All living beings need water; it is perhaps the most universal of all needs. Water is also one of the key markers of inequality, locally and globally. It may be easily taken for granted, but when there is too little or too much water, it usually impacts people disproportionally based on wealth.
There is a new sociologist on the block: he does not have a Ph.D., does not teach at a university, and as far as I know, may have never even taken a sociology course. In fact, he attended a technical secondary school where he graduated with a chemical technician’s diploma and worked for a time in a chemistry lab (as well as working temporarily as a bouncer). Who is this new sociologist? He’s an Argentinian named Jorge Mario Bergogli or, as he is commonly referred to, Pope Francis.
On our last day of class for the spring semester, I asked my classes this question, in order to apply what they learned during the semester to help understand the civil unrest in Baltimore in late April.
The events were triggered by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody on April 12, leading many citizens to public protests. After his funeral on April 27, demonstrations took place, and not all of remained peaceful. The news filled with vivid imagery of clashes with police, destruction of property, fire, and looting. In a video that went viral, a mother shown hitting her son and dragging him away from the crowds received praise nationwide.
What was this all about?
In a competitive job environment, having a criminal record might effectively exclude someone from legal employment. For some jobs, it makes sense to exclude people who have committed specific offenses in the past. No one wants their cable installer to be a convicted burglar, their child’s teacher to be a sex offender, or their accountant to have committed forgery.
But for many people who have past offenses, the charges have less to do with their character than the communities in which they live. Check out this clip from Last Week Tonight, which examines how municipal fines like speeding tickets, parking tickets, and loitering charges can cause low-income residents to end up in jail if they can’t pay the mounting fines:
In 2012, there were over 1,000 documented hate groups in the United States. A hate group is pretty much what it sounds like: a collection of individuals who come together based on their shared animosity toward others. Whether they focus on race, religion, sexual orientation, or nationality, these organizations mobilize around a clearly defined difference that they perceive to have with other people. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Brotherhood, Westboro Baptist Church, and the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, use these differences not only as a basis of their hatred, but also to justify acts of hostility, aggression, and violence against those they deem to be “outsiders.”
Although most of us would acknowledge that the attitudes and actions of these hate groups are extreme, few of us are immune to engaging in similar but less severe forms of selective separation. An example that many young people can relate to is the scene in the movie Mean Girls when Cady (Lindsay Lohan) is introduced to the seating arrangement of the various “tribes” in the high school lunch room. Cady quickly learns that everyone sits with people who are deemed to be just like them: preps, nerds, Asians, Blacks, wannabees, burnouts, band geeks, etc.
A student of a colleague had failed a course after rarely attending and not completing several assignments. The ones he did complete were poorly done; he did not see the instructor in office hours despite repeated invitations to talk about improving his grade during the course. He earned 25 out of 100 points in the course, and perhaps unsurprisingly, an F.
But to my colleague’s surprise, the student emailed after seeing his final grade, asking if there was any way he could earn a C in the course (which typically requires 70%, well above his 25%). Maybe the instructor added incorrectly?
The title of this post may seem like a rhetorical question but I am actually quite earnest in asking it. Each day, we hear about countless instances of greed, hatred, violence, and destruction, and all of the pain, suffering, and sorrow that ensues. Although the ubiquity of these problems makes them seem so normal and ordinary that we may not even question them, I don’t think it’s possible to be a sociologist without wondering why these horrible social ills exist.
The list of “screwed up” things is a bit overwhelming to comprehend because there are so many problems affecting so many different people, places, and things. As sociologists, we often look to patterns and trends as a way to analyze and understand what exactly is going on in the world. But with this seemingly never-ending list of atrocities, it may seem fruitless to try to identify a single contributing factor to all of society’s collective dilemmas.
In the second grade, I remember seeing a film in school about how to appropriately answer the telephone. This was way before cell phones came on the market and the phone we learned to answer was presumably the family’s main phone line.
I can still recall some of the lessons. Be polite—say hello first, and allow the caller to introduce himself or herself. If they do not do so after the hello, it is okay to say “who’s calling, please?” The answerer was never to pick up the phone and say “who’s this!?!” as it would sound rude. Interrupting was very bad; instead we should each take turns talking and listening. One was never to hang up without saying goodbye and we were told to be sure that the other party had heard that we were ending the call and said goodbye in response. When in doubt, we were taught, be as polite as possible.
As we were children, and thus considered vulnerable to callers, we were told not to reveal our names or whether our parents were home. If a caller asked for a parent who was not home (yes, it was more acceptable to leave kids home alone then), we were told to say that they could not come to the phone right now and ask to take a message, all while remaining polite. When making calls, we were to politely ask to speak to the person we were calling (“May I please speak with Jane?”), not to call too early or too late, and certainly never during dinner time.
We’ve all probably heard the phrase “teen drinking” and thought about it as a social problem. Many public service announcements (PSAs), like the one below, highlight the problem of teen drinking.
But data just released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that 35-64-year-olds are the most likely of any age group to die from drinking too much. And three-quarters of those who die are men. Perhaps we should have PSAs for teens’ fathers and grandfathers. More people 65 and older died of alcohol poisoning than those aged 15-24.
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