274 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

May 22, 2017

A Decade of Everyday Sociology

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Our Everyday Sociology blog turns ten this month! In this time, we have posted over 900 blog posts, received more than 8,000 comments, and have had nearly 6 million visitors.

It’s a good point to take a moment to reflect on this project: how have we succeeded in starting a sociological conversation, and what still needs to be accomplished?

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May 08, 2017

A Day in the Life of One Sociologist

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the best questions to ask if you are thinking about a future career is how someone in that career spends their day. One of our readers recently posted an “Ask a Sociologist” question about what a typical day is like for sociologists.

There is no one-size-fits all answer to this question, since there are a number of different ways that sociologists spend their time, which varies based on the specific kind of position one holds. Many sociologists work in academic settings or for organizations where they primarily conduct research (such as a government agency, a "think tank" or in private industries).

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April 17, 2017

Learning Sociology through Collaboration

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If sociology teaches us that we learn about our social world, others, and ourselves through social interaction, it stands to reason that a great way to learn about sociology is through interacting with others.

On the most basic level, interactive learning takes the form of class discussions. Many courses require students to conduct research, often through observation, interviews, or surveys, and this is also a good way to learn some of the tools of sociology.

But collaborative learning is more than just talking and conducting research. Collaborative learning involves problem solving with others, where students brainstorm, come up with research questions, seek answers, or work on large projects together.

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March 22, 2017

Don’t Ask an “Expert:” Read the Research

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I regularly get emails from high school students that I have never met, typically asking for help for an assignment where they are supposed to interview an “expert” about a topic of their choosing. The emails often contain a long list of questions that I cannot respond to due to time constraints.

I realize that these students have no control over the assignments that their teachers give them—although I have sometimes wondered if the emailed questions are meant to avoid actually doing some reading—and I can easily gripe about how those of us from the twentieth century never had this option, short of writing a letter if we could somehow find an address.

But the more I think about these kinds of emails, the more I think about the problems with assignment itself. Asking an “expert” is a poor way to learn about social science, which is based on examination of empirical evidence, not from the pronouncements of experts. Unless the students are taking a journalism class, interviewing someone seems like a missed opportunity to learn more about research.

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March 08, 2017

Thinking Beyond the Case Study

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Case studies are singular examples that seem to illustrate a phenomenon. Textbooks would be dull without them, and journalists often use interviews to add color to their stories. But case studies can become so alluring, and seem to illustrate interesting patterns so well that they can encourage us to draw conclusions without further investigation.

Take the case of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death in Queens, New York, in 1964. Her case gained notoriety because there were purportedly dozens of witnesses to the attack who did not call the police. This led researchers to study something they called the bystander effect, positing that the more people who observe an event take place, the less likely they are to take action because they presume that someone else will.

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February 27, 2017

How to Survive a Plague: Fighting AIDS and Challenging Stigma

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Journalist David France’s book on the history of the AIDS crisis, How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS, provides an important reminder of how the fear of marginalized groups can delay research and treatment of a deadly disease. Effective drug therapies, now in use for more than 20 years, may have made it easier for people to forget—or perhaps never to learn in the first place—the toll that indifference and fear took on so many peoples’ lives. Between 1981 and 1995, before effective treatments existed, more than 500,000 people contracted the disease, and more than 300,000 of those people died.

The disease was first identified in the United States in 1981, when a handful of young gay men in Los Angeles had very unusual symptoms for otherwise healthy men. Reports of gay men with similar symptoms in other parts of the country soon surfaced. The disease was soon called “gay cancer” and later “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency” (GRID), suggesting that this was something that could only afflict gay men.

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February 17, 2017

Telling True Stories

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Story telling is not just about fiction and fabrication. Good scholars are gifted at telling compelling true stories using data from research findings.

If you think about a book or article that you have read or a class you have taken that made a big impact, chances are good that the author or instructor had a knack for telling a story that you were interested in hearing. They draw you in, convincing you that their story is important, and encourage you to stick with them to learn what they have learned.

Sociology at its best is good storytelling: researchers who are skilled at convincing us why the issues they investigate are important, how their findings can inform us more about this issue and walk us through the complexities and even contradictions of their research produce work that is exciting to read. They bring to life the cliché that truth is stranger than fiction, or at least more interesting.

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February 02, 2017

Predicting the Future and Getting a Job

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Demography is a useful tool for being able to make projections about the future based on the composition of the population. It’s not just the size of a population that matters, but who makes up a population. Population projections are useful in a number of ways, especially for economists and policy analysts, who might use data on populations to predict a country’s needs. It is also useful to think about for those who might be thinking about future careers. Demography can inform us years in advance about what jobs might be available in larger numbers, and which jobs might be in decline, technological advances aside.

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January 19, 2017

When Words Lose Meaning

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

We use a number of expressions with one another that serve as shortcuts. Some are as basic as “hello” and “how are you?” Others are seasonal or situational, like, “Happy New Year,” “have a good weekend,” or “I’m sorry for your loss.” These phrases are like ready-made greeting cards that we employ in social situations, often when we don’t know what else to say. Sometimes, like holiday greetings, they are a way of sending good wishes to people that we may or may not know.

But sometimes these words take on different meanings than the speakers intended, and might be received far differently that we might imagine. Conflicts around saying “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” are one example. A stranger actually answering the “how are you question” is another—we’re not really being asked to disclose personal information, particularly if it is simply meant as a casual greeting.

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December 26, 2016

Main Points: What I Want My Students to Learn

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I start every class by posting a list of key points I want students to learn that day. We often start by recalling the main points from the previous class, so that students can understand the continuity between topics.

As another semester ends I have been thinking about the main points that I want students to learn, regardless of the topic of the class. Sometimes it is important to take a step back and ask ourselves, “what does this mean, anyway?” (I guess if you ask yourself this question you are already starting to think like a sociologist.)

Here are some of the lessons I hope that my students take from my classes:

Continue reading "Main Points: What I Want My Students to Learn" »

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