253 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

January 27, 2016

What are You Wearing?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Most of us ask this question of others at one time or another. We might ask if we're going to a special event and want to make sure our clothing is appropriate, or we might silently wonder this at the sight of others if we are surprised by their wardrobe choices. Reporters ask celebrities a version of this question during red carpet interviews at award shows.

Clothing is profoundly social—it reflects culture, it might make a statement about a subculture we identify with, about our economic status (or the economic status we hope to project to others), about gender, and about our sense of self. Even if we are not consciously making choices to impress others or to fit in with a group, the clothing options available to us at any given time are produced in a social, cultural, and economic context.

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January 22, 2016

Water Wars and Reliable Data: From Bolivia to Flint, Michigan

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

As an undergraduate majoring in Latin American and Latina/o studies, I remember watching a documentary about the Cochabamba protests against the World Bank's push for water privatization in the South American country of Bolivia. During the late 1990s-early 2000s, the country was the poorest in Latin America with 70% of Bolivians living below the poverty line.

Government officials attempted to remedy the economy by following a shock therapy model. This included the implementation of neoliberal reforms, such as halting state subsidies and the privatization of publicly-owned assets. Within Cochabamba, a city in central Bolivia, privatization meant transference of the publicly held water system to a private consortium led by the Bechtel Corporation.

Continue reading "Water Wars and Reliable Data: From Bolivia to Flint, Michigan" »

January 20, 2016

#Pinktax and #Genderpricing: Gender in the Checkout Aisle

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Last month I wrote a post that was critical of the state's involvement in offering a voluntary tax of the poor and desperate via the lottery. And you are likely aware that women still make less than men (79 cents for every dollar a man makes at an equivalent job), the costs of birth control mostly fall on women, and research demonstrates a "mommy penalty" with the pay gap between mothers and fathers. This time I'd like to write about how women pay more than men in the checkout aisle.

You might think to yourself, "Well, like other bathroom products, tampons could just be folded into the cost of running a normal household." If you do think that way, there's a good chance that you are a man. Because, if you are a single mother or a young woman working her way through college or a member of a lesbian couple or have two teenaged daughters, it is a frustrating fact of life that women pay for and are taxed on everyday, essential products that the other 49% of the population does not have to pay for.

Continue reading "#Pinktax and #Genderpricing: Gender in the Checkout Aisle" »

January 15, 2016

Gay Marriage, Gun Control and Social Change

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Back in 2004, I was teaching an Introduction to Sociology class when I heard that the mayor of New Paltz was planning to perform same-sex marriages. At the time, the momentum in support of gay marriage had been building nationally and although New Paltz is a relatively small village (population 7,000), I knew the actions of the mayor would reverberate well beyond the town line.

Sensing the potential significance, I took a short walk to village hall to witness this event. I also encouraged the students in the Introduction to Sociology class to join me. I remember trying to convey to the class the historical meaning of the mayor's actions by saying, "30-40 years from now, when gay marriage is legal in the United States, you can tell your grandkids that you witnessed some of the first same-sex wedding ceremonies in the nation. " Little did I know that I would be offering such a pessimistic prediction. It didn't take 30-40 years for gay marriage to become legal; instead, it took only about 10 years. Most of the students in that class probably don't even have kids yet, much less grand kids.

Continue reading "Gay Marriage, Gun Control and Social Change" »

January 13, 2016

Thinking Sociologically about New State Laws

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Every New Year there is typically a new slate of laws that take effect, based on voter and governmental decision-making. Have you ever taken a look at those laws through a sociological lens? Are we enacting new laws – formalizing social norms – that make sense for the current state of our culture? How do these laws reflect changes in our society?

Every year, the Los Angeles Times publishes a list of these new California state laws. Their website has links to understand more about the story, per their reporting. The bullet points below are pulled from the 2016 list.

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December 18, 2015

Sociology and Holiday Rituals

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Do you have certain holiday rituals that you look forward to each year, or at least feel compelled to participate in? Sociology provides us with tools for understanding these practices more deeply.

For Emile Durkheim, one of sociology's key nineteenth century thinkers, shared values and beliefs help to form society itself. Emphasizing particular values during end of year holidays like giving, connecting with family and friends through visits, cards, or well wishes serves a very important purpose. He contends that societies are more than just a collective of individuals, but rather people learn to be part of an already-existing society. Holidays aid in this process.

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December 15, 2015

Slacktivists, Hacktivists, and the New Faceless Agents of Social Change

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When you think of social change activists what comes to mind? Do you think of a person with a megaphone shouting slogans to a group of supporters who are holding signs of protest, or do you think of a person lounging in bed with their tablet or smartphone? Most of us probably think of the first scenario, and we probably imagine this scene taking place in a public location such as a park, outside a government building, or on a city street. Some of the classic images we have of activists include the 1963 March on Washington, the Occupy Movements, and the Arab Spring.

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November 12, 2015

“Where are You From?” Immigration, Identity, and Being a “True American”

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I winced the second she said it. My 73-year-old cousin asked the server in a Vietnamese restaurant, “Where are you from?” Now, aside from the good chance that the family of a waitress in a Vietnamese restaurant was at one point from Vietnam, I had to interject: “She could be from South Carolina.”

My 73-year-old cousin had good intentions; of course, she is a friendly person who is interested in people. I had to slowly explain effect of being asked, “Where are you from?” repeatedly could have the unintended consequence of alienating someone, rendering someone like our server a “forever foreigner.” 

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November 09, 2015

University of Missouri and the Power of Student Protests

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

 Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse,

 you can take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.

These words come from Marge Piercy’s poem, "The Low Road." It is one of my favorite sociological poems about the potential power that is unleashed when people join together and fight for social change. I probably mention this poem at least once a semester in one or more of my classes and I will certainly be invoking it again as I discuss the recent events at the University of Missouri.

Black students at the University of Missouri have been protesting for months about ongoing racist incidents on campus. They are particularly frustrated by what they perceive to be the failure of the university’s administration, and particularly President Tim Wolfe, to adequately address these events. Using the hashtag #ConcernedStudent1950, in reference to the year that black students where finally admitted into the University of Missouri, the protesters were calling for the resignation or removal of President Wolfe.

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November 04, 2015

Racial (In)Equality in the U.S.

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Aside from my Netflix marathons, there are only a handful of network television shows that I make time to actually watch. And the new Fox prime time show Empire is one of them. Like so many great shows, it includes moments of fantasy, joy, and struggle that oftentimes mirror very real social issues that are on the forefront of their viewers’ minds.

For instance, the season two premiere opened with a #FreeLucious concert that paid homage to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and highlighted the overrepresented numbers of African-American men in our prison systems and their mistreatment by police. The imagery (particularly that of Cookie Lyon in a Gorilla suit and caged) and discourse used within that opening scene speaks to broader national issues. As highlighted by Gene Demby at NPR, however, these narratives are not common within prime time television.

Continue reading "Racial (In)Equality in the U.S." »

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