299 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

January 29, 2018

Food: From Micro to Macro

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What we eat is deeply personal. It is also connected to our cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. We may seldom think about it, but what we eat has global ramifications.

Sociology teaches us that very few choices we make are only personal. Food literally shapes your personal biology, but the choices we have access to make are shaped by where we live, the groups we are part of, and the policies our lawmakers have made. And all of this cumulatively impacts our environment, locally and globally.

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January 18, 2018

Joining the Conversation: Why Study Theory?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are a student of sociology, one of the first things you learn is about theory. You are probably also required to take an entire course in sociological theory, which is not always students’ favorite course in the major. In our program, many students try and put it off, are told by others that it is “hard” or don’t see why they need it anyway.

When you become a student of sociology—or any other discipline, for that matter—you are joining a conversation already in progress. In the case of sociology, a conversation that has been taking place for more than a century and a half. In order to understand the conversation, and hopefully add to it yourself, it is important to know what everyone has been talking about.

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January 08, 2018

The Sociology of Knowledge and Textbooks

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Sociologists are interested in all things social, even how we come to know what we know. The sociology of knowledge is a fundamental question in sociological thought: how is knowledge produced? We also think critically about the social contexts in which we create what humans define as “knowledge.”

So how do you know what you know? Beyond your personal experience, what you learn as a student informs your depth and breadth of knowledge. As you prepare for exams, there are typically two sources of knowledge that you need to master to earn a good grade: things that your professor said in lectures in conjunction with ideas you read about in your assigned texts.

We often take for granted that these are main sources of knowledge without thinking about how ideas become part of your course work, and your textbooks specifically. The production of textbooks is a good example of how knowledge is produced in a social context.

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December 11, 2017

Who Benefits from Automation?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

We recently had new hardwood floors installed in our house. Upon seeing them, a neighbor said, “I bet you’re a slave to these floors now,” meaning that we work hard to keep them looking clean and shiny. “You’ve got to get a Roomba! It’s a lifesaver!”

I checked into the automated floor-cleaning robots, and found they ranged in price from about $200 to $1,000. This seemed a bit pricey when my broom cost less than $10, and frankly, I don’t really mind sweeping the floor. It’s a good way to clear my mind and get some exercise while accomplishing a household chore.

But I get that some people might want to buy a device that over time will cost a lot less than hiring someone to come clean up. Automation creates opportunities to save money and reduce the number of unwanted tasks we do at home and also has revolutionized our workforce.

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November 27, 2017

Opioids and the Social Construction of Social Problems

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths due to heroin and synthetic opioid overdoses quadrupled in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015, with a dramatic rise occurring between 2010 and 2015. In 2010 there were just over 3,000 deaths due to heroin overdose, rising to nearly 13,000 in 2015.

The authors attribute this increase to “increased heroin availability combined with high potency and relatively low price,” and note, “the strongest risk factor for heroin use and dependence is misuse of or dependence on prescription opioids.”

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November 13, 2017

Getting a Job: Latent and Manifest Functions of Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The purpose of getting a college degree may seem obvious: the median weekly earnings of those with college degrees are nearly double what those with high school diplomas alone earn, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For those who hope to earn more money, a degree seems like a good idea. It is also likely to reduce the odds of being unemployed; according to BLS data, college graduates’ unemployment rates were about half of the rate for those with high school diplomas alone.

But what is it about a college degree that yields the higher weekly earnings and the greater likelihood of employment? Is it the content of what students learn, or other factors that are a less overt part of the college experience?

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October 30, 2017

Interpreting Numbers in Context

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In the age of big data, one of the most important—and overlooked—skills that training in sociology provides is the ability to interpret numerical data. Being statistically literate is important for so many reasons, not the least being that it ultimately can help you find a job. Even if you aren’t a statistician or data analyst, knowing how to understand numbers can give you a leg up among the math phobic in many professions.

You don’t have to fall in love with equations or mathematical theory to become skilled at interpreting data. The most important thing to keep in mind is that numbers tell a story, and your job as an interpreter of data is to figure out what story they are telling you, and share that story with others.

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October 16, 2017

Eating and Identity

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

An acquaintance recently told me a joke: “How can you tell if a person is vegan?” “I don’t know,” I responded, “how can you tell?” “Don’t worry, they’ll let you know.”

The food we eat is a core component of culture; our customs, celebrations, and restrictions shape and are shaped by our shared values, beliefs, and our resources. It also helps shape our sense of self and identity by the groups that we belong to and who we are as individuals.

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October 02, 2017

Good Bones and Good Policy

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As I blogged about several years ago, I have a weakness for programs on HGTV. I enjoy watching people house hunt and remodel, even with the knowledge that most of these shows are likely staged. At their core, they are programs about consumption, and advertisers hope their shows inspire viewers like me to want to buy home-related products. For me, and I suspect many other viewers, part of the pleasure of watching is vicarious consumption, watching other people make decisions and choices and perhaps getting ideas for my own purchases.

I recently binged-watched the first season of a new (to me) HGTV show, Good Bones. The show features a mother/daughter-run renovation team who buy mostly abandoned houses from the city, fix them up, and sell them.

What caught my interest in this show was that the stars’ company, Two Chicks and a Hammer, targets homes in their own neighborhood and a nearby neighborhood near downtown Indianapolis, with the goal of revitalizing the once struggling community. “I don’t want to build crappy homes for my neighbors, I just don’t,” says Karen E. Laine, the mother of the duo, during each show’s opening.

Continue reading "Good Bones and Good Policy" »

September 18, 2017

Getting a Ride: Transportation and Identity

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few months ago while on jury duty, I observed the jury duty selection process for a vehicular manslaughter/hit and run case. I was never called into the jury box, but watched as others answered basic questions from both the prosecutor and defense attorney as they determined who would be part of the jury.

One prospective juror mentioned in the course of questioning that she didn’t have a driver’s license. She looked young—I would guess that she was in her very early twenties—and perhaps she was a student, judging by her clothing and backpack. The prosecutor seemed concerned that she didn’t have a license and asked her several questions about this.

“How did you get here? How do you get around town?” she asked the young woman, who responded that she took the bus.

“Why don’t you have a license? Are you scared of driving?” the prosecutor asked the embarrassed potential juror, who said she couldn’t afford a car and thus did not take the time to get a driver’s license. She was soon dismissed from the jury.

Continue reading "Getting a Ride: Transportation and Identity" »

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