195 posts categorized "Class and Stratification"

February 05, 2018

The Big Rig and the Sociology of Work

Colby (1)By Colby King

I teach a Sociology of Work course at Bridgewater State University that meets in the evening each fall. At BSU, about half of our students come from working class backgrounds and/or are among the first generation in their family to go to college. One of the reasons I have really enjoyed teaching evening sections of this class is that many of the students typically work off campus and the class is often infused with their work experiences. These students also express a practical interest in the dynamics of labor markets, the shape of organizations, and the quality of jobs in addition to their interest in sociological concepts related to work.

This fall, I added Steve Viscelli’s book The Big Rig to the material we used in this class. I was motivated in part because it is a large and dynamic industry that illustrates many of the concepts and concerns we cover in this class. About 3 million people work as truck drivers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. NPR’s Planet Money has created this interactive map showing how truck driver has been the most common job in many states since at least the 1970s. The American Trucking Associations found that in 2014 more than 7 million people were employed in jobs related to the trucking industry, even after excluding those who were self-employed. They also report that registered trucks drove 279.1 billion miles in 2014.

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January 04, 2018

New Semester Rulin’s

Colby (1)By Colby King

What are your resolutions for the New Year? How about for the new semester?

I was thinking about these questions myself after a friend shared with me Woody Guthrie’s “New Years Rulin’s,” which he wrote in his journal in 1943.

If you’re not sure who Woody Guthrie is, you’d likely recognize his most famous song “This Land is Your Land.” Known as the “People’s Bard,” Guthrie is something of a hero among working people and labor activists. He has had a substantial musical legacy, influencing artists from The Byrds and Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, and Tom Morello. If you’re not familiar with his music, you may want to listen to his song about the dust bowl, “Pastures of Plenty,” or his punchy song about union solidarity “Union Maid,” which is covered here by Old Crow Medicine Show live at the Kennedy Center.

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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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December 04, 2017

#followfirstgenerationacademics

Colby (1)By Colby King

Scrolling through my Twitter feed one day this past summer, I read a tweet from Karra Shimabukuro, a PhD candidate in British and Irish Literary Studies at the University of New Mexico, with the hashtag #followfirstgenerationacademics. The tweet was signal boosting the hashtag, which was originated by Roberta Magnani, a Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Swansea University.

The idea behind #followfirstgenerationacademics was to create connections between academics and students between academics and students, who are from the first generation in their family to work as an academic. As a first generation academic myself, I was happy to see the hashtag. I replied to a few tweets and followed many of the people participating in the discussion. If you are a student or an academic interested in connecting, you may also be interested in following that hashtag and contributing to the conversation.

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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.

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September 25, 2017

A Strangeness in My Mind: Rural Poverty and Isolation

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

I generally spend my spring break visiting friends in Oklahoma, reading novels, playing board games, and taking a much-needed break from teaching and research. This past March, in an attempt to read something entertaining, I picked up a translation of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind.

The story chronicles the life of Mevlut as he migrates between his rural village of Anatolia to the city of Istanbul for work. We read about his school-age games and schemes to make money, his tireless work with his father as a street vendor selling yogurt and boza (a slightly alcoholic Turkish drink), his conscription into the army, and, in a comically sad twist, his elopement to the seemingly wrong woman.

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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.

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August 14, 2017

Place, the Sociological Imagination, and Western Pennsylvania

Colby (1)By Colby King

When I first read C. Wright Mills’ “The Promise” as an undergraduate, I remember being struck by his argument that the “first fruit” of the sociological imagination “is the idea that the individual can understand his own experience and gauge his own fate only be locating himself within his period, that he can know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances.” For Mills, understanding a person’s social context, or what he calls the structure of society, is essential for understanding their life chances.

This quote from Mills struck me because, while I was just beginning to understand the concept of the sociological imagination, I already possessed an interest in how social context shapes people’s lives.

I had grown up in rural western Pennsylvania, in between the small university town of Slippery Rock and the county seat of Butler. I was a student in the Slippery Rock school district, while my dad worked at Armco Steel (now AK Steel) in Butler, and I already understood that in many ways this place was a particular social context shaping my perspective and opportunities.

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July 24, 2017

The Challenge of Avoiding Downward Mobility from the Upper Middle-Class

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

During a conversation with an acquaintance, a man in his 60s who has never been married and to my knowledge has no children, said that he didn’t think that mothers should have jobs if they were married and their husbands made a sufficient amount of income.

Specifically, he was talking about one of his co-workers, a married woman with teenaged kids who often discusses her family’s financial difficulties at work. My acquaintance didn’t understand why the family of four didn’t just move into a small apartment farther away from their office. He suggested that if one’s husband earns a good living, then a wife should stay home with the kids. He also presumed that her husband, a marketing manager, must make in “the high six figures,” so he couldn’t understand how they could possibly have any financial problems at all.

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June 26, 2017

Children and Global Gentrification

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

I recently gave a talk to the newly formed chapter of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Campus Initiative at Knox College. Founded by the United Nations in 1946 to provide aid to Children affected by World War II, UNICEF works in countries across the globe to improve the lives of children through research, health care, access to clean water and sanitation, and emergency relief, to name a few.

Their campus initiatives encourage college students to promote the mission of UNICEF, engage in fundraising, and organize educational panels. Like many clubs and organizations on college campuses, and especially at Knox, there is a component of philanthropy, volunteerism, and community engagement that underlines the work students do with UNICEF. At the same time there is a training component, where students learn how to become civically engaged in projects that they are passionate about.

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