Studying Groups

As part of my second year studies at Bournemouth University I studied a unit entitled Groups,Teams and Organisations. After getting used to completing assignments individually we were placed into groups of three to conduct  a study of group interaction and produce  a group essay. I worked alongside Craig Spence and Samuel Teckman. We chose to observe group formation in the eighties cult classic The Breakfast Club.

An Observational Study of Group Interaction in

The Breakfast Club

(edited version)

The Breakfast Club offers a vehicle for observation and analysis of small group communication. The setting for The Breakfast Club is an Illinois High School where an eclectic group of five students are forced into close proximity for a nine-hour detention session. Through labelling, each character represents a certain social stereotype. In attendance is a “princess” (Claire), an “athlete” (Andrew), a “brain” (Brian), a “criminal” (Bender) and a “basket case” (Allison). Through analysis of group interaction this essay will aim to explore the contribution of individual identity towards group consciousness.

Tuckman (1954) introduced a pioneering theoretical framework that offered four progressive stages in order for a group to develop effectively. He identified the first stage as a period of uncertainty that he termedforming. In this stage “individuals get to know the others, their attitudes, personalities and backgrounds” (Martin 2001).

The storming period is typified by a great deal of negative emotion and conflict as individual group members attempt to impose their own agenda on the group. The storming period is typified by a great deal of negative emotion and conflict as individual group members attempt to impose their own agenda on the group. The storming period is typified by a great deal of negative emotion and conflict as individual group members attempt to impose their own agenda on the group.

The third stage of Tuckman’s model, norming, reflects the process of establishing the norms that are to be operated within the group. Norms can be defined as relating to a “common attitude, feeling or belief” (Bennett 1994). The introduction of shouting, questioning and disrespecting authority represents a milestone in the group’s development as they construct a platform towards performance. As the group progresses towards the performance stage of development, there seems to be no task-oriented goal as such, other than countering the boredom of detention.

The relationship between exchange and communication is a significant one. “In the small group setting the members exchange information, persuasions and responsibilities for the outcomes of decision making or problem solving” (Goodall 1985). Cohesion is further developed through self-disclosure. The group is able to disclose to each other their feelings towards their parents and the expectations of their peers. There are significant moments of self-disclosure that advance the cohesion of the group.

There is a natural association between the concept of hierarchy and group membership.“Hierarchies despite their natural foundations in human nature, often cause difficulties in small groups” (Goodall 1985). It is recognised through this observation that hierarchy of status plays an equally important role in relation to perception and stereotyping. There is an established social hierarchy that is clearly based on pre-constructed images that represent each member’s external group status.

The group culture evolves through the realisation that each member of the group is not necessarily bound to what they previously recognised to be their life-script. A life-script is a set plan essentially defined by social, domestic and cultural pressures. The group seek validation of their life-scripts through each other. The notion of group identity is extended within the research of Ernest Bormann (1972). His research offered an alternative view of how the group perceives its own image based on the idea of fantasy themes. “Sharing group fantasies brings the participants into symbolic convergence and creates a common ground of meaning and culture” (Bormann and Bormann 1992).

In relation to the concept of hierarchy it was noted that higher order needs, such as affiliation, acceptance and self-esteem, could be met when group cohesion was established. It was observed that, through the sharing of fantasy themes, the group’s cohesiveness was further strengthened as they reached a symbolic common ground. Significantly, individual identities were replaced with a group consciousness and a mutual feeling of ‘groupness’ As a cohesive group the Breakfast Club therefore state:

“You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.”

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