205 posts categorized "Theory"

July 30, 2018

Aging and Identity

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of my elderly neighbors, who I will call John, has a degenerative neurological disorder. It has dramatically affected his speech and his ability to walk. His wife confided in me that he really doesn’t like to see people who knew him “before”—and as residents in their home for 45 years, that means many people in our community haven’t been able to see much of John.

Not only has John been struggling with the effects of this disease, but he has been struggling with his sense of self. It is clear from his wife’s observations that he does not want his current condition to change the way people think of him. John’s wife regularly recounts that he was an avid hiker and loved to ride his bike and go camping before this illness, helping to shape others’ perceptions of John. This, unfortunately, has contributed to his sense of isolation.

As George Herbert Mead teaches us, the way we view our identity and ourselves is rooted in the social context. This means that our sense of self is something we negotiate with how we think others perceive us. It doesn’t mean we simply adopt the sense of identity that others may project onto us. Instead, we might take these perceptions into account, even if that means constructing an identity in opposition to how we think others might see us.

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May 28, 2018

Villains, Victims, and Verstehen

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I studied drama as an undergraduate, and in one class I remember learning about playing villains. No one sees him or herself as a villain, we learned, and the person portraying such a character should figure out their motivation. Does the character feel like they have been wronged and are thus justified in seeking revenge? Do they feel passionate about a cause that the other characters view differently? Every character—and most people—views themselves as good, maybe even heroic sometimes, and this is no different for roles that appear to be obvious villains.

Likewise, social scientists are very interested in learning more about people’s perceptions of the world around them. Max Weber, one of the key thinkers in sociology, noted the importance of verstehen, or understanding the people we study.

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May 21, 2018

Small Worlds, Degrees of Separation, and Social Network Analysis

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

A few weeks ago, I noticed a student in one of my classes was wearing a shirt from a business in the town where I went to high school. I told him that I went to school there and he said that his father did too. I asked him how old his father is and when I found out we are the same age I suddenly remembered his father. It turns out we were classmates.

On the one hand, it’s not too surprising that I have this connection with my former classmate. After all, I teach at a State University of New York (SUNY) college where many of the students who attend happen to come from the area (Long Island) where I grew up. But on the other hand, SUNY is the largest system of higher education in the United States, New York is one of the most populous states, and Long Island has over 7 million people. In addition, my high school was relatively small. Given all of this, the odds of me having the child of a former classmate seem pretty remote.

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May 07, 2018

The Most Important Sociological Lessons

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

As a reader of this blog you must have some idea about the major themes that sociologists study. You also know that sociologists write about a lot of topics. If you were asked to identify the most important lessons that one can learn from sociology what would they be? What themes, concepts, theories, perspectives, ways of thinking, or even skills do you think are the most significant?

I recently posed this question to a group of undergraduate sociology students in their final semester of college. I was curious to find out what these students deemed to be the most important lessons they learned from their many years of studying sociology. I engaged the students in a collective brainstorming and writing exercise to see if they could identify and then explain the five most essential principles of their sociology education.

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April 23, 2018

Intersectionality for Beginners

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Intersectionality is one of those terms that we use a lot in sociology but we don’t always do a good job of explaining. I know I’m guilty of this. Sometimes I’ll be talking with students in class or trying to explain something to someone and I may casually use the words intersectional or intersectionality without stopping to define what these terms mean.

Much like the word structure, intersectionality has become one of those common, go-to concepts that we tend to invoke so frequently in sociology we assume everyone knows what we mean by it. It’s both troubling and ironic that we make these assumptions because these concepts are usually crucial to the point we are trying to make; in fact, sometimes these concepts are the point. If the people we are talking with do not understand these terms then they will certainly not understand what we are trying to say.

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April 16, 2018

Community Building and Women’s Activism

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, affordable housing in urban areas, particularly places like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and increasingly Chicago, is scarce and oftentimes inaccessible. Movements for access to housing have mobilized around expanding or implementing rent controls (for instance, in Chicago through the Lift the Ban coalition), while others have focused on training people how to advocate for policies that support equitable access to housing (such as the Resident Access Project or RAP in Washington State). As is the case with RAP, many housing activists aim to increasing residents’ knowledge and skills through leadership development and empowerment.

As scholars of both social movements and organizational studies have noted, some of the most effective leaders provide skill building, work to build self-confidence among followers, create opportunities for personal development, and understand when to move from a leadership to follower position.

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April 09, 2018

Masks and Nods: Distancing and Bids for Acknowledgement


Jonathan WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

The recent news about Amazon Go stores developing technology that eliminates the need for cashiers has renewed concerns over technology’s ability to not only eliminate working class jobs, but also peel away another layer of interpersonal connection. Small interactions can matter, big time.

Cities and shopping are zones of personal contact, places for micro-level exchanges. It got me thinking a lot about all those small interactions that I enjoy. (My friends tease me over how much I like to make small talk with people and it’s somewhat true. I often try simple nonstandard interactional responses like: “How would you like your coffee?” “Black like my heart.”) I love small micro interactions.

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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 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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January 18, 2018

Joining the Conversation: Why Study Theory?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are a student of sociology, one of the first things you learn is about theory. You are probably also required to take an entire course in sociological theory, which is not always students’ favorite course in the major. In our program, many students try and put it off, are told by others that it is “hard” or don’t see why they need it anyway.

When you become a student of sociology—or any other discipline, for that matter—you are joining a conversation already in progress. In the case of sociology, a conversation that has been taking place for more than a century and a half. In order to understand the conversation, and hopefully add to it yourself, it is important to know what everyone has been talking about.

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