127 posts categorized "Social Psychology"

June 16, 2015

Police Killings by the Numbers

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

If there has been one dominant, sociologically-relevant story in the news lately, it has arguably been the treatment of African Americans by the police. From Michael Brown in Missouri to Eric Garner in Staten Island to the McKinney, Texas, swimming pool incident, there is a heightened awareness, an ongoing conversation, and a growing sentiment of anger about how race influences policing.

As increasing attention has been devoted to this social problem, and more questions have been raised about it, there have been calls for greater accountability from law enforcement. In particular, many people want to know how many citizens are killed each year by police officers. Unfortunately, because the United States government does not keep a systematic record of these deaths, this data has been either unavailable or unreliable. That is, until now.

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May 27, 2015

You’ve Graduated! Now What?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

In the beginning of the spring semester, I asked students in my senior seminar class to write down one word that describes how they are feeling about graduating and then to share those words with the class. Although some students displayed words that I was expecting such as “excited,” “ready,” “pride,” and “relief,” many students were not so giddy about graduating. These students held up signs that read “conflicted,” “nervous,” “confused,” “indecisive,” and one of my favorites, “screaming internally.”

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February 13, 2015

Sociology on the Red Carpet

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In the entertainment industry, the first two months of the year are unofficially known as awards season. There are more awards shows than most of us know about, culminating with the Academy Awards at the end of February. While it may seem that awards shows are trivial or just entertainment, we can learn several sociological lessons from these events.

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January 27, 2015

Emotional Labor, Status, and Stress

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Virtually no job comes without stress. Whether it’s meeting the expectations and deadlines of coworkers, clients, or supervisors, nearly all work can at times be challenging. Sometimes the work itself isn’t as challenging as managing relationships with the people we work with.

Emotional labor involves managing our emotions to meet our job expectations.  For example, retail clerks are expected to be upbeat and enthusiastic about the merchandise (and in general), even if that is not truly how they feel. Emotional labor is also part of dealing with the personalities of those we work with. This labor is not necessarily always stressful. Asking a coworker about a sick relative may be a way to convey your concern about their family without taking much of an emotional toll. But in other cases emotional labor can be very stressful, and this stress can be minimized or magnified based on one’s status.

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January 16, 2015

Art and the Social Construction of Reality

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What is art? This is an unanswerable question, certainly one that I will not attempt to answer in this post.

 A recent visit to our local museum of contemporary art triggered this question, as I passed by exhibits including a plywood box, a drain, scribbles with hand-drawn maps on brown pieces of paper, sock puppets, as well as diary entries that including the creator’s daily weight, body temperature, and her body’s elimination schedule.

For these pieces to be in a museum, someone must have declared them to have artistic merit (with which professional art critics might disagree). Perhaps the creators consider themselves to be artists and set out to create art and are thus regarded by others as artists. How one defines art is not just an individual endeavor, but one that is grounded in our social context.

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December 08, 2014

(Someone Else’s) Home for the Holidays: The Difficulty of Defining the Situation

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As I recently blogged about, necessity led me to stay at a room in someone’s home I found on a peer-to-peer travel website. I had never done so before, and considered the experience a sort of brief ethnography. Overall, I found the experience strange, and something I’d probably do again only as a last resort. Neither purely guests or customers, the difficulty of defining the situation left us wondering exactly how to act in this new experience.

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November 24, 2014

(Someone Else’s) Home for the Holidays

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I just booked my first reservation through Airbnb.com, the site where you can reserve a room in a guest house or private home. This wasn’t my first choice; after finding that most reasonably-priced hotel rooms were booked, my husband and I decided to give it a try for a night. We passed on places that had too many negative reviews left by previous guests or if the room seemed unkempt and cluttered based on the posted pictures. The location we selected had many good reviews and is a five minute drive from our destination.

Staying in a stranger’s home may seem like a new Internet-era invention, but taking in boarders for a night or longer pre-dates the twenty-first century. At the turn of the last century, new immigrants often rented a bed in tenement housing with other families until they were able to save enough money for their own apartment and perhaps to bring the rest of their family to the country. Rural families might have taken in passers-by for a night in places where commercial lodging might have been scarce. The Internet definitely makes this process easier, especially when finding a place to stay from out of town.

I am viewing this experience as a kind of sociological experiment: what is it like to stay in a stranger’s home compared with a family member’s or a friend’s? How do strangers interact in private spaces normally reserved for family and friends? Are there advantages to staying with strangers compared with people we know? If houseguests are a major source of stress during the holidays, might houseguests who are strangers be easier to host?

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November 07, 2014

A Socioanalysis of President Barack Obama

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

I am writing this post on the eve of the 2014 midterm elections, so I don’t know who the winners and losers will be. However, I do know one thing for sure: President Obama is not held in high regard these days. Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 42%, lower than the average approval ratings of the ten presidents that preceded him. For what it’s worth, Obama’s rating is actually significantly higher than the approval rating of Congress—the group of politicians whose partisan obstructionism and dogmatism are arguably responsible for much of Obama’s legislative troubles.  Embarrassingly, the approval rating of Congress is barely above 10%.

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October 30, 2014

Weddings: Front Stage Performances

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Weddings are big productions. They often take months of planning that includes selecting decorations, invitations, food, music, dresses, tuxedoes, color schemes, seating charts, the wedding party and more. Weddings are a heightened example of what sociologist Erving Goffman called front stage behavior.

Goffman viewed social life as something akin to a performance, where we attempt to manage the impressions we make to others. Weddings are clearly social performances: they involve guests, usually seated in the audience, and people involved in the wedding party play roles as well  (bride, groom, best man, mother of the bride, the person performing the ceremony and so forth). Most involve “costumes” that designate the roles of those involved. Photographers and videographers are often hired to document the event too.

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October 02, 2014

Social Interaction and Drought Shaming

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

There is currently a severe drought in California, and this summer new rules went into effect to conserve water. For instance, a water feature (like a fountain) must re-circulate the same water. You cannot hose down the sidewalk, nor can you wash your car with a hose that doesn’t have a shutoff nozzle. Your lawn cannot be watered between 9 am and 5 pm (to limit evaporation). A violation of these new rules could result in a $500 ticket.

Authorities can’t possibly police every violation, so they are hoping that the public helps by complying and asking neighbors to comply. In response, a Twitter hashtag #droughtshaming has emerged to embarrass people caught needlessly wasting water. Tweets range from photos of neighbors overwatering their lawns to puddles in parking lots and public fountains. Perhaps the biggest example of drought shaming was the backlash to the recent “ice bucket challenge,” where people challenged others to dump a bucket of ice over their heads and post a video or photo to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Critics argued that this was a waste of water, albeit for a good cause.

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