116 posts categorized "Social Psychology"

September 18, 2014

A Sociological Guide for Succeeding in College

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

This fall, over twenty million students are enrolled in colleges and universities across the United States. Although many of these students will not major in sociology or even take a sociology course, they can still use some sociological insights to help them have an enriching college experience. Much like a post I wrote a few months ago about how sociological theory can help students after they graduate, this current post offers four sociologically-inspired maxims for successfully navigating the college terrain.

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September 03, 2014

The Unintended Manhattan Project Experiment

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Moving to a new place is always a challenge…but what about a place that is new to everybody?

During World War II, an interesting—an unintended—sociological experiment took place when a few communities were built from scratch during the top-secret development of the nuclear bomb. People relocated to these restricted areas from all around the country, turning what once were desolate or sparsely populated areas into thriving mini-cities. Scientists, secretaries, technicians, and other workers came, along with their children, wives, and husbands to work on “The Project,” and in the process, create a new, if short-lived community.

How do people create communities where none exists? And why do communities matter?

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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 23, 2014

Obedience, Authority, and Domination

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

“Because I said so!”

I’m sure that many of us have either uttered these words or have heard them spoken to us. We hear this phrase expressed in a host of relationships: parent-child, teacher-student, supervisor-employee, and police officer-citizen. Saying this to someone is generally used to get them to obey your authority and do what you are telling them to do with as little resistance as possible.

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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 30, 2014

Clap along Sociologists, Get Happy!

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about happiness lately. I’m not just talking about listening to the worldwide hit “Happy” by Pharrell Williams—which I hear playing somewhere at least once a week. What I’m alluding to are the books, articles, and commentaries on how we can be happier in our daily lives. It seems as if every year another book comes out and every week an article circulates around social media advising us on what we can do to achieve a higher state of contentment.

What I find particularly intriguing about much of the work that is being done on happiness is that most of it is not carried out by sociologists. Instead, happiness studies are dominated by journalists, psychologists, and economists. Consider, for example, some of the best-selling books of the past few years.  Stumbling on Happiness was written by Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology, whereas The Geography of Bliss and The Happiness Project were both written by journalists (Eric Weiner and Gretchen Rubin, respectively).  

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May 27, 2014

What Can Improv Teach Us About Gender?

Peter_rydzewskiBy Peter Rydzewski

Incoming sociology Ph.D student, University of Maryland

The idea that social interactions are thought of as “performances” is a common theme throughout sociology. It speaks to the ways in which human behavior is “acted out” under an umbrella of shared norms, roles, expectations and assumptions, meaning that individual expressions are, in reality, more subject to group agreements than personal vitality.

I’ve spent the past 15 or so weeks in an improvisational theatre class. My sociological and observational instincts set in immediately after the first class session because, indeed, it was the perfect example of a real, physical stage on which social acting could take place. Erving Goffman famously describes this as the “front stage.” In my observations, this is where other students constantly looked and judged, hoping to understand our movements as part of a scene with an overall message or continuing storyline. And because the situations were fictional and the settings were imagined, the performers had to use voice and bodily comportment to express something that everyone could implicitly comprehend.  This goal was often accomplished with performances of gender.

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May 23, 2014

Costumes: Special Occasions as Performance

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Recently, I received a package on my desk. It was a black gown with a decorative, brightly colored velvet hood and an oddly-shaped hat. There was no note, no explanation, but I knew what it was for.

In any other context, the arrival of an unusual outfit would be strange, maybe even disconcerting; it is not something I would personally have chosen to wear, as it is bulky and way too warm to wear in the late spring. I am expected to wear this outfit for our university’s commencement ceremonies, just as others on our faculty and around the country are.

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April 17, 2014

Social Media: Windows, Mirrors and Bubbles

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

If you are anything like me, you have engaged in a heated Facebook exchange once or twice. Recently I’ve had two interesting chats with old friends—one of whom I’ve lost touch with for over two decades who has political views on the complete other side of the spectrum than me. Rather than a reminder of how technology connects people from far afield, both exchanges reminded me of just how rare it is for me to bridge wide social distances. Where do you get to interact with people who are different from you?

We imagine a time when an open public square was where a community could find that exchange of ideas. As German sociologist Jürgen Habermas wrote, the public sphere is “a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Access is guaranteed to all citizens. A portion of the public sphere comes into being in every public conversation in which private individuals assemble to form a public body.” But we don’t have a social space like this today.

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April 01, 2014

Jewish? Buddhist? Atheist? All of the Above!

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

I was asked recently by a colleague what religion I follow, and I was not quite sure how to answer. I was raised in a secular Jewish household, and I never considered myself religious in the traditional sense of the word. Unlike my Jewish peers, my family did not belong to a temple or synagogue, I did not attend Hebrew school, and I did not have a bar mitzvah or learn to read from the Torah. Instead, I attended a small humanistic Sunday school that was run as a cooperative, I learned Yiddish and sang folk songs, and I had a modest graduation ceremony where I had to read an essay I wrote on a notable Jewish figure.  

In my late twenties, I became interested in the teachings of Buddhism. I took classes at Buddhist meditation centers, I read books and magazines about Buddhist texts and philosophies, and I started practicing meditation. Although I never took a formal Bodhisattva vow like some of my Buddhist friends, I still try to live my life around many of the central tenets of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism.

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