393 posts categorized "Social Problems, Politics, and Social Change"

July 16, 2018

Families and Ancestry

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In one of my graduate school courses, we read a book called Families We Choose, Kath Weston’s 1991 study of how gay and lesbians create family ties. This was particularly enlightening in the 1990s, when the concept of LGBT families seemed like an oxymoron to many people. I had never given much thought to what constituted a family until reading that book.

I had an arguably narrow idea of the meaning of families then: one based on legal or biological ties, as I had known in my family. A few kids I went to school with had been adopted, and that was always a quiet curiosity, one that was typically only brought up rarely, and was seldom the topic of conversation. The meaning of families seemed to be very clear-cut.

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July 02, 2018

Micro Meets Macro: Gender Selection and Population Problems

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When we think about our family decisions, such as whether to have children, this may seem to be based solely on individual preferences. After all, child rearing and family planning are very personal.

But our decisions take place within both structural and cultural conditions that are not just individual. For instance, if you live in an agrarian-based society, where many hands are needed in fields and farms, you might have more children than in a highly industrialized society that rewards high levels of education.

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May 28, 2018

Villains, Victims, and Verstehen

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I studied drama as an undergraduate, and in one class I remember learning about playing villains. No one sees him or herself as a villain, we learned, and the person portraying such a character should figure out their motivation. Does the character feel like they have been wronged and are thus justified in seeking revenge? Do they feel passionate about a cause that the other characters view differently? Every character—and most people—views themselves as good, maybe even heroic sometimes, and this is no different for roles that appear to be obvious villains.

Likewise, social scientists are very interested in learning more about people’s perceptions of the world around them. Max Weber, one of the key thinkers in sociology, noted the importance of verstehen, or understanding the people we study.

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May 10, 2018

Social Change and Your Next Step

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Graduation is always an exciting time for students and their families. It can also be a stressful time, as graduates sometimes struggle to figure out what's next. Commencement speeches provide soaring rhetoric about “following your dreams” and how you are the leaders of the future.

As a young graduate, I found these kinds of speeches to be pretty pointless (and sometimes boring). For someone trying to figure out “what they want to be when they grow up,” these motivational speeches—and often graduation gifts in the form of motivational books for the graduate—offer little useful advice.

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April 16, 2018

Community Building and Women’s Activism

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, affordable housing in urban areas, particularly places like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and increasingly Chicago, is scarce and oftentimes inaccessible. Movements for access to housing have mobilized around expanding or implementing rent controls (for instance, in Chicago through the Lift the Ban coalition), while others have focused on training people how to advocate for policies that support equitable access to housing (such as the Resident Access Project or RAP in Washington State). As is the case with RAP, many housing activists aim to increasing residents’ knowledge and skills through leadership development and empowerment.

As scholars of both social movements and organizational studies have noted, some of the most effective leaders provide skill building, work to build self-confidence among followers, create opportunities for personal development, and understand when to move from a leadership to follower position.

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April 12, 2018

The Return of Multigenerational Households

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It may seem like the natural order of things for parents and children to live in the same home until the children are off to college or can afford their own apartment. But the so-called “nuclear” family living separately from other family members is mostly a mid-twentieth century development, and one that is declining.

As a Pew Research Center report recently detailed, multigenerational households are becoming more common. In 2016, more than 60 million people, or nearly one in five Americans lived in a household with two or more generations of adults.

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March 26, 2018

Hurricane Maria and U.S. Failure

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

In September 2017, the Caribbean and southeastern parts of the United States experienced two devastating hurricanes: Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

Hurricane Irma – a category 5 storm with winds upwards of 175 mph – caused physical destruction, flooding, and loss of life (~134 total) throughout Barbuda (95% destruction), Puerto Rico (1 million without electricity), Florida (6.5 million homes without electricity), and elsewhere.

Two weeks later, on September 20, Hurricane Maria – a category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph – followed a similar trajectory through the Caribbean. Already reeling from the effects of Irma, Maria further devastated Puerto Rico, where it made landfall; the majority of phone lines (cell and landlines) and internet communication was down (85% inoperable), the agricultural sector was destroyed, 230,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and the Guajataca Dam, holding 11-billion gallons of water, failed. In addition, the entire island lost power.

The U.S. government’s limited and slow response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico highlight the second-class status of commonwealth entities. Although U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans have limited access to the rights of citizenship.

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March 23, 2018

It’s About Power, Not Privilege

Peter kaufman 2014 Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman and Todd Schoepflin

If you can’t tell by our profile pictures, we are both white male sociologists. We are also upper middle class, able-bodied, and heterosexual. With the exception of one of us being Jewish and the other being short (5’ 4”), we have enjoyed many privileges and advantages throughout our lives.

For the past few months, we have been closely following the #MeToo movement. It is clear that what started as a simple social media hashtag has blossomed into a potential bellwether of the changing gender landscape. We both feel strongly that sociologists should be lending their analytical insights to help understand and advance the efforts for gender equality. But what is the role for sociologists like us who approach the world though multiple positions of power and privilege? Should we weigh in and risk sounding clueless or stay quiet so that we can listen and learn from others?

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March 19, 2018

Managing Malls and Regional Spatial Change in the Era of Amazon Prime

Colby (1)By Colby King

If you’re looking for an entertaining way to spend a few minutes, I recommend the American Mall Game on Bloomberg’s website. The game appeared on February 7, 2018, and was created by James Pants and Steph Davidson, along with a team of others at Bloomberg.

As a player in the American Mall Game, you take the position of a character who owns and manages a mall that has fallen on difficult times. An opening message at the start of the game explains that these are “dire times for U.S. Mall owners. Decades of overbuilding and the invention of online shopping combined to leave the country with an extreme excess” [of retail space].

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February 19, 2018

What Would You Do?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Consider the following scenario: You are in a clothing store shopping for a new outfit. As you are browsing through the selections you notice that a black female customer is being targeted unfairly by a sales clerk. Instead of allowing this customer to shop freely as you are, the sales clerk is following her around, constantly asking her what she wants, making obnoxious comments to her, and eventually telling her that she should leave the store.

What would you do? Would you say something to the sales clerk or seek out a manager to complain? Would you say something to support the customer and voice your concern over the way she is being treated? Or would you continue on with your business and pretend to ignore the interaction you just witnessed?

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