This anthropology course never fails to provide me with material to respond to. However, the activity I want to reflect upon for this week is the request that each student “observe” and different space.
I was asked to observe Starbucks; I went to the one on campus. My opinion of the location is inherently biased, because I go there frequently. But I attempted to really look and think about the surrounding I was in.
Initially, my focus was on the aesthetics of the location. The walls aren’t bright; they’re a muted yellow and blue color. The backsplash behind the barista counter is blue and reflective, and reminded me of mermaid scales. There are lightbulbs fashionably arranged to appear like they’re floating over one side of the room. The space is muted and earthy; tables are wood based and the furniture is dark. The smells of the location are distinctive too; the restaurant smells distinctly clean (but not in a chemical way), and is underscored by the scent of coffee grinds and baked apple bread.
The sounds of the location resulted in a different experience for me. This location plays music, often indie-rock or something of a folk-nature. Usually the voice of the primary vocalist is deep, soothing and supplemented by banjo. These artists are popular and poppy enough to have created successful songs, but not popular enough to evoke instant recognition. The music was at first calming, but in the space of 30 minutes, the music seemed to grow gradually louder. Again, in the past, I’ve had issues really working or writing in this location because I become more conscious and focused on the music as I spend time in the area. The bustle of the machines and the voices of the baristas can be heard. One woman’s voice was peculiar when she talked to customers; her pitch was fairly high and would rise when asking questions of the customers. Her voice sounded very positive, but the consistency of hearing her talk so chirpily for a half-hour made me perceive her tone as a forced one.
The sensory elements of this observation were in line with my day-to-day expectations of the location. However, during my observation, I began to notice habits the people in the spaces portrayed. The concept of physical space was a defining one; few people in the coffee shop actually speak to one another, even when they are sitting next to each other. While most of the furniture is grouped closely together, the customers would sit at least a chair away from other people. This perception of space was furthered by a young pair. The female was leaning onto the male’s lap, placing her head against his shoulder and grasping his arm. This couple was particularly shocking to see in the environment of the Starbucks. I think because so few people exhibited physical proximity or comfort with others, any overt expression of physical expression seemed excessive (even though it would not have been in different environments). This guarding (or lack there of) of physical space was displayed by a young man and woman. The woman, who was dressed in a crisp looking dress, and the young man, who looked casually clothed in a relatively good-quality t-shirt. I was unsure as to what their relationship was; they sat in seats that were close, but neither one actually touched the other until the end of the conversation, wherein the woman shook the man’s hand, and the two parted ways. Because of the way that the woman enforced her personal space, I think their relationship was one of professionalism. However, I did not know how to factor in the man’s unprofessional attire with the situation I thought I perceived.
Another observation I focused on, which I had not in the past, was the racial diversity in the room. The majority of people were white females, with a scattering of people of different ethnicities. However, the only two black women in the store were working behind the counter. This concept is one that applies to Emory University as a whole. Our student body is composed of about 10% black students. However, the employees that serve us our food, clean our bathrooms, and do the jobs we all go to college so we won’t have to do are almost all black. This discontinuity between representation of people of color in the academic sphere makes me question the effectiveness of the American school system and the actual level of diversity Emory claims to have. This reflection, while distinctly different from the actual day-to-day events that occurred at Starbucks, is tied to my experience there.
I wonder how Anthropologists who attempt to go out into the field unbiasedly can do so with any amount of effectiveness.