140 posts categorized "Social Institutions: Work, Education, and Medicine"

February 08, 2016

Higher Education Widens Global Inequality

Audrey scottBy Audrey P. Scott

Dartmouth College freshman, guest blogger

American colleges and universities are becoming increasingly more like multi-national corporations. Their products? Students trained to further market growth through wide ranges of advanced skills— a prospect that may seem positive to the economically savvy. Universities teach students to improve the world, making a dime while at it. High school microeconomics, however, teaches us that sometimes efficiency and production do not equate with another important factor: equity.

As American colleges focus more on profit, they invest less on shrinking the international equality gap. Consequently, they diminish economically diverse international participation in their universities. Colleges either need to expand their need-blind financial aid to international students or improve multinational schools to better cater to poorer populations. Many are doing neither.

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February 03, 2016

Happiness as Social Control

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The pursuit of happiness is so central to what it means to be American that it is part of one of our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence. It is a topic that I pursued informally for many years myself, having read a library's worth of self-help books trying to unlock the mystery of personal fulfillment. I came to some simple conclusions: that to be happy means to enjoy the little things in life, to appreciate the people in our lives, to focus on the present, and to take action steps towards our goals and consider action itself a mark of success, and also to do things that improve our health because feeling good, well, feels good.

I had not considered happiness as a scientific field of study until hearing about social psychologist Daniel Gilbert's work on happiness. Gilbert was inspired by events in his own life—things were not going particularly well for him at one point, and yet he did not feel unhappy. This led to a number of experiments about how well (or as it turns out, how poorly) people predict what makes them happy, which he describes in his bestselling book, Stumbling on Happiness.

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January 29, 2016

Why Some Students Refuse to Learn

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

As a college professor, I often try to figure out the best way to help students learn. I solicit feedback from students and colleagues, I read journals and books on the scholarship of teaching and learning, I try out new exercises and assignments, and I reflect regularly on what strategies seem to be succeeding and failing in the classroom. I do this to try to find that elusive and magical formula that will automatically result in good teaching and learning. Although I know that this formula does not exist, I still stubbornly search for it and this ongoing pursuit is what helps me grow as an educator.

Recently, as I was thinking about ways to improve student learning I was reminded of one of my favorite essays on teaching and learning that is actually about not-learning. I am referring to Herbert Kohl's classic essay, "I Won't Learn from You." In this piece, written over 20 years ago, Kohl considers what it means for students to purposely not learn. He points out that some students actively engage in not-learning as a way to maintain control in a seemingly hostile world.

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January 22, 2016

Water Wars and Reliable Data: From Bolivia to Flint, Michigan

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

As an undergraduate majoring in Latin American and Latina/o studies, I remember watching a documentary about the Cochabamba protests against the World Bank's push for water privatization in the South American country of Bolivia. During the late 1990s-early 2000s, the country was the poorest in Latin America with 70% of Bolivians living below the poverty line.

Government officials attempted to remedy the economy by following a shock therapy model. This included the implementation of neoliberal reforms, such as halting state subsidies and the privatization of publicly-owned assets. Within Cochabamba, a city in central Bolivia, privatization meant transference of the publicly held water system to a private consortium led by the Bechtel Corporation.

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December 22, 2015

The Lottery as Gift: Who Wins?

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I was trying to think about a good topic to write about for the holidays. We here at the Everyday Sociology Blog have covered shopping crowds and even a Durkheimian Christmas. Scanning for something commonplace, I was talking with a student who told me that her family always uses lottery tickets as Christmas stocking stuffers, and it got me thinking.

At first, it seems sort of charming: kids waking up Christmas morning for the chance to win money. I remembered, as a kid, scratching off a lottery ticket from an uncle, with a lucky coin. Certainly all those New York State lottery commercials I remember reinforced the whimsy: "Hey, you never know!" and "All you need is a dollar and a dream!" But, thinking about it more—and beyond the idea of the lottery as a form of gambling, and outside of The Hunger Games—the sociology kicked in quickly.

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December 08, 2015

Who Gives to Charity?

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

After Thanksgiving, we are encouraged to give of ourselves, our time, and our money. Many people serve food in shelters and food kitchens on Thanksgiving. Many continue to do something charitable into December and sometimes into January. Some actually continue giving or volunteering throughout the year.
However, in November and December there is a huge jump in charitable behaviors.

Who are these people? Why do people do this?

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December 03, 2015

The Sharing Economy Paradox

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

You don’t have to look hard to find invitations to join the “sharing economy:” ads invite us to drive for Uber or Lyft, rent a spare room on Airbnb or sell your wares on eBay. These online services promote easy use for consumers, and a way to make money by working as much or as little as you would like, and on your own schedule.

The “sharing economy” is not exactly new; people have been renting rooms in their homes, selling used items, and providing rides for pay through more localized channels well before the Internet’s existence. In communities with many elderly residents who no longer drive, it is not uncommon for a “younger” retiree to offer rides to neighbors for a small fee, for instance.

Technology has made it easier than ever to sell a variety of services online, made simple by companies like those mentioned above who provide a platform to connect buyers and sellers. No longer are drivers limited to their neighbors or word of mouth in order to make money. With online reviews and user ratings, these platforms provide at least a little information for consumers to make informed decisions about the services they are purchasing.

Critics have questioned whether this is indeed sharing—isn’t sharing something we do without the expectation of being paid? But more centrally, we might ask how the profits from these industries are distributed. Are the companies whose success comes from the service providers sharing the wealth they generate?

A Los Angeles Times columnist decided to find out for himself by becoming an Uber driver. He signed up to become a driver, did some test runs, and took an entire day to drive from 9 am to 5 pm, and then again after 9pm that day to get a sense of how much he might make. After 9 hours on the job he earned $122.64, after Uber’s cut.

He also had to pay for gas, and of course the car insurance and maintenance. As an independent contractor, he had no access to benefits. The app made it easy for people to pay online so he didn’t have to worry about collecting fares. Maybe because of this he didn’t get any tips. While Uber has an estimated value of $50 billion, Lopez estimated that he made just over $12 an hour during his experiment.

While this is just one day—certainly a driver’s income will vary each day—at this rate working 8 hour days, 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year one might earn $24,000 a year before taxes. When you consider the cost of gas, insurance, and the car’s maintenance, and income taxes, an Uber driver would likely have a net income low enough to qualify for food stamps. The “sharing economy” may be a contradiction in terms.

Lawsuits in California, Florida, and Massachusetts have challenged that Uber drivers are employees, not independent contractors, and should be granted the same rights as employees. Aside from benefits many full-time workers enjoy like health care, sick time, vacation time and retirement, these and other lawsuits raise questions about whether workers might be entitled to worker’s compensation or disability pay should they become injured. Driving, of course, is not without its risks.

By contrast, other online services might better fit the term “sharing economy.” For instance, Meetup.com earns revenues from organizers who pay fees to maintain their group on the site. This service promotes a variety of social activities from book clubs to photography groups, networking groups for different industries, political organizing, and an endless list of possibilities for people to join others for activities. While some groups charge nominal fees to participants in order to recoup the cost of the site, most events are free for participants.

While on vacation earlier this year, my husband and I signed up for a Meetup group at our destination in order to enjoy some outdoor activities with people who know the area. The organizer was a retired man who wanted to keep fit and active, and so he regularly scheduled 5-7 activities every week ranging from hikes to canoeing trips to visits to local festivals.

We went on one of his posted activities and enjoyed a hike in an area near our hotel with his group. He told us that he likes meeting new people and sharing his hometown with others. It is a win-win: he gets to exercise, avoid isolation, and feel pride about being able to help people enjoy their visit. He was truly sharing, expecting nothing in return from participants other than our company.

New opportunities to exchange goods and services are changing the economy in many positive ways, and with some drawbacks. Many people love the flexibility of renting a room in their house or getting rides from Lyft. It’s just not always technically sharing.

What other examples of the sharing economy can you think of that might not be truly sharing? Other examples of the sharing economy that embody the spirit of sharing?

November 19, 2015

Aging on Campus

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

While attending a faculty meeting several months ago, some of the attendees commented about how fast time goes by upon hearing that a colleague’s son had recently married. When I commiserated, the others laughed and mentioned that I was too young to really know what they were talking about.

Where else but in academia is someone in their 40s a “young person?” Outside of a retirement community, academia may be one of the few places where aging is relative. I didn’t argue with them—I am old enough to feel good about being called young.

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November 09, 2015

University of Missouri and the Power of Student Protests

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

 Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse,

 you can take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.

These words come from Marge Piercy’s poem, "The Low Road." It is one of my favorite sociological poems about the potential power that is unleashed when people join together and fight for social change. I probably mention this poem at least once a semester in one or more of my classes and I will certainly be invoking it again as I discuss the recent events at the University of Missouri.

Black students at the University of Missouri have been protesting for months about ongoing racist incidents on campus. They are particularly frustrated by what they perceive to be the failure of the university’s administration, and particularly President Tim Wolfe, to adequately address these events. Using the hashtag #ConcernedStudent1950, in reference to the year that black students where finally admitted into the University of Missouri, the protesters were calling for the resignation or removal of President Wolfe.

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October 05, 2015

The Country with the Most Gender Equality in the World

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I recently visited the most gender equal country in the world. Can you guess what it is? It is known as the land of fire and ice, its economy relies heavily on fish and tourism, and its name is a bit deceiving. The answer is Iceland.

Like most visitors to this country that sits between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, I was not visiting Iceland to get a sociological lesson in gender equality. Instead, I was there to experience the awe-inspiring natural beauty that seems to be right in front of you no matter where you turn. With an abundance of volcanoes, lava fields, glaciers, fjords, waterfalls, beaches, and valleys, Iceland is a nature-lover’s dream.  

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