Auction House Social Club — Good Standing

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


Achieving ‘Good Standing’

Throughout the early stages of membership at the AHSC, interpersonal relationships are being built. However, it is not until the initiate reaches the third stage that they achieve the title of member in good standing. 

The third stage of social standing at the AHSC is marked by the key factor of recogonizability among other members and the auctioneer. Members who attain this level receive a sort of tenure at the club receiving a permanent bid number as a symbol of their high status as well as the general recognition by other members as a “regular”.members

While official recognition comes from interactions with the auctioneer, the high relational status is achieved among members by making rounds and taking part in membership activities that building relationships.


To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available:

Auction House Social Club — The Talk

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


The Talk

New bidders must learn to understand the auctioneer and the rhythm of the auction song that may seem unintelligible to the untrained ear. The way auctioneers move their lips reminded me of a baby blowing his lips and letting them flap in the breeze or of someone imitating the Warner Brothers cartoon character Porky the Pig who ended cartoon shows with “bdib, bdib, bdib, bdib, that’s all folks!”overview

While auctioneers do not have the legendary reputation of used car salesmen, they are known for an occasional exaggeration. I once heard of an auctioneer who said he never lied…unless he had too. Maybe they don’t lie, but they do try to look on the bright side of their products.

At the AHSC, the auctioneer opened bids on an “antique table” that was nothing more than an extremely warped table top made of pressed wood drooping over a supporting frame on four old turned table legs. Keeping a rosy view of his products, the auctioneer claimed, “Put a new top and you’ve got a nice table”.

Later, while trying to sell a large squirrel-cage fan, the auctioneer assured everyone that the fan worked and had been used in the building standing nearby. “It kept blowing out the end of the building,” the auctioneer said of the fan. “That’s why he’s getting rid of it”.

I don’t know if the people believed him or not, but the fan never sold while I was there. By the time I left the auction the fan had been sitting on the lot for several weeks. Who knows how long it sat there before I came. Continue reading

Auction House Social Club–The Bid

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


The Bid

For some veterans of the AHSC, the bidding may have lost its thrill but for me, this ritual was as exciting as ever. To me, the novice bidder, the suspense built as the auctioneer neared the item I was hoping to win. That particular time I had my eye on an old wall hanging that looked like a colonial-era drum. I thought it might be worth something. In my field notes I recorded this bidding experience:

I’m almost mesmerized by the auctioneer’s song as he gets closer to [the drum] I’m interested in. The more I think about it, the faster my heart race when I see my item on the block. I have to keep my cool and remember how much I’ve already decided I’m willing to spend. If I get caught up in the moment, it may cost me dearly when it comes time to pay my dues at the clerk’s desk. auctioneers

I did win the bid that afternoon. As I picked up my drum, I heard other bidders comment that it might be worth something when it is cleaned up. That was music to my ears.

In the second stage of membership, the newly dubbed member reaches the status of “bidder”. The more active the bidder, the more rapidly official status increases. (By official status, I mean the status among the officials who run the Columbus Auction.) However, bidders wishing to increase their membership status with other members must recognize that there is more to the AHSC than just buying things. It is a community. Continue reading

Auction House Social Club–ID Cards

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


ID Cards

New members at the AHSC have to participate in a number of initiation practices to become a member in good standing. First, initiates must obtain their identification cards.

Wanting to maintain the role of participant-as-observer on my first day of observation, I asked directions to the clerk’s office and made my way into a tiny office tucked away in the comer of the auction barn. A small sign hung below the counter stating, “Thou Shalt Not Whine.”payingupAfter assuring the lady behind the counter that was not there to whine, I dutifully name and address on a clipboard and picked up my card-number 144. It was a white 3.75″ x 7″ card with the number handwritten with a thick black marker along one edge. I tucked it in my pocket to have it ready for a bid. Getting one of those little cards had always seemed to symbolize a right of passage to me. Children don’t get bid cards. Adults do. With a bid card, could enter the world of the AHSC as a card-carrying member. He who has the card can, if willing to pay enough, win the bid. Like getting your membership card for the country club, the bid card becomes the member’s identity card when it comes to buying anything at that particular auction. Having that card made me official and granted me a sense of belonging. While it reduced my public identity to a mere number, it gave me the basis on which to reveal my true identity to those choose. Continue reading

Auction House Social Club — Join the club

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


Joining the Club

Joining the AHSC is not difficult. Nearly anyone can do it, but it takes time-a lot of interaction and time-to become a “member in good standing.” The quest for membership at the AHSC requires the potential member to do more than stand silently and bid on a few items.auctionstuff

The potential member must share time and a part of themselves through role-playing and self expression through personal stories, a sense of humor and even through their dress. While being present is important, interaction is of greater importance at the AHSC. I found that my presence did not lead to any important relationships until I began to interact with the other members. Joining the circle of high auction society takes a combination of time, effort, and simple enjoyment of the auction shared within the fellowship of other members.


To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available:

Auction House Social Club — Findings

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.



On my first visit to the auction, I parked in a grassy spot next to a long row of cars, trucks and trailers and made my way over to the rows of merchandise where potential buyers were perusing tables covered with all types of auction items. There were antiques, tools, furniture, household items, exercise equipment, books and plenty of junk. You name it; they had it or would gladly substitute something else in its place. 

On first glance, I didn’t see the community I’d come seeking. It looked like an organized business. Items were numbered, people were there to buy and inside the auction barn a faded sign read: “Not responsible for breakage, Not responsible for accidents, Commission 15%.”auct

Accepting that first impressions can often be deceiving, I started looking deeper and began to see groups of people loitering about the lot as friends, associates and acquaintances met to chat before the bidding began. There was more to the activities at this cement and metal building than first met my eye. A business it was, but the Columbus Auction had become a place of interaction-a place where people gathered not only for the products that were sold, but also for the social interaction they found and the friendships they built there. The attendees at the auction developed a community that has been “created and sustained by everyday [in this case, weekly] patterns of human interaction that take on shared meanings among members of a particular group” (Adelman Frey, 1997, p. 5). After observing the auction and the strong social interactions that took place there, I dubbed it the Auction House Social Club (AHSC): A place where people buy a little, sell a little, and share a lot. 

In my mind the AHSC is not that different from a country club or weekly social gathering. Like a social club where the product being sold is a meal, a game of golf, or access to a swimming pool; the products sold at the auction were the loosely tied twine that kept the members involved as relational bonds were built and a community emerged.

While interactions among members of this community are only loosely knit together; repetition of shared events; exchange of information and stories, and the common location of the auction all contributed to the building of a sense of community. Items and places are the visible bonds of an invisible relationship called “community”. As Bird (1999) writes of her email fan group, the AHSC members built a greater sense of community through exposure of self and expression of ideas as they talked about the objects and situations surrounding them in the places where they are linked together.


To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available:

Auction House Social Club – Methods

A multi part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.



I chose the role of participant-as-observer and peripheral membership as my approach to answer questions that developed even as I carded out my research. Using the role of a peripheral member allowed me to interact as a member while not taking part in all the activities or committing the amount of time considered necessary for complete membership (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998). Being on a limited time schedule, I recognized that attempting a more integrated approachor a slower, more removed observation approach would take longer than the amount of time available.

I wanted to ask people questions about the auction and watch them in action while not being too conspicuous. Being a participant-as-observer and peripheral member allowed me to do that. It also gave me the freedom to put people at ease and still acquire useful data. As Denzin and Lincoln (1998) noted, the value of observation as a participant-as-observer is in the ability and freedom to follow the “flow of events” and be “free to search for concepts or categories that appear meaningful to [the] subjects” (p. 81).

I had questions. I hoped the answers were in my observations. During my investigation, I wondered if the regular attendees came just for the products or did they come for more? I wanted to know what relationships were built after years of seeing each other week after week and if they have a sense of community.

As a participant-as-observer, I attended the Monday afternoon auction held at the Columbus Auction five different weeks during September and October of 2001. During my observation period, I conducted both unstructured and loosely structured interviews and held conversations with various people who attended the auction. gained permission for my observations from Jack Garner, the owner of the Columbus Auction. In addition, told my informants about my reason for studying the communication at auctions. Some had questions about my research, but, for most, simply stating that I was a student studying the auction seemed to satisfy any curiosity. I found that many were willing to share their experiences with me once they understood why I was asking questions.


To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available:…lub-references/

Auction House Social Club — References

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.



Adelman, M.B., Frey, L.R. (1997). The Fragile Community: Living Togethe with AIDS. Mahaw, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Bird, S.E. (1999). Chatting on Cynthia’s Porch: Creating Community in an E- mail Fan Group. Southern Communication Journal,65(2), 49-66.

Booth-Butterfield, M., Booth-Butterfield, S. (1996). Individual Differences in TheCommunication of Humorous Messages. Southern Communication Journal,56,205-218.

Denzin, N.K., Lincoln, Y.S. (Eds.). (1998). Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials.Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Fagan, R., Royer, R. (1995). Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident) [John Michael Montgomery]. John Michael Montgomery [CD]. (1995). New York: Atlantic Recording Corp. Retrieved Dec. 4, 2001, from

Hemingway, E. (1952). The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 

Lyttle, J. (2001). The Effectiveness of Humor in Persuasion: The Case of Business Ethics Training [Electronic version]. Journal of General Psychology, 128(2). Retreived November 28,2001, from the Expanded Academic ASAP database.


Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

Auction House Social Club

Community and Talk at the Auction House Social Club

It seems like I’ve always been interested in auctions. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed wandering through rows of other people’s stuff looking for something that might catch my fancy. During those tours de stuff, I was cautious to keep my hands still so as not to make an accidental bid.

I usually went to auctions with my father who occasionally bid on a few things, but he was always ready to go before I was. For me there was something about just being there with all those people, looking through the myriad of items and listening to the auctioneer’s song. Those auctions held an air of excitement, entertainment and friendship that welcomed whoever would stay around long enough to understand it.overview

My father once told me that my great uncle-who went deaf after hearing too much heavy artillery in World War 11-liked going to auctions. He didn’t go to buy. He went to enjoy a piece of pie and the company he found there. For my great uncle the auction was a place to grab a bite to eat and to socialize. His enjoyment of the auction reached beyond the mere purchasing process or business transaction and inspired me to study what I’ve come to call the Auction House Social Club. Continue reading

Human Relations vs. Social Systems Theory 2

In grad school, I studied Organizational Communication under Dr. Shirley Drew at Pittsburg State University‘s Communication Department. Below is the second part of my response to a final question about human relations and social systems theories applied to organizational communication.

To read the first part of this discussion click here.


Social System Theory of organization examined organizations much as an organism and was applied to many other fields of research including biology. One of the proposals of Social System Theory of organization is the idea that the parts of an organization are non-summative or synergistic. That is, the results are not only the sum of the parts but are greater than the sum because the parts contributed together. This aspect of Social System Theory agrees with the second of two theories proposed by human relations theorist McGregor.

Another aspect of Human Relations Theory was based on the opposing theories proposed by McGregor: Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X indicated that workers must he coerced to work, they are basically lazy, and they do not want to work. Theory Y suggested that workers do not necessarily view work as a negative thing, they can set their own goals, they have ambition, and they each have something to contribute to the organization if allowed. This contribution of the individual parts, according to Social System Theory is what makes the organization synergistic while it also creates a sense of self-actualization–the goal of Human Relations Theory–as the parts or workers accomplish things together for the good of the organization.

This brings out another similarity of these two perspectives. Social Systems Theory suggests that there is a homeostatic balance that the organization is seeking through the use of feedback loops that help to limit deviation from the norm. These feedback loops included vertical and horizontal communication to avoid deviation.

Communication between management and subordinates was one way in Classical Theory but Human Relations Theory freed communication within the organization to give employees a sense of working “with”, not “under” the management.

An aspect that varied between Human Relations and Social Systems theories was the re-organization factor Social Systems Theory suggested. The desire for negative entropy promoted re-organization to keep the organization from dissolving or becoming ineffective. Human Relations Theory did not address the tendency for organizations to become disorganized.

The strengths of these theories vary as well:

  • For Human Relations Theory the strength is in the recognition of workers as individuals with needs and an attempt at responding to those needs.
  • For Social Systems Theories the strength is found in the understanding of the organization as a living thing that is continually trying to organize itself (when allowed by the organizational structure itself) and maintain a constant norm that is considered productive and helpful to all involved–a type of productive survival.

Human Relations Theory is weak in the area that brought it the most criticism–a lack of task focus due to an emphasis on individual care. Human Relations Theory needed to exhibit a greater sense of structure that both helped the individual achieve self actualization goals while connecting those goals with the goals of the organization to survive. Social Systems Theory had fewer weaknesses particularly since it could learn from the mistakes of both Classical and Human Relations theories that had come before. Still, Social Systems Theory did not account for the organizational factors that do not necessarily make sense to the observer unless that observer has become part of the organization’s culture itself. Theorists attempted to address these weaknesses with the development of Organizational Culture Theory of organization.

After reviewing both Human Relations and Social Systems theories, I conclude that Human Relations Theory would produce the most information in a study about an organization because it seems to have more of an open ended and even psychological approach to understanding why organizations are structured the way they are. While Social Systems Theory may provide more specific information that can be categorized about the development of a structure and the accomplishment of purpose, Human Relations Theory would provide as much a variety of data as there are individuals in the organization. The individual and the needs of those individuals are the focus of this theoretical perspective. Social Systems Theory would provide much information but it would be more categorized and specific to the questions that Social Systems Theory answers about the survival and re-organization of each organization.

While Human Relations Theory of organization would provide a greater amount of information about the individual needs, desires, goals, and purposes of the members of an organization, I suggest that any researcher consider carefully what the original purpose of their study is before deciding upon a theoretical perspective merely because it would provide more information. The chosen perspective should help the researcher to understand the aspects of the organization that are important to the research questions being asked.