The following, from the course syllabus, lays out the research problem and possible lines of research:
Listening to the news it seems that the social fabric that binds Americans is fraying. Within weeks of the national unity and shared civilities experienced immediately after 9-11, there appeared media claims of growing rudeness in American society. Last April a poll by Public Agenda was released reporting that nearly 8 in 10 Americans believing that the lack of respect and courtesy is a serious problem, with 6 in 10 saying the problem is getting worse and 4 in 10 confessing that they themselves were sometimes part of the problem. Examples:
increasing insularity from others (walkmen on while jogging through our neighborhoods),
cell phones ringing during classes and at public gatherings
obscenities at sporting events and out-of-control parents at Little League games
foul mouthed youth not changing their parlance when in presence of adults
incivility in the workplace
advertisers who disrupt family dinners (for their “courtesy calls”), sales clerks who ignore you
everyone is on a first-name basis, indicating the evaporation of respect. Email and phone advertisements: Hi Mike. … Hey, it’s Dr. or Professor Kearl to you!
the Howard Stern model of civility on television
in professional sports, players taunt, trash talk and diss their opponents,
RSVPing—either failure to, doing so late, and then showing up late
the lost art of listening
the disappearance of “thank you’s”
Unlike the good old days of the cold war when we feared the Reds, now we fear each other. We lock ourselves into gated communities in homes filled with alarms and motion detectors (Joan Ryan, “Too panicked to live,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 9, 2000). One can no longer even trust one’s priest!
But have things really changed? How do we know? In fact, there may not have been any real Golden Age of etiquette, according to Mark Caldwell’s A Short History of Rudeness and C. Dallett Hemphill’s Bowing to Necessities: A History of Manners in America, 1620-1860. The complaint is not new. In 1431, Christine de Pisan wrote The Book of the City of Ladies, in which she complains about the deterioration of manners.
If we should find that manners have, indeed, been evaporating from everyday life, what has been the cause? Let’s bring out the usual suspects: urbanization and breakdown of community, extreme individualism and its “me-first” mindset, secularization and its shift of focus from the spiritual to the materialistic.
Here are the summaries of the groups' presentations: