March 23, 2018

It’s About Power, Not Privilege

Peter kaufman 2014 Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman and Todd Schoepflin

If you can’t tell by our profile pictures, we are both white male sociologists. We are also upper middle class, able-bodied, and heterosexual. With the exception of one of us being Jewish and the other being short (5’ 4”), we have enjoyed many privileges and advantages throughout our lives.

For the past few months, we have been closely following the #MeToo movement. It is clear that what started as a simple social media hashtag has blossomed into a potential bellwether of the changing gender landscape. We both feel strongly that sociologists should be lending their analytical insights to help understand and advance the efforts for gender equality. But what is the role for sociologists like us who approach the world though multiple positions of power and privilege? Should we weigh in and risk sounding clueless or stay quiet so that we can listen and learn from others?

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March 19, 2018

Managing Malls and Regional Spatial Change in the Era of Amazon Prime

Colby (1)By Colby King

If you’re looking for an entertaining way to spend a few minutes, I recommend the American Mall Game on Bloomberg’s website. The game appeared on February 7, 2018, and was created by James Pants and Steph Davidson, along with a team of others at Bloomberg.

As a player in the American Mall Game, you take the position of a character who owns and manages a mall that has fallen on difficult times. An opening message at the start of the game explains that these are “dire times for U.S. Mall owners. Decades of overbuilding and the invention of online shopping combined to leave the country with an extreme excess” [of retail space].

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March 12, 2018

Consumer or Consumed?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

While on a hike organized by a group using the social networking site Meetup.com, I overheard two fellow hikers complaining that they had trouble getting messages from the group through the site. One hiker said that calling their email provider (a widely used free platform) was no help either. They were clearly frustrated by the lack of “customer service.”

This exchange was a good reminder of something that we might easily forget: we are now as likely to be the product as the consumers of technology in the information age.

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March 05, 2018

Mindhunter as Social Research

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

I recently watched a Netflix show called Mindhunter. The show—based on a non-fiction book—is about the beginnings of a crime division in the FBI that attempts to tackle serial killers.

If you’ve ever taken a sociology class, the first and most obvious thing about the show are the explicit references to our discipline! One of the main characters, Debbie, played by Hannah Gross, is a graduate student in sociology, studying deviance. In the first episode Debbie explains the sociological approach to deviance to her date, a somewhat listless young FBI agent named Holden (played by Jonathan Groff of Hamilton and Glee fame). In a bar she admonishes Holden: “You teach about criminality but you’ve never heard of Labeling Theory?” (Although, granted, Debbie doesn’t get Durkheim right.)

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February 23, 2018

2018 Oscar Watch: Diversity in Hollywood

12_01446By Angelique Harris

The Academy Awards are one of the most revered of the award shows in Hollywood. Although the lack of diversity in who receives nominations and awards has been called into question various times in the past, there was little traction until 2015, when the #OscarsSoWhite movement was born.

The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was created on Twitter by April Reign, the managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com, when the Oscar announcements were made and there were no contenders of color for best acting categories. In fact, adding fuel to the fire, even in films with Black leads, such as Creed and Straight Outta Compton, those nominated for Oscars (Sylvester Stallone for best supporting actor and Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff for screenwriting, respectively) were White. After this glaring lack of diversity, the same thing happened the following year, with no best actor nominees of color. As a result, many celebrities boycotted the event, such as Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Will Smith, who refused to attend while many others, including President Obama, spoke publically about this issue.

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February 19, 2018

What Would You Do?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Consider the following scenario: You are in a clothing store shopping for a new outfit. As you are browsing through the selections you notice that a black female customer is being targeted unfairly by a sales clerk. Instead of allowing this customer to shop freely as you are, the sales clerk is following her around, constantly asking her what she wants, making obnoxious comments to her, and eventually telling her that she should leave the store.

What would you do? Would you say something to the sales clerk or seek out a manager to complain? Would you say something to support the customer and voice your concern over the way she is being treated? Or would you continue on with your business and pretend to ignore the interaction you just witnessed?

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February 12, 2018

The Body as Social: Roxane Gay’s Hunger

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Our bodies are not just biological, but the way we make sense of our bodies and the bodies of others exists in both a personal and social context. While our bodies are also private, they are (mostly) visible to the public, and as such, often judged and evaluated by those around us and of course, by ourselves. In addition, the physical aspects of our bodies are shaped by events that are sometimes beyond our control, whether it be based on economics, our geographic location, or traumatic events.

Author Roxane Gay demonstrates this in her book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. The title, and the book’s contents, reminds us that our bodies, like ourselves, have stories of how they came to be as they are. In Gay’s case, she recounts how being sexually assaulted by a group of boys at the age of twelve changed her relationship to her body from that moment forward.

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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 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 22, 2018

The Malfunction Heard Around the World: Cultural Appropriation, White Privilege, and Misogynoir

12_01446By Angelique Harris

Many college-aged students are too young to remember Super Bowl XXXIX. In fact, I doubt few people even remember the fact that the New England Patriots played the Carolina Panthers in this game (actually, no, maybe a lot of people know this). Nevertheless, it’s likely that this was one of the few Super Bowl games where the halftime show drew attention away from the game.

This was the game where the terms “wardrobe malfunction” and “nipplegate” entered into our popular cultural lexicon. I am not a huge sports fan, so back in grad school, when I was invited to my friend's Super Bowl party, I only went for the free food and to see Janet Jackson perform at the halftime show (these were the days before YouTube and readily available DVRs). Also, having grown up in a family that didn’t watch sports, I was actually looking forward to attending my first Super Bowl party and partaking in this uniquely American tradition.

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