The Sunday Edition

Where we sit on a bus and how we behave says a lot about us

Where we sit on a bus and how we behave says a lot about us: Public transit is an ideal venue to study what sociologists call “civil inattention.” UBC Professor Amy Hanser is doing just that.
Professor Amy Hanser at the University of British Columbia spends a lot of time thinking about what happens on public transit. (Oliver Elliott Mann)
Listen11:19

When we get on a public bus, many of us hide behind a book, gaze intently at our phones, stare out the window and daydream, or eavesdrop on the intimate details of stranger's conversations.

We probably don't give much thought to the protocols and conventions governing the complex urban ecosystem all around us.

But Amy Hanser spends a lot of time thinking about what happens on public transit. She is a professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, and she's embarking on a research project about the unwritten rules of public transit.

"The expectation is that you'll keep to yourself, that you won't focus your attention inappropriately on other people, and yet at the same time you have to be very conscious of everyone around you. Do you need to give up a seat? Do you need to move your body to let someone pass?" she said to The Sunday Edition's guest host Gillian Findlay.

Hanser says public transit is an ideal space to study what is known as "civil inattention," where there is tension between ignoring other people while acknowledging and accommodating them. She is observing everything from the patterns of where people sit and why, to how they interact with others in sometimes uncomfortable situations.

Click 'listen' above to hear the interview.

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