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January 13, 2022

The Sociology of Luck   

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin      

“Even the losers get lucky sometimes,” sang Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “You got lucky babe, when I found you,” they sing in another. Paul McCartney and Wings have a song titled “With a Little Luck.” Social Distortion has a song called “Bad Luck.” Daft Punk has a song “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell Williams. The expression “lucky as sin” appears in the song “Young Man’s Game” by Fleet Foxes. In “Superstition,” the legend Stevie Wonder sings about broken glass and bad luck as he warns us not to believe in things we don’t understand. 

We say good luck to each other in everyday life. We have expressions like “Better to be lucky than good” and “See a penny pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck.” To explain the misfortune of a loved one, we sympathetically remark: “If it wasn’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.” We might explain our favorite team losing a game because “that’s the way the ball bounces,” suggesting it was a matter of bad luck, or that the opposing team won because they caught a lucky break. Luck means something to us.

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January 03, 2022

Civil Inattention: Behind the Mask in the COVID Era

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

The pandemic has clearly impacted the way people interact in public. First, we often wear masks, a practice very unusual in the U.S. before 2020. We might give people a wide berth when encountering them on public sidewalks, walking in the street sometimes to avoid passing too closely. (The chorus of The Police’s 1980 hit song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” has a whole new meaning now.)

And sometimes, we just ignore each other.

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December 22, 2021

Rituals, Rites, and Habits

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

What distinguishes a ritual from a habit? This is a question that I return to at the end of each calendar year as many seasonal traditions play out privately and publicly. How is a ritual more than just a shared habit?

If a habit is an individual behavior that results in some sort of reward, a ritual is a shared pattern of behaviors; we might think of habits as residing within the realm of psychology and rituals within sociology. Both habits and rituals can be meaningful to those who perform them and bring a range of rewards, or they might be automatic and something we don’t give much thought to either way.

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December 13, 2021

Maintaining Order

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I like a certain amount of orderliness in my life. I make lists and have rather predictable patterns when it comes to what I eat and how I spend my time at work as well as my leisure time. As I blogged about two years ago, I strive to be a minimalist. Order makes me feel a semblance of control and relief.

Perhaps this is part of the reason I am interested in a core aspect of sociology: how groups large and small seek to maintain order. Whether it is challenging the current social order on a grand scale or how rules are created within small groups and organizations, the quest to achieve order is woven through many areas of study within sociology. Emile Durkheim wrote quite a bit on this topic, noting that interdependence, or solidarity were central to maintaining stability.

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December 07, 2021

Who Do You Want to Learn About?

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the most basic question any social science researcher needs to consider is who we want to learn more about.

How about everyone? In most cases, that’s not practical. The U.S. Census, which by law must count everyone, is not really able to do that. With each decennial census, there is an undercount, or a shortfall in the ability to count every resident. A recent report from the Urban Institute predicted a .5 percent undercount of the total population (for more information, see the Population Resource Bureau’s (PRB) explanation of how undercounts and overcounts are calculated).

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November 29, 2021

Hookup Culture

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

Going to college is something that many U.S. teenagers strive for. Often advertised as the “best four years of your life” by college-educated family and friends, a college degree can bring a multitude of social and economic benefits to students. In spite of rising costs of tuition and the potential burden of student loans, research consistently shows that completing a college degree leads to higher income, better health, and improved overall wellbeing. Considering such desirable benefits, many still see the financial costs of college as worthwhile.

However, there may also be social, physical, and psychological costs associated with going to college. Recently, the public has begun paying more attention to various social issues plaguing college campuses, such as binge drinking, hazing, racism, and class bias. Drinking in college, which many students see as an integral part of the “college experience,” is estimated to be related to over 1,500 yearly deaths caused by unintentional injury among college students aged 18 to 24.

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November 22, 2021

Commodities, Neoliberalism, and the Economy of Imprisonment

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos  

Under capitalism, we are surrounded by products that promise to improve or fulfill our lives in some way. Whether it’s beauty products, nutritional supplements, clothing, or even technology, the advertisements we are exposed to tell us that we need to keep consuming products in order to be the best versions of ourselves. Consumerism, or society’s incessant preoccupation with purchasing consumer goods, has seeped into just about every corner of our lives. Even holidays – our cultural traditions that are about celebration and togetherness – have become multi-billion-dollar industries, with consumption (like buying gifts or decorations) now being a condition for participation. After all, it is impossible to celebrate Halloween without at least buying a pumpkin!

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