November 24, 2014

(Someone Else’s) Home for the Holidays

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I just booked my first reservation through Airbnb.com, the site where you can reserve a room in a guest house or private home. This wasn’t my first choice; after finding that most reasonably-priced hotel rooms were booked, my husband and I decided to give it a try for a night. We passed on places that had too many negative reviews left by previous guests or if the room seemed unkempt and cluttered based on the posted pictures. The location we selected had many good reviews and is a five minute drive from our destination.

Staying in a stranger’s home may seem like a new Internet-era invention, but taking in boarders for a night or longer pre-dates the twenty-first century. At the turn of the last century, new immigrants often rented a bed in tenement housing with other families until they were able to save enough money for their own apartment and perhaps to bring the rest of their family to the country. Rural families might have taken in passers-by for a night in places where commercial lodging might have been scarce. The Internet definitely makes this process easier, especially when finding a place to stay from out of town.

I am viewing this experience as a kind of sociological experiment: what is it like to stay in a stranger’s home compared with a family member’s or a friend’s? How do strangers interact in private spaces normally reserved for family and friends? Are there advantages to staying with strangers compared with people we know? If houseguests are a major source of stress during the holidays, might houseguests who are strangers be easier to host?

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November 20, 2014

Community Engagement: Who is Best Served by Service Learning?

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Community-engagement. This is a term that is used quite a bit amongst college and university presidents, administrators, faculty, staff, and students in thinking about ways that colleges and universities can bridge the town-gown divide between university campuses and the towns, neighborhoods, and/or cities in which they reside. At the same time, it’s a hot topic given the Obama administration and the Department of Education’s support for initiatives surrounding community and civic-engagement and learning.

Some colleges view community-engagement as a form of service and require students to clock-in service-learning hours via volunteerism. The belief is that students have useful skills and resources (particularly time) that may benefit a variety of communities. Through their work in various different types of communities, the students in turn gain work and educational experiences.

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November 17, 2014

Aging, Living, and Dying

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As a college professor, my students are almost always the same age—with a few outliers—but I continue to get older, which occasionally becomes more salient. Recently we screened the documentary The Central Park Five in our department, a film focusing on the attack on a jogger in 1989 and the subsequent rush to judgment that led to the wrongful imprisonment of five teen boys. The incident took place when I was a college student living in New York, and before most of the students in attendance were born. When we talked about the film, they were just as interested in hearing more about what it was actually like to be alive in the 1980s, as though I were a visitor from another era.

Admittedly, even I was struck by how old the hairstyles, clothes, and cars appeared in the documentary and I marveled at how quickly time can pass by. While focusing on the day-to-day challenges of everyday life, it’s easy to overlook the passage of big chunks of time until others point it out.

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November 14, 2014

Social and Cultural Capital at School

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you ever thought about how your social relationships at school (and elsewhere) might help you in the future?

Social capital, conceptualized by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, includes economic resources that one gains from being part of a network of social relationships, including group membership.

Cultural capital, also from Bourdieu, includes non-economic resources that enable social mobility. Examples of cultural capital would include knowledge, skills, and education. Both concepts remind us that social networks and culture have value. Bourdieu discussed other forms of capital, including economic and symbolic.  Economic capital refers to monetary resources or those with exchange value, i.e., money.

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November 07, 2014

A Socioanalysis of President Barack Obama

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

I am writing this post on the eve of the 2014 midterm elections, so I don’t know who the winners and losers will be. However, I do know one thing for sure: President Obama is not held in high regard these days. Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 42%, lower than the average approval ratings of the ten presidents that preceded him. For what it’s worth, Obama’s rating is actually significantly higher than the approval rating of Congress—the group of politicians whose partisan obstructionism and dogmatism are arguably responsible for much of Obama’s legislative troubles.  Embarrassingly, the approval rating of Congress is barely above 10%.

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October 30, 2014

Weddings: Front Stage Performances

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Weddings are big productions. They often take months of planning that includes selecting decorations, invitations, food, music, dresses, tuxedoes, color schemes, seating charts, the wedding party and more. Weddings are a heightened example of what sociologist Erving Goffman called front stage behavior.

Goffman viewed social life as something akin to a performance, where we attempt to manage the impressions we make to others. Weddings are clearly social performances: they involve guests, usually seated in the audience, and people involved in the wedding party play roles as well  (bride, groom, best man, mother of the bride, the person performing the ceremony and so forth). Most involve “costumes” that designate the roles of those involved. Photographers and videographers are often hired to document the event too.

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October 27, 2014

Is Islamophobia a Form of Racism (And Does it Even Matter)?

2014-10-16 08.40.10By Saadia Faruqi

Graduate student

Department of Sociology, Baker University

 A couple of weeks ago, Ben Affleck called out Bill Maher for being a racist because of his views of Muslims. In a world still healing from the racism of the pre-civil rights era, in a world of Ferguson and Michigan, being called a racist is no laughing matter. Sadly, we live in a society where more Americans sit up and take notice when a Hollywood actor makes a statement than when the president of the United States does. What is Islamophobia? Is it related to racism? How does Islamophobia relate to sociology?

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