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August 21, 2017

Read the Syllabus, Van Halen Style

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Welcome back to school! Lots of books, new friends, new classes. It’s a lot to take in.

With all the hubbub, it might slip your mind to read your syllabus carefully. I understand. You’re busy. You might think, “Hey, this class is like all the other ones. I’ll figure it out as I go along.” But, as you should expect, I couldn’t disagree more!

To encourage you to read your syllabus carefully, I would like to tell you an infamous story about a 1980s rock band, Van Halen.

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August 14, 2017

Place, the Sociological Imagination, and Western Pennsylvania

Colby (1)By Colby King

When I first read C. Wright Mills’ “The Promise” as an undergraduate, I remember being struck by his argument that the “first fruit” of the sociological imagination “is the idea that the individual can understand his own experience and gauge his own fate only be locating himself within his period, that he can know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances.” For Mills, understanding a person’s social context, or what he calls the structure of society, is essential for understanding their life chances.

This quote from Mills struck me because, while I was just beginning to understand the concept of the sociological imagination, I already possessed an interest in how social context shapes people’s lives.

I had grown up in rural western Pennsylvania, in between the small university town of Slippery Rock and the county seat of Butler. I was a student in the Slippery Rock school district, while my dad worked at Armco Steel (now AK Steel) in Butler, and I already understood that in many ways this place was a particular social context shaping my perspective and opportunities.

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August 07, 2017

Birth Rates: Who Will Replace Us?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

According to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the birth rate in the United States fell to an all-time low in 2016.

Births to teens also fell to an all-time low, down from 41.5 births per thousand in 2007 to 20.3 in 2016, a 51% decline. Birth rates also fell, albeit more modestly, for women in their 20s. By contrast, births to women in their 30s and 40s grew modestly. However, the birthrate for women 40-44 was 11.3 per thousand, and for women 45-49 it was .9, lower than any age group except 10-14-year-olds. Women 25-34 had the highest birthrates, at about 100 births per thousand.

What does this mean for our population overall?

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July 31, 2017

Thirteen Sociological Things about 13 Reasons Why

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I watched the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, this summer.

The story, based on a young adult novel, centers on the suicide of a high schooler named Hannah Baker. The premise is that Clay Jensen is given a set of seven old fashioned audio tapes, with Hannah telling the story of one reason for why she committed suicide on each side of tape. Throughout the series, viewers get two perspectives: in one we learn about the months leading up to Hannah’s suicide, and a second narrative in the present day, with the Clay dealing with the aftermath.

The following post contains some spoilers and uses sociological tools to understand the show’s meaning. This post should definitely not be read as a resource on suicide.

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July 24, 2017

The Challenge of Avoiding Downward Mobility from the Upper Middle-Class

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

During a conversation with an acquaintance, a man in his 60s who has never been married and to my knowledge has no children, said that he didn’t think that mothers should have jobs if they were married and their husbands made a sufficient amount of income.

Specifically, he was talking about one of his co-workers, a married woman with teenaged kids who often discusses her family’s financial difficulties at work. My acquaintance didn’t understand why the family of four didn’t just move into a small apartment farther away from their office. He suggested that if one’s husband earns a good living, then a wife should stay home with the kids. He also presumed that her husband, a marketing manager, must make in “the high six figures,” so he couldn’t understand how they could possibly have any financial problems at all.

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July 17, 2017

From At-risk to At-Promise: Social Capital and Adult-Youth Relationships

Tigonzales IMG_2646 (1)By Teresa Irene Gonzales and Marilyn Barnes, recent graduate, Knox College

Every year, seniors at Knox College engage in a year long research project. In the fall term, students come up with a topic, write a literature review, refine their research question(s), and draft their IRB submission. During the winter term, the students collect data through ethnographic observations, interviews, surveys, and/or content analysis. In the spring students write their final research paper and present their findings to campus.

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July 10, 2017

Why Do Perceptions of Police Vary?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A recent study published by the Pew Research Center found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that people’s views on police performance vary based on race. Blacks were four times more likely to tell researchers that they have no confidence in police in their communities than whites were. Where does this vast disparity come from? Why does this matter?

Differing views on policing is a great example of how one’s social location—our history, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and nationality, among other factors—shapes the way that we view the world. Social location is related to our literal location too, and how our experiences in that location impact our perceptions.

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