140 posts categorized "Theory"

April 24, 2014

The Sociology of “Zombie Ants”

Shawn photo2By Shawn Van Valkenburgh

Sociology PhD student, UC Santa Barbara

When Oscar Wilde wrote that “Life imitates Art,” he was playfully subverting  conventional wisdom about nature that dates back to at least the time of Aristotle, and continues to shape our unstated assumptions about the world.  We usually think about art as a human meditation about a “real world” that is separate from people.

This has its corollary in our epistemology, or the way that we come up with knowledge about the world. As members of a scientific culture, we tend to think of epistemology as a process of going out into that real world and discovering objective facts about nature. In this narrative, only bad scientists pollute their science with personal biases and politics. This is a story that says if we are diligent enough, we can discover what the world looks like when human subjectivity and error are filtered out of our perception, that we can find a “truth” which transcends the unique characteristics of our particular culture.

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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.

Continue reading "Social Media: Windows, Mirrors and Bubbles" »

February 19, 2014

C. Wright Mills, Public Sociologist

Screen shot 2014-02-05 at 1.32.27 PMBy Arlene Stein

Professor of Sociology, Rutgers University, and co-editor of Contexts

While there are certainly aspects of our lives which are unique to us as individuals, so much of what we experience— the ways we eat, we think, we live— are products of how and where we are situated. Society, in other words, makes up people. 

At the same time, we also act upon the world--we make history. We do so by raising children and teaching them, to the best of our abilities, to be good citizens; by participating in the world of work and being a part of different organizations, by developing relationships with coworkers, subcultures, and at times, by joining social movements. 

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February 10, 2014

Parsons, Seeger, and Marx

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Pete Seeger, one of many well-known sociology majors, passed away in January 2014 at the age of 94. His education in sociology reflects a specific time and place in history and his life experiences and impact on society reflect changes within sociology itself.

Seeger was a folk singer and activist, best known for songs like "If I Had a Hammer" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" As is widely reported, he went to Harvard in 1936 to major in sociology to prepare for a career in journalism. Two years into the program, he dropped out (or, after failing an exam or failing to take an exam, he lost his scholarship).

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January 30, 2014

How to Get the Most of Your Semester

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Are you getting ready for a new semester or has one already started? In either case, here are some suggestions to have an enjoyable and productive semester.

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October 11, 2013

Linguistic Relativity and “New” Ideas

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

I recently heard a lovely eight-minute talk by Albert Einstein about “The Common Language of Science” recorded in 1941.

Einstein spoke about how words, impressions, language and thinking, concepts, statements, and sensory data are all intertwined although not identical. I thought of many things we teach in sociology, including the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also known as the linguistic relativity principle.

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September 12, 2013

When Men Get All the Credit: Gender and the Construction of Knowledge

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

There is a common theme that often plays out in television sitcoms and movies that goes something like this: A wife and husband are trying to accomplish a task—maybe trying to put something together or convey a life-lesson to their children. The husband takes first crack at the task and fails miserably. Next, the wife tries and is eventually or even immediately successful. Despite her prowess in accomplishing the task the husband finds a way to butt in and somehow take all of the credit. The woman often gives a knowing look to her husband (or the audience) and laughs it off (along with the audience) as typical male behavior.

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September 09, 2013

Ritual and Renewal

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

At the start of the fall semester, my university held a convocation to formally welcome incoming freshmen and transfer students to the student body. Students wore ceremonial gowns, and faculty wore the decorative gowns of their alma maters. Parents of incoming students looked on with pride, and applauded loudly when their student’s dean formally “presented” them to the university president.

Although most students I observed seemed less than excited to be at the early morning ceremony, rituals have a purpose.  That’s why we have so many.

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August 12, 2013

Sacred Lines and Symbols: A Journey Through Japan

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

One of the first things I noticed when walking around Shinagawa-ku, an area in Tokyo, were these folded paper ornaments outside of many homes and businesses. They looked like this:

Jw 1

I later learned that these paper streamers, called shide, were hung in preparation for a Shinto festival. A piece of paper might not be a particularly religious object and yet, folded in this fashion, it became a significant symbol to believers. 

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July 29, 2013

Responses to George Zimmerman’s Acquittal: Crowds and Riots, Uprisings and Protests

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

There has been a lot of collective action around the country after the George Zimmerman murder trial verdict. Protests about his not being found guilty of murder or manslaughter of Trayvon Martin, protests about the legal issues in court trials, protests about the “Stand Your Ground” laws.

I am reminded of what happened after the 1992 trial verdict regarding Rodney King’s beating by police officers. The days following that verdict started similarly with public protests about how those officers were found not guilty, yet much is different.

The 1992 uprising (or riots) happened primarily in Los Angeles, where the event and trial took place but other cites across the nation also had gatherings that erupted into violence and destruction. In 2013, the event and trial were in Florida but gatherings have taken place across the country.

Continue reading "Responses to George Zimmerman’s Acquittal: Crowds and Riots, Uprisings and Protests" »

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