220 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

February 25, 2015

Middle-Aged Men and Alcohol

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

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.

Continue reading "Middle-Aged Men and Alcohol" »

February 13, 2015

Sociology on the Red Carpet

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In the entertainment industry, the first two months of the year are unofficially known as awards season. There are more awards shows than most of us know about, culminating with the Academy Awards at the end of February. While it may seem that awards shows are trivial or just entertainment, we can learn several sociological lessons from these events.

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February 03, 2015

Measles, Technology, and Globalization

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In 2000, measles was eradicated from the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that after decades of a successful vaccination program, which began in 1963, there were no more measles cases that originated in the U.S. This means that measles is no longer native to the United States.

The recent outbreak of measles reminds us that the disease can still infect people here in the U.S.  Once the disease was eradicated, it has re-entered the country through documented cases in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The CDC reports that the most recent outbreak likely came from those traveling from the Philippines, which is also currently experiencing a large outbreak.

Continue reading "Measles, Technology, and Globalization" »

January 27, 2015

Emotional Labor, Status, and Stress

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Virtually no job comes without stress. Whether it’s meeting the expectations and deadlines of coworkers, clients, or supervisors, nearly all work can at times be challenging. Sometimes the work itself isn’t as challenging as managing relationships with the people we work with.

Emotional labor involves managing our emotions to meet our job expectations.  For example, retail clerks are expected to be upbeat and enthusiastic about the merchandise (and in general), even if that is not truly how they feel. Emotional labor is also part of dealing with the personalities of those we work with. This labor is not necessarily always stressful. Asking a coworker about a sick relative may be a way to convey your concern about their family without taking much of an emotional toll. But in other cases emotional labor can be very stressful, and this stress can be minimized or magnified based on one’s status.

Continue reading "Emotional Labor, Status, and Stress" »

January 16, 2015

Art and the Social Construction of Reality

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What is art? This is an unanswerable question, certainly one that I will not attempt to answer in this post.

 A recent visit to our local museum of contemporary art triggered this question, as I passed by exhibits including a plywood box, a drain, scribbles with hand-drawn maps on brown pieces of paper, sock puppets, as well as diary entries that including the creator’s daily weight, body temperature, and her body’s elimination schedule.

For these pieces to be in a museum, someone must have declared them to have artistic merit (with which professional art critics might disagree). Perhaps the creators consider themselves to be artists and set out to create art and are thus regarded by others as artists. How one defines art is not just an individual endeavor, but one that is grounded in our social context.

Continue reading "Art and the Social Construction of Reality" »

January 06, 2015

Smart Phones and Postmodern Theory

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I have been to several concerts within the past year and have noticed that there are always at least a few people who use their phones to take videos during the concert, even if there is an explicit “no photography” rule in effect.

For audience members, these video-takers are very distracting. They are holding up a lighted object, often partly blocking the views of those behind them. From the perspective of the performers, not only can they be distracting, but for those who don’t want unauthorized images or videos of their work posted online, there can be copyright issues to consider.

At a recent show, I saw at least two people taking videos in my immediate vicinity, despite being told that all cell phones must be turned off so they would not interfere with the electrical equipment at the tiny venue (maximum capacity 155). It’s hard not to look at a smart phone while it’s taking a video right in front of you in a darkened room. At this concert, the “videographer” was zooming in and out of the stage, and shaking the phone to add his own effects to the music. It created a blurry, shaking, pulsating light in front of me.

Continue reading "Smart Phones and Postmodern Theory" »

December 08, 2014

(Someone Else’s) Home for the Holidays: The Difficulty of Defining the Situation

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As I recently blogged about, necessity led me to stay at a room in someone’s home I found on a peer-to-peer travel website. I had never done so before, and considered the experience a sort of brief ethnography. Overall, I found the experience strange, and something I’d probably do again only as a last resort. Neither purely guests or customers, the difficulty of defining the situation left us wondering exactly how to act in this new experience.

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November 24, 2014

(Someone Else’s) Home for the Holidays

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I just booked my first reservation through Airbnb.com, the site where you can reserve a room in a guest house or private home. This wasn’t my first choice; after finding that most reasonably-priced hotel rooms were booked, my husband and I decided to give it a try for a night. We passed on places that had too many negative reviews left by previous guests or if the room seemed unkempt and cluttered based on the posted pictures. The location we selected had many good reviews and is a five minute drive from our destination.

Staying in a stranger’s home may seem like a new Internet-era invention, but taking in boarders for a night or longer pre-dates the twenty-first century. At the turn of the last century, new immigrants often rented a bed in tenement housing with other families until they were able to save enough money for their own apartment and perhaps to bring the rest of their family to the country. Rural families might have taken in passers-by for a night in places where commercial lodging might have been scarce. The Internet definitely makes this process easier, especially when finding a place to stay from out of town.

I am viewing this experience as a kind of sociological experiment: what is it like to stay in a stranger’s home compared with a family member’s or a friend’s? How do strangers interact in private spaces normally reserved for family and friends? Are there advantages to staying with strangers compared with people we know? If houseguests are a major source of stress during the holidays, might houseguests who are strangers be easier to host?

Continue reading "(Someone Else’s) Home for the Holidays" »

November 17, 2014

Aging, Living, and Dying

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As a college professor, my students are almost always the same age—with a few outliers—but I continue to get older, which occasionally becomes more salient. Recently we screened the documentary The Central Park Five in our department, a film focusing on the attack on a jogger in 1989 and the subsequent rush to judgment that led to the wrongful imprisonment of five teen boys. The incident took place when I was a college student living in New York, and before most of the students in attendance were born. When we talked about the film, they were just as interested in hearing more about what it was actually like to be alive in the 1980s, as though I were a visitor from another era.

Admittedly, even I was struck by how old the hairstyles, clothes, and cars appeared in the documentary and I marveled at how quickly time can pass by. While focusing on the day-to-day challenges of everyday life, it’s easy to overlook the passage of big chunks of time until others point it out.

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October 30, 2014

Weddings: Front Stage Performances

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Weddings are big productions. They often take months of planning that includes selecting decorations, invitations, food, music, dresses, tuxedoes, color schemes, seating charts, the wedding party and more. Weddings are a heightened example of what sociologist Erving Goffman called front stage behavior.

Goffman viewed social life as something akin to a performance, where we attempt to manage the impressions we make to others. Weddings are clearly social performances: they involve guests, usually seated in the audience, and people involved in the wedding party play roles as well  (bride, groom, best man, mother of the bride, the person performing the ceremony and so forth). Most involve “costumes” that designate the roles of those involved. Photographers and videographers are often hired to document the event too.

Continue reading "Weddings: Front Stage Performances" »

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