180 posts categorized "Theory"

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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October 10, 2016

Debates and Pierre Bourdieu

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

It’s the height of the presidential election and perhaps you are as caught up in it as I am-- to the point of distraction. I’m reading newspapers more than usual, and constantly scan headlines for new bits of news. I’ll watch the talking heads debate. It’s a reasonable guess that you were, like me, one of the record-breaking 84 million people who watched Hillary and Donald debate on September 26th.

It is a good time, however, to take a step back and think about what we are really seeing, and think about how it might relate to the sociological classroom.

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September 22, 2016

Making Your Home Among Strangers

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Welcome back to school, y’all!

For the last few years I have introduced our UMass Amherst Common Read book to our Everyday Sociology blog readers, and I thought I should continue the tradition.

This year’s book is Jennine Capó Crucet’s excellent Make Your Home Among Strangers. (See an interview with the author here.) The novel is written almost as if it were specifically crafted to illustrate the issues that all young students might face, but particularly students of color. I highly recommend it. If your parents are at all curious about what college life is like today, you might want to recommend it to them, too!

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August 02, 2016

Amazon and Efficiency

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

I recently took a tour of an Amazon Fulfillment Center. It took me two hours to drive there, but I got there on time – you cannot take the tour if you are late. The Center is located in a depressed industrial area, and you see many closed businesses until you turn a corner and see many, many long buildings. Other businesses also have distribution centers in this area, thus they weren’t all owned and staffed by Amazon. Yet.

I signed up for the tour a year and a half ago and received via email with a long list of rules. No hair below the shoulders, no purses or bags, close-toed shoes were required, and no kids under 6. Cellphones were okay to have, but we could not take photos once we entered. One could only reserve a maximum of four spaces at that time. Currently, there are no open dates because they are booked for the next year and a half.

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July 19, 2016

Health Institutions as Bureaucracies

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you ever been in the hospital? There’s a good reason sociologists use hospitals as one example of a total institution. One’s experience there can certainly match up nicely with the definition of a total institution.

Sociologist Erving Goffman had a lot to say about total institutions. They are places in which people live and work, cut off from the outside world, and perform routine activities, controlled by the rules of the organization.

We had a baby born into our family recently and I was reminded of the total institution typology when spending time in the hospital. Our family members, the new mom, dad, and their new baby slept in the hospital for a few days following the birth.

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June 13, 2016

Making the Familiar Strange: An Ingredient for Creative Genius

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Creativity is a response to our environment – Eric Weiner

In my introduction to Sociology course, students and I work on developing their sociological imaginations, a sociological process and way of thinking that C. Wright Mills identified in the 1950s. Mills claims that in order to understand social issues, we must situate ourselves within our current historical context, take into consideration our personal history, and make connections between ourselves and larger social issues.. This process works in both directions: history influences us and we in turn influence history.

While we cover a breadth of content in my intro course, the sociological imagination is really the one skill that we focus on developing. We pay particular attention to making the familiar strange (a short video of what this is can be found here). But what does that mean?

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April 12, 2016

Ten Sociological Metaphors and Paradoxes

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

A few years ago, as a graduate student I was talking with an older sociologist who was cranky about how qualitative research was "too cute" in its lyrical presentation of data. I asked further about what that meant to her and she told me that she felt sociology should be "straight science." Upon further prompting she exclaimed, "metaphor has no place in sociology." Flummoxed with the conversation, I blurted, "WHAT ABOUT WEBER'S IRON CAGE!?!"

Metaphor is a rhetorical technique wherein one image stands in place of another. (Metaphor is different from a simile, wherein something is explicitly described as "like" something else.) My impolite response to a senior faculty member wasn't my finest moment. Her position, however, was astonishing because sociology is chockablock with wondrous metaphors and creative paradoxes that serve as conceptual tools for research and heuristic devices.

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