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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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November 15, 2021

Attention in Everyday Life

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

I think about attention a lot. For years, I’ve taught Charles Derber’s The Pursuit of Attention in my Social Psychology course. Derber recognizes that attention is a fundamental human need. It’s normal and healthy to want attention. What’s unhealthy is when too many of us crave attention more and more of the time.

We can look at celebrities as massive attention getters. We can easily name famous people who have soaked up our attention through the years: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Cardi B, Harry Styles, Lil Nas X. On a smaller scale there are influencers who fight for attention on YouTube and Instagram, and people using their talents to catch attention on TiKToK.

Reality television captures our attention in the form of pranks and shenanigans in shows like Jackass or shows that relish in interpersonal conflict and air dirty laundry like The Jerry Springer Show, or ones that showcase rich and glamorous lifestyles like Keeping up with the Kardashians, or ones that highlight relationship problems and dramas such as Catfish and 90 Day Fiancé.

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November 09, 2021

Striketober!

Colby King author photoBy Colby King

Over the past several weeks, we have seen a number of labor actions across the country, including strikes and walk-offs. Some observers have referred to this past month as “Striketober,” with the #striketober hashtag being popularized on social media, including Twitter.

As Catherine Thorbecke of ABC News reported:

A confluence of unique labor market conditions -- including record-high levels of people quitting their jobs and an apparent shortage of workers accepting low-wage jobs -- has contributed to the recent rash of work stoppages, experts say, but they also come after decades of stagnating wages and soaring income inequality in the U.S.

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October 18, 2021

Climate Change, Work and the Economy

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic is that more people are now working from home, some permanently. While the initial purpose of working from home was to avoid the spread of infection, it also may have some environmental benefits too.

At my university, there is a big push towards sustainability and there is now even a Chief Sustainability Officer working with the president. In addition to liquidating fossil fuel investments, the university has been encouraging alternative means of transportation and telecommuting when possible. So far this semester, aside from in-person classes, all of my meetings have been video conferences, and the decision of several people in leadership positions has been to keep this going even after the threat of COVID-19 ends. This has saved me hours of Los Angeles’s infamous traffic.

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October 11, 2021

How to Read a Sociological Journal Article for Beginners

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Most people who aren’t sociologists don’t just stumble upon a scholarly journal article and think, “Hmm, this looks like a fun read!” (Truth be told, many sociologists don’t either.) But there are times when reading journal articles is necessary, like when you are learning from the literature in order to prepare to conduct your own research or are writing a scholarly paper for a class.

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October 04, 2021

I Have Questions about Norms!

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

Each time I mow my lawn, I think about norms. It sounds silly, but the phrase “conventional mowing hours” comes to mind when I’m deciding what time to cut the grass. I’ve lived in my current neighborhood for ten years. I’ve rarely seen anyone mow before 9:00 a.m. I’d be going out of my way to irritate my neighbors if I mowed at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning. We learn through observation and social interaction what’s considered to be socially acceptable behavior. A lot of norms operate as unwritten rules about what we should and shouldn’t do in everyday life.

When you intentionally break social norms, you might generate interesting reactions. Breaching experiments demonstrate the power of social norms, as explained in this post by Bradley Wright. It would be a breaching experiment to cut my lawn using scissors, or to fire up the lawnmower at midnight. If you’ve ever watched Impractical Jokers, you understand what breaching experiments look like.

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September 27, 2021

Pizza and Neighborhood Change

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

There are many unforgettable aspects of my first week as a college student. Number one by far: my first slice of St. Mark’s Pizza, located at the corner of Third Avenue and St. Mark’s Place in lower Manhattan.

Surely you’ve heard about the uniqueness of New York-style pizza: huge slices, thin crust, and in the case of St. Mark’s, lots of cheese. As a student, I would get a slice from St. Mark’s almost once a week. At the time it was relatively cheap—maybe $2?—and so satisfying when money was tight.

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