144 posts categorized "Theory"

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 06, 2014

Sociological Advice for Graduates

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

"Social theory is a basic survival skill.”

This quote comes from the first sentence of Charles Lemert’s book, Social Theory: The Multicultural, Global, and Classic Readings. My guess is that in the thousands of commencement speeches that are given at this time of year, few, if any, invoke sociological theory as a guiding light for recent grads. Nevertheless, Lemert is correct: sociological theory does provide sound advice for those about to embark on the next chapter of their lives. Here, then, are four sociologically-inspired guiding principles to pass along to your favorite graduates:

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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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April 28, 2014

Are College Athletes the New Proletariat?

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

 A spectre is haunting [college sports]—the spectre of Unionization. All the powers of [college sports] have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: [Chancellors and College Presidents, NCAA and Corporate Sponsors, Governors and State Legislatures].

On March 26, 2014, Peter Ohr, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that scholarship football players at Northwestern University should  be considered employees of the college. Ohr’s ruling was based on the fact that players devote up to 50 hours a week on team-related activities (which, he noted, is “more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs [and] it is also many more hours than the players spend on their studies”), that coaches have tremendous control over these athletes, and that the university makes a huge profit ($235 million between 2003—2009) from the hard work of the players. As a result of this ruling, football players at Northwestern University voted on April 25, 2014 to decide whether to unionize. Although the results of the vote will not be known for months, the effects have already been felt in the world of college sports. 

In The Communist Manifesto (the first sentence of which I paraphrased at the beginning of this post), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels made the famous distinction between the bourgeois and the proletariats. In very simple terms, the bourgeois are the owners, the ones who run the business. The proletariats are the workers, the ones who make the products that bring profits to the bourgeois.

Ohr’s ruling makes a strong case that college football players at Division I schools such as Northwestern are part of the proletariat. Through the work that these athletes produce, the top Division I universities make an enormous profit from ticket revenues, television contracts, merchandise sales, and other licensing agreements. Even the major governing body of college sports, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), profits handsomely from these players with its yearly revenues approaching $1 billion.

Despite erroneous media reports to the contrary, the players are not even asking to be paid like salaried employees. According to Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player who is the head of the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA),the organization that submitted the petition to the NLRB on behalf of the Northwestern players, the college athletes are asking for the opportunity to engage in collective bargaining so that they can advocate for the following reforms and safeguards:

  • Guaranteed coverage for sports-related medical expenses for current and former players.
  • Minimizing the risk of sports-related traumatic brain injury.  Reduce contact in practices like the NFL and Pop Warner have done, place independent concussion experts on the sidelines, and establish uniform return-to-play protocols.
  • Improving graduation rates.  Establish an educational trust fund to help former players complete their degree and reward those who graduate on time.
  • Consistent with evolving NCAA regulations or future legal mandates, increasing athletic scholarships and allowing players to receive compensation for commercial sponsorships.
  • Securing due process rights.  Players should not be punished simply because they are accused of a rule violation, and any punishments levied should be consistent across campuses.

Peter Ohr’s ruling has garnered a whole array of responses. It’s been called well-reasoned and significant, unexpected and momentous, stunning and revolutionary, and landmark and historic. Not surprisingly, it has also resulted in both cheers and jeers. Some haill it as “major victory for the college athlete labor movement” and others claim it to be “a disaster for universities, for college sports fans and, most important, for student athletes themselves.”

Those who are most vehemently opposed to this ruling are the NCAA and Northwestern University. Mark Emmert, president of the NCAAA, has been on a campaign portending doom and gloom should this ruling stand and the players decide to unionize. Similarly, the Northwestern University football coach, Pat Fitzgerald, has urged his players to vote no. These sentiments are to be expected from the gatekeepers of the NCAA. Despite having a surplus for each of the past three years in excess of $60 million, as well as net assets of more than $627 million (nearly double that amount from 2007), this ruling as well as a number of other legal threats, has the NCAA worried about its free-flowing profits.

If Marx and Engels were alive today, they would not be surprised that Emmert and company defend the profit-making machine of the NCAA. After all, in The Communist Manifesto they critique the bourgeois for defending the status quo and working to protect the interests of the capitalist class. The bourgeois would never willingly give up its power or profits; however, as Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward demonstrated in Regulating the Poor, those in power may offer the impoverished some relief as way to avert unrest and dissent. I doubt that Mark Emmert has read this classic sociological book, but it makes me wonder given the NCAA’s recent proposal to allow schools to give their athletes unlimited food and snacks.

The case of college athletes unionizing is not only an issue of worker’s rights. This case has the potential to expose many other underlying and inexcusable problems with college sports such as the graduation gap between black and white athletes, the ongoing gender inequality in college sports, the skyrocketing salaries of coaches (many of whom are the highest paid public employees in their state), as well as a host of other “shameful” issues.

This dismal state of affairs calls out for action by college athletes so let me again turn to The Communist Manifesto (this time the very last paragraph of the text) for inspiration:

The [College Athletes] disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forceful eradication of these deplorable conditions. Let the [NCAA and Universities] tremble at a [College Athletes] Revolution. The [College Athletes] have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

[COLLEGE ATHLETES OF ALL COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES], UNITE!

 

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.

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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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