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 The human watering hole: Patterns of competitive behavior

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PostSubject: The human watering hole: Patterns of competitive behavior   The human watering hole: Patterns of competitive behavior Icon_minitimeWed Oct 03, 2012 8:08 pm

For any anthropologists out there, you may find this interesting. I conducted a one time, observational ethnography of a bar. Just a warning it is very long.

To commence my research I began by reviewing an article; Partitioning of Anthropogenic Watering Sites by Desert Carnivore. I stumbled upon this article based on research regarding the colloquialism "watering hole." Before the anthropomorphization of the term "watering hole," It referred to resource rich locations situated in otherwise barren terrain. Therefore, watering holes became a place for inter specie encounters. Often this would lead to vast competition for said resources, and observable consequences become present. In a civilized conception, the term watering hole is a colloquialism for a bar. Therefore, I hypothesized that a civilized "watering hole" should provide a similar phenomenon. However, instead of competition arising for resources, conflict and competition will occur in a more social measure. The population in a society such as Canada's provide a similar situation; people of different ages, classes, gender and races all coming together for a similar purpose.
To prepare for my field work, I attempted to masquerade myself as an average patron of my selected establishment. This meant preparing a non descript outfit, as well as procuring a "date." I selected a female friend who is well versed in the bar/club scene, she acted as my key informant providing me with a depth of knowledge pertaining to certain imponderables of this subculture.
An establishment was selected, The Green Room, and I arrived fashionably early so that observations could be made about how subjects arrive; the time was approximately 11:35pm. A non alcoholic, but made to look alcoholic drink was purchased so that attention would not be drawn. I was attempting to engage in concealed non-participatory observation. I surveyed the establishment and constructed a simple rendering for reference (appendix D). After this an observation point was selected which provided a vantage view of the area, this became my post for the majority of my observations.
In this social situation, resources have been redefined to reflect the environment. Resources here will separated into three categories. Spatial resources refer to dance area and personal space around the watering hole. Alcohol resources refers to the bartenders availability and ability to provide alcohol, and lounge resources refers to the seating tables that had waitresses. This resource was the most rare, and reserved for VIP's; the individuals situated here did not have to worry about spatial or alcohol resources because it was included within their domain. The term race will be used as a social convention as a means of identifying a trait, specifically skin color.
Observations : 11:40 pm
The first and most apparent observation I made note of was the lack of lighting in the establishment. Initially this did not seem to be a crucial facet of anything, but as time progressed I began to notice how the darkness was used to enhance specific elements of the bar. The dark was selective to specific areas, primarily the dance floor, and out of sight areas, such as corners or small booths. This darkness provided a sort of veil for those individuals looking to further their social encounters. Along with hiding the public indiscretions of individuals; the lack of light allowed the establishment to masquerade any frailties it had. Meaning, after close inspection I was able to notice the poor construction of the facility. i.e. damage to walls was present, improper paint jobs, and traces of graffiti. There was also a surplus of security guards present using the darkness as a means of maintaining their anonymity. They would appear in and out of the crowd, barely divisible from the rest of the pack.
The dark was manipulated in another way in order to convey a specific mood around the establishment. Used in coordination with laser lights and a fog machine, the surroundings were set to induce dance and debauchery. Conducive to the overall theme, the alcohol resources appeared readily available with two bars on location, and roaming waitresses. However, the largest resource available is the dance floor. The increase in spatial resources was exaggerated at the cost of reducing lounge and alcohol resources. There was a minimal number of tables and seats. This I suspect was done in order to promote the over-utilization of the two other resources, to act as a sort of catalyst to social interaction. If you reduce people's ability to sit and lounge around, they will be forced into motion, and therefore interaction becomes inevitable.
The employees were all dressed in uniform attire, female servers were in black tank tops with black miniskirts, with hair done into pig tails. Males were behind the counter, and dressed in black t-shirts and black dress pants. This dress code stood out because around the dance areas, staff members were almost impossible to see. This could have possibly been an attempt to further play off the darkness, but no additional evidence became present to support this suspicion.
The music playing at location was coordinated with the style of the bar, which was upscale urban dance. Therefore, the music played a compilation of popular dance music mixed by a onset disc jockey. A notable observation present in the music and dancing was group think. When certain songs played, almost all individuals would dance in the same way. One example of this was clear when the song "Gangnam Style" played, all of the dancers conducted the same dances displayed in the songs music video.
At the time of arrival , there was a minimum amount of subjects present, but those there were dressed to match the setting. Upscale urban fashion, females in short dresses and high heels, males in tight pants and tight t-shirts. I found this to be interesting, that despite the almost sub zero temperatures, all patrons were "dressed to impress." My informant later explained to me that no matter what the occasion, attire was always dress to impress. This led me to take notice of a certain pattern. Image was the most important aspect of self in this social encounter. Image is strongly correlated to being the alpha member of group, it is one way of being the focal point of a group.
As time passed on more people began to arrive in groupings, and more patterns began to emerge. As groups would enter, three distinct factors became visible as separating qualities. Age, gender and race. These three mechanism of division were present in almost every group arriving. Males between the ages of nineteen and twenty five appeared to arrive in groups with males of the same age and race. The same phenomena was notable with females. The majority of patrons were between the ages nineteen and twenty five, would arrive with patrons of the same age, gender, and race. The range of age extended as high as approximately forty years of age, but patrons in this age classification were a less common sight. The groups of older individuals did not exhibit the same mechanisms of division as the younger crowd. However, age remained a constant factor in group division.
As groups would enter the institution their primary instinct would lead them to seek out resources, initially, groups would head to the bar. Usually one or two members of the group would attempt to obtain alcohol for the rest of their group, and then they would proceed to consume. These individuals I observed at the bars, attempting to claim resources for their group, often exhibited characteristics of the alpha group member. The males were more often than not the loudest, and biggest, and the females were often the loudest and most attractive. These members have a better ability to gain the attention of the staff, and can therefore obtain sufficient resources to support the whole group.
As the watering hole grew to be more crowded it became evident that competition was beginning to occur. As it became more difficult for groups to get the attention of the staff, rivalries would ensue between alpha members of different groups. This led them to resort to drastic measures to maintain their status as alpha member. An example of this I observed was a girl who stood up on the bar and took a bottle from the staff, she later went on to pour it out for all her group members. Another example was when a male member pushed several others out of his path in order to get to the bar.
These patterns of group interaction and competition for resources were reflected in the realm of spatial resources. As groups flocked towards the dance areas alpha members would distinguish themselves from the rest of their group by relying on a variety of actions. The males would become exceptionally loud, yelling at their friends around them to do this or that. Also they would procure space for themselves in the hopes of finding a dancing partner to share it with. Another distinguishing act that females would exhibit is the way of dancing they chose to display. The louder and more provocative they became the more likely they were to draw in an opposing alpha male. It was here where the interaction and intermingling between groups became most frequent and apparent. As time progressed and the location reached peak occupancy competition became most evident within the spatial resources. It became harder for individuals to distinguish themselves and to maintain their personal space and so there became some direct provocation. Some alpha members would intimidate others with loud aggressive chants, or in some instances direct physical contact. At this point of peak interaction, intermingling between groups became more obvious. Males from various groups would pair up with females from various groups, usually alpha with alpha and the rest would follow accordingly. The one mechanism of division that remained crucial for separation age. Females and males who paired up together were frequently of the same age category.
At approximately 1:00am, the peak of the night had been reached, and the effects of the alcohol were beginning to reach the depressant stage. At this point in time, the herd of people began to thin. Those beta members who had not established themselves within the crowd or found an opposing member to interact with had two options; they would either stay and intoxicate themselves beyond reason, or leave and continue their night elsewhere. The members who had established themselves among the crowd or found a partner would stay till the end of the night or leave in their formed pair. Some groups would leave as a whole, failing to complete the main objective of social domination or even social acceptance.
I hypothesized that a modern "watering hole" or bar would provide phenomenon similar to those which occur at a pre civilization definition of a watering hole. Competition would occur over resources, and groups would interact with each other. In a sense my hypothesis was correct, there were large levels of interaction as well as competition. However, initially I failed to account for resources as a means for competition. I assumed that competition would only arise out of social interaction between alpha members, but I observed a much more diverse degree of competition. It became apparent once I had identified a variety of resources, that competition would arise in multiple situations. The competition occurred in a much more direct fashion than I initially assumed, and the areas of observation could not have been surmised without first witnessing the social experiment. The fact is that competition arose more out of a need for resources than social interaction. There was still social competition, but the competition for resources seemed to decide the hierarchal social organization based on success.
Patterns of grouping were most evident early on in the night as groups would arrive. As social lubrication took effect, the mechanisms of division became less important, and interaction between groups became a frequent occurrence. It was here in the realm of social competition where individuals who had failed with resources could still attempt to achieve their goal. They could still claim their place on the social ladder by proving themselves on the dance floor. This was the only place where direct social competition took place.
What came as a surprise was the amount of direct competition I was able to observe. Initially I thought it would occur in a much more broad less direct social sense. I was also surprised by the fact that race played such a crucial role in group division. Before my observations I originally assumed that age, gender, and social status would have more of a role as a mechanism of division, but my observations prove otherwise. If was to conduct this study further there are a few things I would do differently. Primarily I would devote one night to observe the location and get and overall sense of what occurs. Second I would like to have more time in the field overall, at least two days for three to four hours each time. One other thing I would add, is a comparison of establishments to observe if these patterns overlap.

feel free to let the words take you away.
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