208 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

September 15, 2014

Ebola and the Construction of Fear

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

No doubt you have heard about the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which received heightened attention in the news after three Americans working as missionaries in Liberia contracted the virus. The first two, diagnosed in mid-August, become the topic of debate when they were given an experimental drug and airlifted home to the U.S.

Some wondered why they received the drug, while thousands of those infected in Africa did not (it is currently considered experimental and apparently in very short supply). Others expressed concern that they would spread the disease in the U.S. and should have been treated in Liberia.

Continue reading "Ebola and the Construction of Fear" »

September 03, 2014

The Unintended Manhattan Project Experiment

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Moving to a new place is always a challenge…but what about a place that is new to everybody?

During World War II, an interesting—an unintended—sociological experiment took place when a few communities were built from scratch during the top-secret development of the nuclear bomb. People relocated to these restricted areas from all around the country, turning what once were desolate or sparsely populated areas into thriving mini-cities. Scientists, secretaries, technicians, and other workers came, along with their children, wives, and husbands to work on “The Project,” and in the process, create a new, if short-lived community.

How do people create communities where none exists? And why do communities matter?

Continue reading "The Unintended Manhattan Project Experiment" »

August 13, 2014

Siblings and Sociology

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you have siblings, you might feel like you have little in common with them despite growing up in the same family. I have certainly known families where siblings couldn’t have been more different, with diverging value systems, political beliefs, and aspirations.

Then again, some siblings share many similar attributes, educational strengths and even career aspirations. I’ve known brothers who joined the same fraternity during their college years, and siblings who chose to attend the same out-of-state university years apart. I remember years ago my mother and her sister unintentionally bought the same dress to wear to a family event despite living in different cities and shopping at different stores.

What makes siblings different or similar?

Continue reading "Siblings and Sociology" »

August 05, 2014

Being There: Understanding Sociology through Film

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s summer, and for me that means a chance to watch movies. I tend to prefer classics to the latest releases, and I recently re-watched the 1979 film Being There, starring Peter Sellers. It is filled with sociological (and political) insights about the ways in which our social interactions create meaning.

The film is about a mentally challenged man named Chance who works as a gardener for an elderly man. When the man passes away, Chance is on his own. No provisions are made for his care, so he wanders the streets, hungry and unsure of how to appropriately interact with others. When a group of young men seem menacing, he points his television remote at them, hoping to change the channel.

Continue reading "Being There: Understanding Sociology through Film" »

July 18, 2014

Collective Memory and the Danger of Forgetting

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few years ago I wrote about the importance of collective memories following the centennial coverage of the sinking of the Titanic. Collective memories are societal-level memories, shared by regularly told stories, and are often events we might have intimate knowledge of even if we weren’t born when they occurred.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the 20th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s “slow speed chase” and subsequent arrest. Why are these events part of our collective memories?

Continue reading "Collective Memory and the Danger of Forgetting" »

July 07, 2014

Hotels and Stratification

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Hotels are a great way to think about social stratification. There’s the obvious: some hotels are incredibly expensive and affordable only to a select few. In the board game Monopoly, those with hotels on their properties are often the wealthiest players. And hotels have hierarchical ratings, from one to five stars delineating their quality and likely the corresponding wealth of their visitors. But there are other ways in which hotels can teach us about economic inequality as well.

Continue reading "Hotels and Stratification" »

June 20, 2014

Work, Autonomy and Health

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s tempting to argue that summer break is the best time to be a college professor. We can work on other projects, have time to read and indulge in hobbies, and it’s easy to schedule a vacation when you have several months off.

Of course there are many challenges to this career too. Just as with any profession, there are pressures associated with deadlines, one’s workload, and as in any situation, you might encounter difficult people. And for all too many adjunct professors, summer break doesn’t exist. If it does, it means months without pay, as they typically get paid by the class, and they are often poorly paid as well. They seldom have time to work on research, to write and publish, or even to read if they are teaching multiple classes to get by.

For those with full-time employment, one thing that sets being a professor apart is the degree of autonomy that often comes with the position. This means having flexibility to make at least some choices about your work.

Continue reading "Work, Autonomy and Health" »

June 03, 2014

Smoking and Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

People with higher levels of education are less likely to smoke cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009 just 5.6 percent of those 25 and older with graduate degrees smoked—compared with nearly half (49 percent) of those with GEDs. More education correlates with less cigarette smoking across the educational spectrum: 25.1 percent for high school graduates, 23.3 percent of who attended college but earned no degree, and just 11.1 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees smoked.

Why such a consistent difference?

Continue reading "Smoking and Education" »

May 23, 2014

Costumes: Special Occasions as Performance

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Recently, I received a package on my desk. It was a black gown with a decorative, brightly colored velvet hood and an oddly-shaped hat. There was no note, no explanation, but I knew what it was for.

In any other context, the arrival of an unusual outfit would be strange, maybe even disconcerting; it is not something I would personally have chosen to wear, as it is bulky and way too warm to wear in the late spring. I am expected to wear this outfit for our university’s commencement ceremonies, just as others on our faculty and around the country are.

Continue reading "Costumes: Special Occasions as Performance" »

May 15, 2014

Graduation, Social Structure, and Anomie

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are about to graduate from college, or know someone who is, you may be feeling many things: excited, overwhelmed, stressed, proud, and uncertain, especially if you are not sure what you are going to do next.

For many soon-to-be graduates, this will be the end of a sixteen-year (or longer) journey. Participating in educational institutions all those years shapes the kinds of choices and goals that we make, whether we are conscious of it or not. Did you participate in extracurricular activities to boost your odds of admission to the university of your choice? Volunteer in order to qualify for a particular scholarship, as part of a service learning course, or because your fraternity or sorority encourages you to do so?

Continue reading "Graduation, Social Structure, and Anomie" »

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