235 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

September 25, 2015

To Live and Die in L.A.

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I was a graduate student, I worked as a research assistant on several projects for criminologists. Perhaps the most interesting and challenging project I participated in was a study of homicides in Los Angeles.

This was a comprehensive, multi-faceted study. I was given a great deal of responsibility for collecting data from police homicide files. The senior researchers had gained a court order that enabled us to have access to hundreds of files from 1993 and 1994, peak years in homicides for the city and county. I led the team that went to police and sheriff’s headquarters, reading files along with a team of students that I supervised who would read the files and then use a coding sheet to note key details about the incident. Over the course of the study I personally read hundreds of police murder files.

Continue reading "To Live and Die in L.A." »

September 10, 2015

Adding and Dropping Classes: Another Lesson in Social Structure and Social Institutions

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Without a doubt, for me the most challenging part of being a college professor takes place during the first three weeks of the semester, part of what is known as the “Add/Drop Period” at my university. I get dozens of emails asking to for a spot in my classes—even when the class is closed—and have to explain to frustrated students why I can’t add them to a class.

These challenges result from the difficulty many people have in understanding social structure and social institutions. On the surface, although seeking admission to a course seems like a transaction between individuals—an individual student seeks a single spot in a course—this process is not as much about individuals as it is about broader institutional forces.

Continue reading "Adding and Dropping Classes: Another Lesson in Social Structure and Social Institutions" »

August 26, 2015

The Price of Partying

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Can partying give you a leg up after college?

For most of us, probably not. But for well-connected, wealthy students, honing social skills and networking with similarly well-connected students provides advantages that few have access to.

This is one of Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton’s interesting findings in Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. In their long-term study of students at a Midwestern state university, they found that for college women from well-to-do families with ample business connections, academic achievement—or even a student’s major—mattered very little in the long run.

Continue reading "The Price of Partying" »

August 10, 2015

Choosing Your Classes: The Importance of Social Structure and Culture

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Registering for classes can be both exciting and stressful. I remember being excited by the possibility of new classes and would be among the first to pick up the schedule of classes in the days when it was only offered in print. I know that registering can present challenges too: the classes you hoped to take might be full or you might have some financial aid or payment issues that prevent you from registering.

Registration can also help us understand some basic sociological concepts: social structure and culture.

Continue reading "Choosing Your Classes: The Importance of Social Structure and Culture" »

July 30, 2015

Consuming Home

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Would you be excited to have a high-end brand of shower valve?

Most of us probably wouldn’t know the brands of shower valves to be excited one way or the other. I certainly don’t. But when a contractor came to give us an estimate for replacing our shower, he said he had connections and could “upgrade” us to a specific brand, assuming that I knew it signaled high-end plumbing. He promised that if we hired him we could have fancy branded tile at a discount too, giving us “the wow factor I know you’re looking for.”

The only “wow” came when we saw how much he would charge us for our new high-end branded shower, which we passed on.

This experience reminded me of sociologist Juliet B. Schor’s book The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need. She has a chapter called “The Visible Lifestyle,” where she explores how consumption is connected with identity. We make statements about ourselves through the products that we consume, and the more visible the product, the more brands matter to consumers.

Continue reading "Consuming Home" »

July 01, 2015

Water and Inequality

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

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.

Continue reading "Water and Inequality" »

June 22, 2015

Internships and Inequality

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s summer break now for most students, many of whom are using this time to do a summer internship. Internships can be a great way to learn firsthand about what it’s like to work in a particular industry. They might be a foot in the door for future employment. Or they might be a costly waste of time.

Continue reading "Internships and Inequality" »

June 09, 2015

Harassment and Power in the Classroom

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

California law requires that managers and supervisors receive anti-harassment training every other year. As a faculty member, I am considered a supervisor so I have taken this online training course several times now. I actually find it useful and interesting each time and always learn something new about workplace issues in the process.

The course teaches us how to recognize harassment based on state-designated protected categories, such as race, color, religion, national origin, age, health and disability status, gender, gender identity/expression and sexual orientation. Through a number of scenarios, we see what constitutes illegal behavior, what we should avoid doing and what to do if we observe violations. As of this year, the course also provides a very useful number of vignettes about reporting sexual assault if students bring an incident to our attention.

Continue reading "Harassment and Power in the Classroom" »

June 01, 2015

Summer Vacation: Who Gets One?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As I write, summer break is just beginning at our university. “Have a good summer,” echoes through the hallways as many students and professors say goodbye for a few months. Some students speak of summer jobs, internships, and hanging out with family and friends. A few mentioned exciting vacation plans while classmates look on with envy.

How is summer vacation a sociological issue?

Continue reading "Summer Vacation: Who Gets One?" »

May 14, 2015

Probability vs. Certainty

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In a recent class discussion, we talked about the connection between children who have parents who are incarcerated and the likelihood of future incarceration for those children. One student had trouble understanding how all kids in this situation don’t end up in prison someday. After all, don’t we all just follow our parents’ examples?

Children with parents in prison do have a greater likelihood of getting arrested in the future, for a number of reasons beyond the scope of this post. The real issue that this student needed to understand was the concept of probability, or the notion of how likely an event is to occur.

Continue reading "Probability vs. Certainty" »

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