4 posts from November 2016

November 23, 2016

Meaning Drift: The Season of “Giving”

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Sociology teaches us to think critically about how we ascribe meaning to all aspects of social life, particularly how reality is socially constructed. The holiday season is a great example of how we ascribe meaning to events, and how our actions reinforce and reproduce these meanings.

Take the idea that the end of the year is a season of giving. In reality, this has come to mean a season of shopping and consumption. True, much of what we buy is presumably to give to others, but whether we give away what we buy is secondary to the act of buying itself. (Are you really going to buy that special someone on your list a new refrigerator or washing machine? Probably not, but all sorts of goods are marketed as holiday specials.) Retailers begin holiday-themed advertising in late October, hoping to create excitement for year-end shopping, which has become tied into the meaning of the holiday season.

The practice tells us more about our current economic and social context, where consumer spending accounts for a large proportion of economic growth, than it does about a shared past. Retailers look to “Black Friday” spending as important economic indicators, which the public regularly hears about as a barometer on our national economic health.

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November 18, 2016

The Social Construction of Time

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Did you remember to turn your clocks back a few weeks ago? If you forget (or the devices that you use to track time didn’t automatically reset to the time) you might have found yourself out of sync with others around you.

Time is one of the most basic examples of something that is socially constructed. We collectively create the meaning of time—it has no predetermined meaning until we give it meaning. To say that something, like time, is a social construction is not to say that it doesn’t exist or it is merely an illusion, but instead that humans have created systems of meaning that creates the concept of time.

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November 14, 2016

Institutional Discrimination: An Inadequate Concept

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

This post is based on a sociological riddle: How is it possible that we live in a country full of racism and sexism, and yet very few people are willing to admit that they are racist or sexist? In other words, how can racism and sexism be so pervasive in a country devoid of racists and sexists?

This sociological riddle has been gnawing on my mind for many years. And my preoccupation with it has gotten much worse with the election of Donald Trump. Trump ran on a campaign of open and unabashed racism, sexism, and xenophobia, among other forms of intolerance. He was even endorsed by white nationalist groups like the Klu Klux Klan. And yet, during his campaign and after his victory many of his supporters denied that they harbored racist or sexist sentiments. Donald Trump himself even proclaimed on many occasions that “I am the least racist person” and “there’s nobody that has more respect for women than I do.”

It is certainly troubling that the president-elect of the United States is now the poster child for a society of racist and sexist deniers; however, the deeper problem is that if no one is willing to admit to holding these views then the possibility of ever ridding ourselves of these forms of oppression is remote to nil. And to make matters worse, the situation is unintentionally exacerbated by the one answer that is often given to this sociological riddle: institutional discrimination.

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November 04, 2016

Immigrants and Voting

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Recently naturalized immigrants have the ability influence voting outcomes in several key states, including Florida, Nevada, Virginia, and Arizona. The researchers at the University of Southern California Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) released a report, titled Rock the (Naturalized) Vote II, which builds upon findings that CSII published in 2012. In that report, researchers highlighted the link between populations that had a high recently-naturalized population and voting trends.

For instance, in the 2012 Presidential election, Obama won with 71% of the Latin@/x vote, and 73% of the Asian vote. At that time, roughly 25% of all Latin@s/x and 66% of all Asians were naturalized citizens. Part of this support came with the passage of the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Undocumented individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children can apply for DACA. This allows a two-year, renewable, protection from deportation, and grants work authorization. Over the last four years, 728,000 undocumented immigrants have been awarded DACA status. According to a report by Migration Policy Institute, although DACA does not provide an avenue for citizenship, it has improved employment, earnings, educational attainment, and social integration. Although immigrants with DACA are ineligible to vote (as they do not have citizenship), this population, particularly among Latin@s/x, is linked through social and political networks to peers who can vote.

How might a high recently-naturalized population influence the presidential election in 2016?

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