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August 07, 2019

Sociology and Religion

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I’m not an expert in the sociology of religion, but it is a fascinating area within the study of sociology. Religion is a topic that many other disciplines examine, including anthropology, history, and philosophy. So what is the focus of sociologists who study religion?

Rather than investigating religious doctrines, sociologists study the role that religion plays in social life. We don’t debate the virtues of any one religion, but instead look at how followers make meaning through the texts of their religious traditions. Émile Durkheim, one of the first sociologists, noted that religions distinguish between the sacred from the profane, or the holy from the everyday rituals and practices.

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July 29, 2019

Social Isolation, Living Alone, and Aging

author  photoBy Karen Sternheimer

If you live alone, you do not necessarily experience social isolation. That’s a good thing, because social isolation can have adverse health effects, including cardiovascular disease, depression, and even Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Maybe you don’t live alone and would like to carve out more time to spend by yourself. If you live with family members or roommates, having time alone might be a rare treat. Even if you do live alone, you do not necessarily experience social isolation if you regularly spend time with friends, family, or others. Social engagement could be informal social time or involve participation in organized activities through community groups, religious groups, and so on. Work is another way in which we might be engaged with others regularly.

Social isolation impacts older people more, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. The older we get, the more of our waking hours are likely to be spent alone. People under 40 spend on average 3.5 hours a day alone, compared with 4.75 hours for those in their 40s and 50s. Adults over 60 spend an average of 7 hours alone.

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July 15, 2019

"Are You an Athlete?" The Social Construction of Identity

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

No one had ever asked me if I was an athlete until recently. While checking my vital signs before a routine procedure, a nurse noted my low resting heart rate and asked this question. I didn’t know what to say; I must have had a puzzled look on my face.

“Do you get a lot of cardiovascular exercise?” she clarified. “Oh, yes,” I told her. In fact, fitness is probably what occupies most of my time, after sleeping and working. But I never think of myself as an athlete.

This got me thinking about how identity is constructed in a variety of social contexts. The identity of “athlete” is often related to social institutions, particularly those that have a special designation for this social category. For collegiate athletes, there is a governing body that creates rules and guidelines that schools must follow.

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July 08, 2019

The Intersection between Biography, History, and Health

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We often think about our health as profoundly personal, rooted in individual choices regarding what we eat, how much we exercise, and how well we comply with medical advice. Federal laws protect the privacy of our health information, and many people opt not to share information about their health with anyone but family and close friends (and sometimes not even with them), reinforcing the notion of health as personal.

And yet much of our health status is beyond our personal control, as I wrote about last year. Whether it is access to healthy food options, the time and space to exercise, or the availability of regular medical care, many aspects of our health are tied to public policy decisions and historical changes.

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July 01, 2019

Why Social Science Research Matters

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are a student in one of the social sciences, you most likely have taken a course in research methods. You probably learned a lot about the different ways that social scientists conduct their studies, how they analyze their data, and hopefully some of the ethical considerations that researchers should take.

Many of you might be thinking that once you finish the course, you are done with needing to know about research methods if you are not planning on being a social scientist. But many of the core principles you learn about in your research class are vital to know about as a critical thinker and an active citizen.

Here are the main lessons you should take with you—no matter your desired profession or future educational goals:

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June 24, 2019

Emotional Labor and Leisure

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I recently had the opportunity to attend my nephews’ Little League and soccer games. Since we live in different states and I am seldom in town when they play, this was a treat for all of us.

As is automatic for a sociologist in a new setting, I couldn’t help but make some basic observations about the participants in both games. While I played softball as a child, I have never been an adult onlooker of a child’s sporting event before (hard to believe, I know). In my brief time observing, I found myself observing the parents and coaches as much as the children who were playing.

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June 18, 2019

Canopies and Contact Zones

Jonathan WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Last month, the Speaker of the House for Ohio, a Republican named Larry Householder, was upset by a local library story time hosted by a drag queen. He said, “Taxpayers aren’t interested in seeing their hard earned dollars being used to teach teenage boys how to become drag queens.” But taxpayers should absolutely be interested in the idea that a public space like a library can be places where people who are different from one another can meet and engage with each other. In fact, State Rep. Householder should visit a few places like that.

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg recently published a wonderful book on this very topic, called Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. The idea is as simple an idea as it is profound: societies need public places for people to engage with others in meaningful ways. Parks, libraries, public places of all sorts are where people from different places can come together. This idea has really taken off in the last few months, and I know that librarians are happy to have Klinenberg write in a New York Times op-ed that the effort should start with libraries!

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