186 posts categorized "Theory"

April 10, 2017

Neoliberalism: A Concept Every Sociologist Should Understand

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I have a confession: When I teach sociology I am often guilty of ignoring one of the most important concepts that every sociologist should understand. In fact, one of the main reasons for writing this post is to remind myself that I need to be more attentive to explaining this concept and discussing how it pervades our thoughts and actions. As you can tell from the title of this post, the concept to which I am referring is neoliberalism.

I know I am not the only sociology instructor who is guilty of leaving this important concept out of my curriculum. Over the years, the journal Teaching Sociology has published the results of a number of surveys that explore what topics sociology instructors deem to be most significant. In all of these cases, whether it is a study of the sociological core, of what students should understand after taking introduction to sociology, of which concepts, topics, and skills are most important, or even if there is a foundation of agreed on sociological knowledge, the concept of neoliberalism is usually left off the list.

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March 17, 2017

Love and Sociological Theory

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Earlier this term, I used Larson and Tsitsos’s (2013) “Speed Dating and the Presentation of Self” activity to get students to think about impression management and impression formation. The activity requires that half of the class stay seated, while others are tasked with switching seats/partners every three minutes. During each segment, students talk about anything they want. The activity enables students to practice analysis, participant-observation, and symbolic interactionism.

Partway through the activity, I modified the exercise and, after they switched partners, asked students to stare at the person across from them for one minute before talking. After about 30 seconds of nervous laughter and glances around the room, the students settled into staring. We then proceeded to finish the exercise without additional modifications.

Upon completion, and during our discussion component of the activity, several students mentioned that although staring at another classmate was “weird” and “made them uncomfortable,” it also created a connection between some of the participants. Students said that they felt closer and more trusting of the person they stared at. This trust enabled them to engage in deeper conversation and to feel an instant friendship with their staring partner.

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March 06, 2017

The Uses of Outrage

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

There is a hard-right provocateur who has made a name for himself as being willing to say just about anything to get attention, whom I’ll refer to by his initials: M.Y.. He does his best to poke and jab at convention, offend and even hurt those he disagrees with, all while claiming that what he says is protected as free speech. He attacks the left with particular relish, since being shut down by them reveals a certain hypocrisy, in his mind: the left and universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech, yet, M.Y.’s speech at University of California, Berkeley sparked a riot and his talk was canceled over the ensuing brouhaha. (Here’s a riveting account of the event from a journalist who was traveling with this person and his entourage.)

How can we explain outrage in a sociological way?

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February 14, 2017

Creativity and Sociology

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Are you new to sociology? If you are, you might think ”creativity” and “sociology” are words that don’t go together. In introduction to sociology classes, the texts we read seem to arrive from on high as if tablets of stone from Mt. Sinai. Some of what you read might, indeed, seem to be dry-as-dust. But I would like to convince you that each concept that read about, every theory or idea, is the result of some whimsy, some poetry.

Sociology is a vibrant and lively field, and thinking sociologically requires imagination and inventiveness at every stage: from hypothesizing and theorizing, to writing and teaching. (In reviewing my earlier, ten metaphors blog post, there is absolutely some creativity that is at work in those examples!) Generating new ideas, thinking about things in new and exciting ways is the cornerstone of all scientific work, not just sociology.

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January 19, 2017

When Words Lose Meaning

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

We use a number of expressions with one another that serve as shortcuts. Some are as basic as “hello” and “how are you?” Others are seasonal or situational, like, “Happy New Year,” “have a good weekend,” or “I’m sorry for your loss.” These phrases are like ready-made greeting cards that we employ in social situations, often when we don’t know what else to say. Sometimes, like holiday greetings, they are a way of sending good wishes to people that we may or may not know.

But sometimes these words take on different meanings than the speakers intended, and might be received far differently that we might imagine. Conflicts around saying “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” are one example. A stranger actually answering the “how are you question” is another—we’re not really being asked to disclose personal information, particularly if it is simply meant as a casual greeting.

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December 16, 2016

Donald Trump and the F-Word: The Growing Elephant in the Room

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When most of us think of the F-word the first thing that comes to mind is probably the vulgar term for sex that rhymes with duck. Adding Donald Trump to the mix probably just reinforces this thought because we know that the president-elect has used this expletive in his outbursts and exhortations. However, the F-word that I am referring to here is not the four-letter obscenity but the seven letter description of one of the most frightening political ideologies: Fascism.

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December 02, 2016

Safety Pins and Being an Ally

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

In the week following the 2016 presidential election there have been over 700 cases of hateful harassment and intimidation--more than in the aftermath of 9/11. The debate on college campuses and among people involved in social movements has been heated over how social justice-oriented folks can support people in marginalized communities who feel acutely vulnerable in this moment.

Can you be white and support Black Lives Matter? Can you be cis-gender and straight while also supporting LGBTQ causes? An initial answer is likely “Sure!” although such a response is more probably followed with a “but…”

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November 23, 2016

Meaning Drift: The Season of “Giving”

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Sociology teaches us to think critically about how we ascribe meaning to all aspects of social life, particularly how reality is socially constructed. The holiday season is a great example of how we ascribe meaning to events, and how our actions reinforce and reproduce these meanings.

Take the idea that the end of the year is a season of giving. In reality, this has come to mean a season of shopping and consumption. True, much of what we buy is presumably to give to others, but whether we give away what we buy is secondary to the act of buying itself. (Are you really going to buy that special someone on your list a new refrigerator or washing machine? Probably not, but all sorts of goods are marketed as holiday specials.) Retailers begin holiday-themed advertising in late October, hoping to create excitement for year-end shopping, which has become tied into the meaning of the holiday season.

The practice tells us more about our current economic and social context, where consumer spending accounts for a large proportion of economic growth, than it does about a shared past. Retailers look to “Black Friday” spending as important economic indicators, which the public regularly hears about as a barometer on our national economic health.

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November 18, 2016

The Social Construction of Time

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Did you remember to turn your clocks back a few weeks ago? If you forget (or the devices that you use to track time didn’t automatically reset to the time) you might have found yourself out of sync with others around you.

Time is one of the most basic examples of something that is socially constructed. We collectively create the meaning of time—it has no predetermined meaning until we give it meaning. To say that something, like time, is a social construction is not to say that it doesn’t exist or it is merely an illusion, but instead that humans have created systems of meaning that creates the concept of time.

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October 31, 2016

The Sociology of Calling Other People Stupid

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Accusations of people acting stupidly or being stupid have been common in the news lately. Donald Trump has been called “too stupid” for U. S. voters and his supporters are often accused of stupidity for believing things that are “demonstrably wrong or idiotic.” Hillary Clinton has been called the “stupidest person” for setting up a private e-mail address and using it for work. And Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that if protesters like Colin Kaepernick “want to be stupid” then that’s their decision (she later expressed regret for this comment).

These are just some of the high profile examples of people using the term “stupidity” to evaluate the decisions and actions of others. In the course of our everyday lives, most of us probably hear the words stupid and stupidity multiple times a day. We invoke these terms not only to define people and their actions, but also to describe situations that we find frustrating or annoying: that stupid ATM machine ate my card; this stupid cell-phone battery doesn’t even last a whole day; or our school has the stupidest dress-code policy.

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