Sample paper #2 for Midterm #2 - Silence on the BART Train...

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Silence on the BART Train: The Urban Passenger as a Situational Identity “Nah, I pretty much never talk to anyone. Why would I? No one wants to be here anymore than I do. I’m just trying to get off at my stop and continue my day, you feel me? You can’t just approach anyone here, this is the city. Confrontations can be risky sometimes,” explains a BART passenger as the Richmond train rolls in to 12 th St/Oakland City Center station. I thank the passenger for his time and look down at my data. Four stops so far. Twenty four have boarded, nineteen departed, but zero counts of social interaction from passengers who haven’t boarded together. I am including everything I can, from head nods to actual conversation. What is the explanation for the deafening silence? In other social environments, such as getting on an elevator in a high rise, often at least a salutation is expected. Why is the BART train any different? Jodi O’Brien’s essay Learning the Script: Socialization discusses maneuvering social spaces as a process akin to learning grammar: “we absorb an entire structure of meaning and routine through socialization,” and knowing the underlying rules isn’t necessary (175). Could the BART train be a social space with its own set of rules that are passed on from passenger to passenger, an example of socialization as O’Brien describes? With a 300,000 plus daily ridership, using the BART is a major part of many urbanites’ lives, and yet the sociological factors at play in each car is rarely addressed. In this paper, I seek to answer some of these puzzling questions. Over the course of this semester, I have taken the BART extensively to try and understand why social interaction here is so rare. I believe that the organization of the BART train and enforcement from other passengers result in the maintenance of a situational identity I call the “urban passenger”: someone who abstains from social interaction in favor of distraction, such as reading or using handheld devices, to prevent the occasionally uncomfortable situations that come about from persons of unusual diversity sharing
2 a common goal in a confined venue. Furthermore, I believe that silence on the BART train is an example of the effect of socio-economic inequalities present in urban life that make it particularly difficult to relate to others of diverse backgrounds. I chose the Bay Area Rapid Transit system as my venue, a rail public transit service that connects San Francisco to the cities of East Bay and San Mateo County. Though my data could be extrapolated to urban public transportation in general, I selected the BART system because of proximity and the notoriously large ridership. The BART is a melting pot of individuals of various ethnic groups and socio-economic standing and is utilized by many who live in the area, with weekday riders’ annual income and ethnicities closely resembling annual incomes and ethnicities for the service region as a whole (“Station Profile Study”). (In other words, BART ridership is just as ethnically and economically diverse as the community it services.) My

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