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June 27, 2022

Awareness of Social Class

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

I was once asked about when I gained awareness about social class. It struck me as an interesting question. My answer focused on my middle school years when I began meeting people from an affluent part of my hometown.

My childhood was mostly contained to a small radius around my working-class and middle-class neighborhood. When I made new friends in 7th grade, it was easy to observe they lived in bigger homes that were further apart than in my neighborhood, affording people more privacy. A few of my friends in my neighborhood had above-ground pools, whereas new friends had in-ground pools. Yards had wood fences rather than the less expensive chain link fences that I was accustomed to on my street. We learned to jump those chain link fences if we hit a ball into someone else’s property or if we were running through yards when being mischievous. Being around peers with parents who had higher incomes and seeing up close that money flowed more freely for these friends, raised my social class awareness.

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June 20, 2022

What Can Comedy Teach us about Sociology?

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

While preparing for take-off on a recent flight, a man in the row in front of me made a “joke” to his teenaged kids. After an announcement to take your seat and fasten your seatbelts, he said rather loudly, “Yeah, like seatbelts are really going to make a difference in a plane crash!”

He eagerly looked for a positive reaction to his comment. His kids didn’t appear to laugh, and those of us in the surrounding rows seemed to share a moment of nervous discomfort. Isn’t it an unwritten rule that you don’t mention plane crashes—even in jest—on an airplane?

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June 13, 2022

How Do We Make Society Less Polarized?

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

In our increasingly socially and politically polarized society, it ironically seems that the only thing most Americans can agree on is that our society is, indeed, polarized. Journalists, scholars, and the general public alike have noted the vast and growing rift dividing the country into two camps.

Whether it be relating to politics, public health measures, or what children should be taught in schools, the vast majority of Americans believe they don’t share the same values as those on “the other side.” A recent article in The Atlantic even writes of a “red America” and a “blue America” as two different countries; separate nations that are “unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth.”

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June 06, 2022

Urban Barricades and Reconnecting Segregated Communities

Colby King author photoBy Colby King

When I discuss segregation in my classes, a key element I work to cover with students is the idea that the segregation we see today is the result of policies, preferences, and more to the point, choices that people made. This is a consensus view among urban sociologists, and something my co-authors and I explain in the most recent edition of The New Urban Sociology. Segregation does not just happen, but instead is the result of the accumulation of choices, individual and institutional, that have built inequality into the places we live.

In June of 2020, sociologist Patrick Sharkey published this essay in The Atlantic titled “To Avoid Integration, Americans Built Barricades in Urban Space.” In the piece, Sharkey illuminates this critical idea in detail, explaining how racial segregation has been exacerbated by the construction of literal barricades in urban space. These barricades, as he explains, separate neighborhoods, communities, and social groups, and heighten inequality across cities.

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May 23, 2022

More Verstehen: What it’s Like to be a Juvenile Offender Sentenced to LWOP

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the central guiding principles that I follow as a sociologist (and a human) is Max Weber’s notion of verstehen, which is German for understanding. Weber encourages us to apply the tools of sociology to do our best to understand experiences that might be different from our own.

It’s probably safe to presume that most people reading this post have not had the experience of shooting someone in the face at the age of thirteen during a robbery, then being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) at fourteen and spending 26 years in prison; 18 of them in solitary confinement.

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May 16, 2022

What Sociology Students Should Know about “Think Tanks”

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Have you ever heard the term “think tank” and wondered what it meant? It sounds like a locked glass room filled with smart people who just want to ponder life’s questions. That’s not entirely wrong (except, I assume, for the locked part).

A think tank is typically a nonprofit organization that focuses on a particular set of issues to make policy recommendations. They might study issues like inequalities in the job market, racial inequality, foreign policy, technology, and social change. They may be affiliated with a university, an advocacy group, or another organization, but they might also be stand-alone independents. (Here is a list of some of the major think tanks in the U.S.)

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May 09, 2022

“Dream Big!”: Inequality in Dreams of the Future

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Most children and teenagers are asked this question countless of times by well-meaning parents, teachers, and friends. They are often told that anything is possible, and that they can be absolutely anything they want to be.

Some may dream of becoming the next Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, or just some nebulous kind of “celebrity”; others may dream of becoming a doctor, veterinarian, or zookeeper. “Dream big!” is the mantra espoused by many parents who, often aware of the low likelihood of the outcome, nonetheless feel pressure to encourage their children’s dreams. Parenting guides even tell parents to fight the urge to fact-check or reality-check what their children dream of.

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