Since the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, the nation has been trying to figure out how and why someone would do something so horrific. The bombers’ methods and motives are the domain of law enforcement, trying to figure out first who did it, how, and why.
Sociology can be useful to help us to develop hypotheses about why events take place, particularly those events involving large group. Explaining why any particular individual behaves the way they do is harder to understand, and as I write investigators are working diligently to learn more about the suspects to figure out why they would build bombs and hurt innocent people. So it is too soon to specifically use sociological concepts to understand the suspects.
But we can think sociologically about the public’s reaction to the violence.
“It’s always one damn thing after another.” This was a favorite phrase of my advisor in graduate school. He was referring both to the relatively minor irritations of grad school—getting papers rejected, having data troubles, worrying about qualifying exams—as well as the daily annoyances of life—finding a parking ticket on your car, getting into an argument with a friend, having a long wait at the doctor’s office.
I’ve thought of this phrase quite a bit lately as I followed the tragic events in Boston. It wasn’t so much the bombing at the Boston Marathon that brought these words back to me as much as it was the cumulative effect of recent events: Boston, Sandy Hook, Hurricane Sandy, Aurora, Penn State, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and the list could go on.
and Tara Tober, University of Virgina
Drug-sniffing dogs are becoming more and more ubiquitous. Dogs are often one line of defense against possessing drugs in public. They help law enforcement identify people with drugs in airports, schools, and other public spaces. The use of dogs relies on a collective understanding that carrying drugs in public, even if you are discrete about it, should not be allowed. Various drugs are illegal to use, distribute, and even possess. Yet, we also know that many people do use, distribute, and carry drugs. So, the question becomes, when can people reasonably expect privacy from law enforcement? Or perhaps more appropriately, where?
You are likely familiar with the Steubenville, Ohio case where two teenaged boys were recently convicted of raping a young woman.
There have been some great sociological analyses about it. Sarah Sobieraj wrote an OpEd on the ”digital residue” of the case highlighting how social media drew the story out into the light of day, Evan Stewart wrote at The Society Pages on our male-dominated society, the UK’s Guardian discusses the town’s economic woes, and Lisa Wade wrote about the media’s response to the verdict.
What if I told you that if you thought you were normal, you might just be weird?
Some friends of mine have a ten-year-old, and I pulled a book off their shelf to read it aloud. The title asks, Are You Normal? It’s a fun book, published by National Geographic and by Mark Shulman, intended to educate kids on how their favorite foods and activities compared with other kids’ tastes, activities, and home life. If you like your peanut butter chunky, for example, it means you are only like 25% of the population. If you are an only child, you might not be normal because only one in seven don’t have a brother or sister. And so on.
I often tell students that I hope they leave my classes with more questions than answers. This statement may seem counterintuitive. Our typical model of education is based on the idea that students’ heads should be filled with knowledge such as definitions, dates, and all sorts of data. The idea that students would finish their coursework with more question marks than periods goes against the conventional wisdom of schooling.
By making this statement I am suggesting that if students want to take what they’ve learned in class and extend it into their social worlds then they will need to know how to ask questions. If they are merely satisfied with the knowledge that has been instilled in them then they have probably not been challenged intellectually. More important, or more troubling, leaving a class without any lingering questions is likely to inhibit their ability to be life-long learners.
On January 11, armed assailants entered a Nordstrom Rack store in the Los Angeles area just after closing time. The police were called and surrounded the building, and the assailants held 14 people hostage for about two hours.
Despite the heavy police presence—a SWAT team was at the scene—the assailants escaped. Police later arrested five people, three suspects and two accused as accessories for allegedly aiding the suspects.
This was a shocking event for both the victims and members of the community. The store is located in an upscale shopping area with a state-of-the-art Cineplex and many shops and restaurants in an area with a relatively low crime rate.
Much has been said about the Sandy Hook murders and other mass shootings in the United States. Some blame media or the accessibility of weapons, others cite gender, and others our medical infrastructure or even the killer’s parents.
What makes people do such horrible things? If there were a simple answer or one source of such behavior, we would have figured that out by now and made a simple solution!
Seeking answers is a natural part of healing after a terrible event such as this. However, seeking such answers through speculation can add to our misery since it may lead us to institute solutions that are not really solving the problems.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. You’ve probably heard this saying if you ever played or watched sports. I’ve been thinking of this phrase a lot lately as I follow the rapid downfall of Lance Armstrong. As most people know the seven-time winner of the Tour de France and creator of the Livestrong Foundation was found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career. As a result, he was stripped of his Tour victories, dropped by a number of sponsors such as Nike, compelled to sever all ties with Liverstrong, and even had an honorary degree he received rescinded from Tufts University.
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