Subcultural Variation


Nov. 23, 1973.  HARTFORD, Connecticut --

Three policemen giving a heart massage and
oxygen to a heart attack victim Friday were
attacked by a crowd of 75 to 100 persons who
apparently did not realize what the policemen
were doing.

Other policemen fended off the crowd of
mostly Spanish speaking residents until an
ambulance arrived.  Police said they tried to
explain to the crowd what  they were doing,
but the crowd apparently thought they were
beating the woman.

Despite the policemen's efforts the victim,

James Spradely describes the incident as:

Members of two different groups observbed the same event but their interpretations were drastically different.  The crowd used their cultural knowledge to (a) interpret the behaviour of the policemen as cruel, and, (b) to act on the woman's behalf to put a stop to what they saw as brutality.  They had acquired the cultural principles for acting and interpreting things in this way through a particular shared experience.

The policemen, on the other hand, used their culture (a) to interpret the woman's condition as heart failure and their own behaviour as a life saving effort, and, (b) to give cardiac massage and oxygen to the woman.  They used artifacts like an oxygen mask and an ambulance.  Furthermore, they interpreted the actions of the crowd in a manner entirely different from how the crowd saw their own behaviour.  These two groups of people each had elaborate cultural rules for interpreting their experience and for acting in emergency situations.  The conflict arose, at least in part because these cultural rules were so different.

(James P. Spradely, The Ethnographic Interview New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979) pp.5-6)