190 posts categorized "Popular Culture and Consumption"

December 03, 2014

The Social Nature of Personal Choices

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Did you know that you could do more to reverse climate change by becoming a vegetarian than by driving a hybrid car such as a Prius? Apparently, it’s true. According to researchers at the University of Chicago, the amount of fossil fuels it takes to produce a meat-based diet is so great that if you want to reduce your carbon footprint you are better off cutting livestock out of your diet than by driving a fuel-efficient automobile. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions, finding that “plant-based diets in comparison to diets rich in animal products are more sustainable because they use many fewer natural resources and are less taxing on the environment.”

I imagine that this news may be hard for many of us to swallow—especially during this stretch of meaty holiday meals full of turkey, ham, pork, sausage, and steak. Let’s face it: eating meat (and driving gas guzzling cars, for that matter) is a favorite pastime in the United States. And as much as we love consuming meat, we hate having people tell us that we shouldn’t be eating it.

But what does eating tofu instead of turkey have to do with sociology? Many of us think that our lifestyle behaviors such as being a vegetarian or a carnivore are personal choices. In reality, all of our behaviors and habits are socially conditioned. Whether it’s the car you drive (a Hummer or a Prius), the type of exercise you do (walking to the mailbox or running a marathon), the foods you eat (meat based or plant based) or the habits you engage in (smoking, drinking, doing drugs, etc.), the things we “choose to do” are largely products of the social environments in which we find ourselves.

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October 06, 2014

Sociology, Murals, and Communities

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you seen any murals in your community? If so, do you know what they depict? Do you know the history behind them? Finding such murals can be a good exercise for your sociological imagination.

There is one mural right next door to my college: The Great Wall of Los Angeles. It is a half-mile long, located along the interior wall of the Los Angeles River – yes, our river runs within a concrete channel, built to control the unruly flow of water. With our current state of drought, however, we don’t have much water flowing so we can see the entire mural!

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September 29, 2014

The Social Context Behind Street Food: Authenticity, Culture and Ethnicity

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

This weekend I went to go see the Jon Favreau movie, Chef. The film chronicles a chef’s fall from a gig at a high-end restaurant to rekindling his passion for food by operating a lowly food truck specializing in Cubanos and other Caribbean treats. Drawing from the explosion of interest in food trucks—due in part to the film’s co-producer, Roy Choi, owner of the real-life Korean-Mexican mash-up Kogi-BBQ trucks—the film is a love letter for simple, working class food as “authentic cuisine.”

Favreau’s chef, however, doesn’t offer the same kind of inventive spin on the Cubano as Choi does with his tacos, but instead adopts the common ”white folks do it better” film trope as he embraces, honest and authentic Cuban cuisine. But what is authentic, anyway? The chef, doesn’t speak Spanish yet capitalizes off of Caribbean food culture. Can a white guy like Favreau really make better cuisine? But what is Caribbean cuisine anyway, since it is, itself, a mixture of Native American Taino, French, African, and Mexican influences?

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September 25, 2014

Living with Strangers

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

 “You cannot know that you have a particular view of the world until you come in contact with differing views” (Inge Bell and Bernard McGrane, This Book is Not Required)

 For two weeks in July I was living with a family of complete strangers. They spoke a language I barely understood, lived in a town I had never heard of that was nearly 2,500 miles away from my home, and they had cultural norms and practices that were quite different from my own.  I was in Costa Rica for one month studying Spanish and as a way to augment my learning—both in terms of the language and the culture—I opted to do a homestay for part of my time there.

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August 05, 2014

Being There: Understanding Sociology through Film

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s summer, and for me that means a chance to watch movies. I tend to prefer classics to the latest releases, and I recently re-watched the 1979 film Being There, starring Peter Sellers. It is filled with sociological (and political) insights about the ways in which our social interactions create meaning.

The film is about a mentally challenged man named Chance who works as a gardener for an elderly man. When the man passes away, Chance is on his own. No provisions are made for his care, so he wanders the streets, hungry and unsure of how to appropriately interact with others. When a group of young men seem menacing, he points his television remote at them, hoping to change the channel.

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July 29, 2014

The Never-Ending Beauty Shift

Peter rydzewskiBy Peter Rydzewski

Sociology Ph.D. student, University of Maryland

The idea that physical characteristics can be socially developed may be difficult to consider at first. According to Raewyn Connell, however, “bodies are both objects of social practice and agents in social practice” (p.67). This means that while most of our appearance is commonly attributed to gene composition and biological parents’ body characteristics, discussions about the power of gender expectations, although sometimes missed, continue to play a large role in the development of the way that we look.

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July 14, 2014

Advertising Co-opts Social Science

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you seen the videos circulating that purport to be stories informed by social science? They are passed on to “enlighten” us about social issues and solutions.

I have a few examples to share with you.

The first is the Dove Evolution video about manipulating images for advertising. That one has been around awhile and does a good job of showing us how images change from the original photographs to what is actually published. (Jean Kilbourne does this well in her video, Still Killing Us Softly.)

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July 03, 2014

Red Card! The Exclusion of Sports in Sociology

Peter_kaufman Richard Bente photoBy Peter Kaufman and Richard Bente          

Do you have World Cup fever? We do! With one thrilling game after another, and with enough drama and agony for a Shakespearean play, this quadrennial sporting event has once again reached a fevered pitch (pun intended). As the single biggest sporting event in the world, with people from all corners of the globe following it, the World Cup is unparalleled in its scope, influence, and reach. Unfortunately, there is one location where the World Cup has yet to be discovered: introductory sociology textbooks.

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June 17, 2014

A Sterling Reputation and the Importance of Impression Management

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you heard the many news reports accounting the many issues revolving around Donald Sterling? I’m speaking about the 2014 installment that began in April. (He’s had previous flurries of bad press…)

Mr. Sterling and his wife, Shelly, have co-owned the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team and have many residential investments. He started as an attorney, then invested in residential properties, and was very successful financially. He has published regular full-page ads in the Los Angeles Times (and others) showing his philanthropic efforts to many different organizations and causes.

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May 20, 2014

Drafts and Objectification

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

“With the first pick of the 2014 draft, Nick selects Ashley from AP Physics…”

Like many of my fellow beleaguered Buffalo Bills fans, I spent last weekend tracking the 79th annual NFL Player Selection Meeting—the draft—hoping that my team will finally find the pieces needed to string together its first playoff season in 14 years. There was another draft, however, making a lot of news in California.

In Orange County a different kind of selection meeting was happening. Senior boys from Corona del Mar High School gathered at an undisclosed location and in ceremonial garb for an annual ritual. The boys were “drafting” girls to be their prom dates. Although many of the boys claim there is no money involved others say that boys exchange cash to “trade up” to a better position in the draft to select the girl they want to go to prom with. One year a kid paid $140 to draft the girl he wanted to bring to the prom.

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