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 14, 2017

Creativity and Sociology

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Are you new to sociology? If you are, you might think ”creativity” and “sociology” are words that don’t go together. In introduction to sociology classes, the texts we read seem to arrive from on high as if tablets of stone from Mt. Sinai. Some of what you read might, indeed, seem to be dry-as-dust. But I would like to convince you that each concept that read about, every theory or idea, is the result of some whimsy, some poetry.

Sociology is a vibrant and lively field, and thinking sociologically requires imagination and inventiveness at every stage: from hypothesizing and theorizing, to writing and teaching. (In reviewing my earlier, ten metaphors blog post, there is absolutely some creativity that is at work in those examples!) Generating new ideas, thinking about things in new and exciting ways is the cornerstone of all scientific work, not just sociology.

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February 10, 2017

How Do You Study?

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Are you studying smarter, or spending lots of time that accomplishes relatively little? Do you have those oh-so-familiar moments of reading your text and waking up to realize you have stared at the same page or paragraph for way too long without really seeing it? Or do you skip the readings, thinking you can get by without them?

Well, of course, from my perspective as a professor, your notes, textbook, and other readings are important for the learning process to occur. We choose those readings carefully, so that once you read them, digest them, and can apply whatever gems of knowledge are in them, you have gone a long way towards developing an effective sociological imagination.

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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 30, 2017

Meet Four “Lazy” Millennials

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Millennials are not getting much love these days. If you do a Google search for the phrase “millennials are” the top five autofill suggestions are: lazy, having less sex, dumb, poor, and stupid. In all fairness, if you do a similar search for baby boomers or generation X you get similar disparaging suggestions. Still, it seems as if millennials, more than their predecessors, have been branded as being the laziest of generations.

Most of the news reports and assertions that criticize the work ethic of millennials are based on anecdotal and unscientific data. For example, I recently did a search with the prompt, “millennials are lazy,” and one of the first links that appeared was based on statements from lifestyle businesswoman Martha Stewart. Although some might seek Martha Stewart’s advice on recipes and home décor, her social scientific insight is not what she is known for.

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January 23, 2017

What’s the Difference Between Growth and Local Development?

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

In my Community (Economic) Development course, students are often confused by the differences between economic growth, local economic development, and community economic development. Because these terms help to explain similar process of development, they can seem like the same thing. As with most things, these terms are in flux and scholars often disagree about the definitions, adding to the confusion. Understanding the differences between these terms helps us analyze the impact of various economic development plans on residents and the environment.

Early definitions of economic development focus on growth as the standard. According to Malizia & Feser, and Wolman & Spitzley, we can understand growth as an increase to outputs (per capita income, jobs, a country’s gross domestic product, et cetera). This form of economic development focuses on increasing national wealth through improvements to the local business climate. Some examples of this approach include tax subsidies to keep or attract businesses to a certain locale. The idea is that a friendly business climate will lead to more jobs, increase competition, attract more businesses, and in turn yield greater wealth for the area. Some examples include the Boeing deal in Chicago, and the more recent Carrier deal in Indiana.

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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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January 16, 2017

Sociology, Science, and Fake News

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Little gets me more riled up than the proliferation of fake news in an age where we can get quality information with ease. It just gets my goat.

My nearly perfect mother-in-law forwarded an email to me recently. Just looking at it caused trepidation. It was forwarded multiple times as evidenced by the four vertical lines along the left side of the email. The big font text was bright blue and red with a lot of CAPITAL AND BOLDED AND UNDERLINED LETTERS. These are markers for concern. It cites the reputable Mayo Clinic, and a Dr. Virend Somers. It starts with a provocative title “MAYO CLINIC - DRINKING WATER.” Then it follows: “A cardiologist determined that heart attacks can be triggered by dehydration. Good Thing To Know. From The Mayo Clinic. How many folks do you know…” It ends with a plea: “Do forward this message. It may save lives! "Life is a one time gift" (Let's forward and hope this will help save some!!!)”

A quick Google search took me to the Mayo Clinic’s website which, unsurprisingly to me, issued a statement discounting the circulated email, noting that it was “inaccurate and potentially harmful.”

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January 12, 2017

Cyber Crime

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

We’ve been hearing a lot about “cyber” crime lately. Are cyber crimes increasing? What is the impact of cyber crime on society?

If we have a phone, most of us get those annoying phone calls, most of which are hang-ups, but some of which inform us that the IRS wants our money or there’s a deal that we “must” take advantage of. Individuals have the freedom to react to calls like these as we prefer, but this personal nuisance is certainly part of a societal issue.

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January 09, 2017

Sociology and the Culture of Sex on Campus

Thumbnail_Press - Lisa Wade (c) Babs Evangelista_300dpiBy Lisa Wade

Associate Professor of Sociology, Occidental College

When new students move into their residence halls to start their first year of college, they become a part of an institution. In many ways, it is a “total institution” in the tradition of the sociologist Erving Goffman: an organization that collects large numbers of like individuals, cuts them off from the wider society, and provides for all their needs. Prisons, mental hospitals, army barracks, and nursing homes are total institutions. So are cruise ships, cults, convents, and summer camps. Behemoths of order, they swallow up their constituents and structure their lives.

Many colleges are total institutions, too. Being a part of the institution means that students’ educational options are dictated, of course, but colleges also have a substantial amount of control over when students eat, where they sleep, how they exercise, with whom they socialize and, pertinent to our topic today, whether and under what conditions they have sex.

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