense of agency and autonomy. My parents were really strict when I was home. I’m the oldest in my family so I had a lot of responsibilities at home. Here I was allowed to explore things I really wanted to get into. I didn’t have a strict guideline as to how to do things. I was allowed to explore in terms of my friends, things I never had the chance to get into in high school in terms of classes, and myself.

Q:How has UConn prepared you for your future career?

A:It allowed me to fail, in my first half with biology. That really opened up doors for me to not be scared of failure and not have that weight on my shoulders. It’s allowed me to learn from my experiences and keep pushing forward because I can’t be stagnant.

Q:How has UConn shaped you as a person?

A:It shaped me positively, overall. I’ve always had a pretty stable circle of friends and I’ve always been able to find professionals here who want to guide me like my Student Support Services advisor, Phoebe, and other professors. They’ve always been really open and honest with me with guidance so it’s provided me with a base of really great people to help me succeed. Without them I would still be myself but I wouldn’t be as centered.

Q:If you could summarize your experience at UConn in three words, what would they be?

A:Interesting, centering, and challenging

Q:What advice would you give to a student just starting out at UConn?

A:I would say to trust their gut. That’s something I really had trouble with in the beginning. At the end of the day, no matter if your family is pushing you toward a certain career path or you feel pressure from outside circumstances, trust yourself. I’m a first generation American and student, so I really felt like I had to live up to not only my own expectations but everyone else’s. It really came down to just trusting myself and my own instincts. If something’s not working out for you, trust yourself and make the change that you have to make.

I would say to other students, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. For some reason I was really hesitant with that. I guess it has to do more with my own expectations for myself to be able to figure things out for myself and that’s not always the case, people are there to help you. Don’t be hard-headed; I was really hard-headed!

Q:What has your experience been as a first-generation college student and American?

A: While being a first-generation student and American is challenging, it means being provided with opportunities that previous generations in my family haven’t been. I try and remember who my family has helped me be and who I am meant to be to keep pushing forward. They’ve helped keep me grounded and focused with their support and have been integral to my college experience. Being one of the first means to try and honor the sacrifices that my parents made for me to be here while also living up to my own expectations. I know I won’t be one of the last.

More information on CLAS class of 2019