8 posts from November 2010

November 25, 2010

Do Cheaters Win in College?

new janis By Janis Prince Inniss

clip_image002As you head into finals, are you planning to cheat? Just enough to pass your class? Or to get an A? Just enough to boost your grade a tad? Should the likelihood—or not—that you will get caught impact whether or not you cheat? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are in the majority, as 61 percent of undergraduate college students admit to cheating.

Academic dishonesty is on my mind because I’ve just read a troubling account in the Chronicle of Higher Education of a “shadow scholar”: someone who makes a living writing papers, theses, and exams for college students and entrance essays for those seeking to enter universities. I’ve long been aware that this service exists and I have worked with at least one person whose ignorance suggested that his doctorate was obtained with the services of such a person, but it was still chilling to read details about this person’s work.

Also in the news is the case of University of Central Florida Professor Richard Quinn. Comparing data between his summer and fall classes, Professor Quinn noticed that the fall class scored about one and a half letter grade higher than his summer class—a first in ten years teaching this capstone business course. Professor Quinn received an anonymous tip that about a third of his 600 students had made use of a test bank (which has answers!).

The professor has been receiving some publicity for his speech to students detailing the violation; he offered amnesty to cheaters who confessed and agreed to take an ethics seminar. In the speech, the professor describes himself as “physically ill” and “absolutely disgusted” by the cheaters. Meantime, his assistants have recreated the midterm—without the aid of test banks—and every student in the course was required to retake it.

Here is an interview of one of the students who says that he thought he was reviewing a study guide, and therefore had no idea that he was cheating.  

Researchers conclude that students cheat because their peers do. As they point out, today’s students face a highly competitive world and try to take every advantage to receive top grades. In this context, recognizing that their peers are cheating and reaping the benefits of good grades without the requisite work, students do not want to be, or feel, that they are at a disadvantage. As earlier researchers in this field pointed out, social learning theory helps us make sense of this: we model our behavior based on what we observe. If “everyone is doing it’, then it’s normal, right?

Universities continue to try to outwit students bent on cheating their way through college. In fact, the same university at which Professor Quinn teaches was the subject of a New York Times article on the high tech ways to colleges are attempting to thwart would-be cheats. Of course, one of the issues that we expect will impact cheating is faculty response to the problem. I received my first clue that faculty do not necessarily respond as they should or could when I was a teaching assistant in graduate school. I discovered that two students had plagiarized large passages of a book in their term papers. The passages were lifted straight out of the assigned readings! I expected that the professor would be as outraged as I was—both at the offense and that the students didn’t even bother to find books they thought we were unfamiliar with from which to copy. As I recall, the university policy was that cheating students would receive an “F” in the course and possibly face other disciplinary proceedings.

So what did the professor do to the culprits? He gave them each a “C” and the case did not go to the university administration. So while clip_image004clip_image006some of us bemoan the lack of student effort to match the demands for a good grade, many faculty and university administration —either directly or indirectly—are complicit in this game. If faculty look away at student cheating—as happened with the professor and the two plagiarists—what message does that send to students? And if department chairs and university administration over-rule faculty who drop the ax on students, what message does that send to students? Like other entities, universities are conscious not to offend their ‘customers’ and many will do anything but upset their students, including condoning cheating.

There are many other relevant issues that are worth their own discussion so keep an eye on the blog for related posts. Meantime, some issues to consider: If and when you cheat in class, who are you cheating? Yourself ? Society? Your parents? Your classmates? Ultimately, are you cheating yourself of an education, and if so what does that mean?

November 22, 2010

Hard Work Has Its Limits

todd_S_2010a By Todd Schoepflin

Americans like to think that hard work always translates to success. In the American social class system, the sky’s the limit, right? If we just work hard enough, we can move right up the class ladder, correct?

I have no doubt that hard work matters a lot but I also believe hard work has its limits. What happens when the economy is lousy and you live in a community where thousands of jobs have been lost? It’s tough to work hard when you can’t find a job.

A recent 60 Minutes segment entitled “Anger in the Land” focuses on the bleak economic situation in Newton, Iowa. If you have twelve minutes to spare, I highly recommend that you watch it in order to see the sociological point that hard work sometimes only gets you so far.

We learn that a Maytag appliance factory that once employed 5,000 people closed in 2007 (many of the jobs went to Mexico). Hit extremely hard by the recession, business in Newton has suffered and layoffs have occurred at a variety of places: an advertising company, furniture sales store, website design business, and telecommunications company. The Chrysler and Chevrolet dealerships have closed, and so have a tractor supply company and jewelry store.

It’s even hard to sell pizzas. A 52-year-old Domino’s franchise owner talks about working an 82 hour week, and it might not be long before he’s eligible to file for food stamps. One family describes their struggle to keep their daughter in college. Several residents indicate they don’t think their children will be able to enjoy the same standard of living as they have. And they don’t think politicians are working on their behalf. Watch people on the verge of tears (and a few men who do shed tears) as they talk about their struggles. Do these seem like people who just need to try harder?

I think a passage from The Sociological Imagination, written by C. Wright Mills and published in 1959, is relevant to understanding the difficulties faced by the Newton community, which has a population of approximately 16,000 people:

When, in a city of 100,000, only one man is unemployed, that is his personal trouble, and for its relief we properly look to the character of the man, his skills, and his immediate opportunities. But when in a nation of 50 million employees, 15 million men are unemployed, that is an issue, and we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of the society, and not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals.

Let’s apply the excerpt to the people in Newton, Iowa: if the economy were thriving and the Maytag appliance factory still employed 5,000 people and was hiring, and only a hundred people in the city were unemployed, we might rightfully question their work ethic and their character. But what really seems to be going on with the people in this community is that the structure of opportunities has collapsed around them. It’s not the people who are at fault, so finger-pointing at the unemployed won’t do. Rather, something is wrong with societal institutions, namely the economy.

For the record, according to a recent Department of Labor report, the unemployment rate in the United States currently is 9.6% with 14.8 million people unemployed. We can safely assume that some of these folks are lazy, but does anyone think most or all of the unemployed are lazy and have character flaws? imageHow many communities are like Newton, Iowa but weren’t profiled on 60 Minutes? My guess is more than most of us think.

In this context I like to think about the Horatio Alger myth. Horatio Alger was a 19th century author who wrote rags to riches stories. Alger’s message was “strive and succeed.” Alger optimistically promoted the view that people raised in poor circumstances could rise up the social class ladder to obtain the  American Dream.

Not a bad message to send, to some extent. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong about inspiring readers to work hard in order to achieve success. But sociologists have to be the realists in the room. We’re sorry to deliver the bad news that hard work only goes so far when there’s an economic recession or when society slowly recovers from one. And so we think it’s a myth that if people just try harder they will automatically find success. How much does work ethic matter when people don’t have job opportunities?

It’s disturbing to think that the American Dream isn’t available to everyone all of the time. It’s frustrating to consider that hard work gets some people nowhere. I’m not suggesting that we start reading books with titles like “Failure is Inevitable” and “Laziness is a Virtue.” And I don’t expect to see an author on Oprah Winfrey’s show promoting a book called “Stop Trying.” Hard work and achievement will probably always be core American values. I just want to acknowledge what I think is a cold economic fact: hard work has its limits.

November 18, 2010

Sociology Majors: Four Years Later

KS_2010a By Karen Sternheimer

If you are contemplating majoring in sociology, you might wonder what people with sociology degrees do after graduation.

The American Sociological Association (ASA) recently published a report based on a study of the class of 2005 four years later. The purpose of the study was to determine what kinds of jobs people got after graduation with a sociology degree, and how they used their skills in the workplace.



As you can see from the above graph, the number of people earning sociology bachelor’s degrees has increased steadily since the mid-1980s, while the number of postgraduate degrees has remained steady.

Most people will go on to do something other than work as a practicing sociologist, but many of the class of 2005 went on to do some form of graduate work. The largest proportion, 18%, earned an advanced degree in social work; 13% earned an advanced degree in sociology; 8% earned a law degree; and another 8% earned a degree in a health-related field. Also popular were advanced degrees in education, psychology, business, and criminology.


For those who enter the job market right after graduation, a large proportion get work in sales, management, administration, and social services. These are jobs that require “people skills,” which sociology majors build on through the study of groups, organizations, and human interactions.


As you can see in the graph above, knowledge of diversity issues was the number-one skill that sociology degree holders report using in their jobs. Working with people as a manager, case worker, teacher, or other kind of professional that involves people (just about anything) requires being able to understand people’s different perspectives. This might make it easier to communicate well with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.


Those of you currently in sociology courses who will soon be looking for a job might be interested to know what concepts from your classes you are likely to use frequently after graduation. And if you are likely to need certain skills, employers might be more inclined to hire you if you let them know you have training in this area. Diversity, teamwork, doing research online, and writing are all skills you are probably going to use regularly on the job. (Another good reason to work hard when you are working on a group project!)

Sociology degree holders say that they seldom used skills from their statistics courses on the job—but that doesn’t mean learning about statistics is unimportant. Statistics classes help us learn to analyze data, which is always a valuable skill. Graduates wished they had more training in networking and grant writing, and would have liked their professors to be more helpful in advising them on possible careers beyond academia.

Overall, sociology graduates reported that they were most satisfied with their ability to help others and make a positive contribution to society in their jobs. Perhaps not surprisingly, they were far more likely to be satisfied with their degree in 2007 than in 2009—when high unemployment rates made it less likely for new college grads to get jobs in their chosen field.

Because so many sociology majors go on to do work that involves working with diverse groups, the report recommends that sociology programs focus even more on “human capital” skills training, or providing real-world examples of working with diverse populations and the challenges this may bring. This includes using group projects in classes when possible, and involving service learning projects that allow students to interact with people in their local communities, not only in the classroom. The report also recommends that universities work to create networks of students, faculty, and alumni to assist students entering the job market.

For those of you about to enter the job market, think about how you might enhance your expertise in working with diverse groups of people, both in your coursework and through volunteering and internships. Also consider how you might translate some of the core issues from your sociology classes into line-item skills for your resume. You have many skills employers will value—it’s just a matter of communicating them clearly.

November 15, 2010

Discovering Sociology and Intimate Strangers

new janis By Janis Prince Inniss

As an undergraduate, I took an Introduction to Sociology class to fulfill a requirement. Although I had an aunt who was a sociologist, I still didn’t know what that sociology meant. The book I remember reading in that class—which I still have wrapped in brown paper for protection—was a compilation of some famous social science essays. The most memorable was “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”. From that book, I also remember reading “Who Owns America? The Same Old Gang” by Maurice Zeitlin, about the concentration of wealth in the U.S. Reading these and other essays, I was fascinated that such interesting material could be part of sociology.

clip_image002I think that it was in my Sociology of the Family class that I was assigned Intimate Strangers: Men and Women Together, written by sociologist and psychotherapist, Lillian Rubin. That book heightened the spark I felt in my Introduction to Sociology class. I became engrossed in reading the book, and the experience was more akin to reading a novel, rather than a book for class. I couldn’t believe how real the descriptions and conversations were! They matched many of my experiences and observations of male/female relationships perfectly. The book also provided the most compelling explanations for the problems encountered in intimate relationships that I had ever read. I found the writing and the insights profound.

Rubin’s thesis is that because males and females are socialized so differently almost from birth, by the time we are adults, our psychological outlook is vastly different, and in many respects, almost opposite. This is largely because women, in most cases, are the primary care-takers of children. Therefore, girls experience the formation of their gender identity and ego boundaries with someone of the same sex.

Imagine my excitement when a chance encounter with my Introduction to Sociology professor led to him saying that he knew Lillian Rubin! I couldn’t believe it. That anyone I was remotely connected to knew the author of this book that had so moved me, was unbelievable. (Although my father was a writer, a connection to this author felt like Professor Levine was saying he knew Michael Jackson or some other world famous celebrity.) And, he said, she would be coming to Queens College to teach soon.

Indeed, Lillian Rubin came to teach at my school and I was had the chance to meet her. I took a class with her and fell further in love with sociology. I don’t remember what grade I got for the essay I wrote in her class, but she returned it, heavily edited with suggestions and corrections. I’ll never forget that Dr. Rubin offered to review a revised version of that paper too. As she was a visiting professor, she gave me her home address and that began a relationship that continues to this day.

Reading Intimate Strangers just as I was grappling with such relationships myself made for an impactful experience, personally and professionally. Not only did the book provide me with important insights, but the research methodology it uses is one that continues to appeal to me. Rubin’s work—in Intimate Strangers and other studies, particularly Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-Class Family – is considered exemplary of qualitative research. These works have all been very influential in my practice of sociology, that is, in the ways that I conduct sociological research. Like others, Intimate Strangers showcased Rubin’s ability to elicit profoundly personal tales from people, partly because of her skills as a psychotherapist. She was also skilled at analyzing data, and presenting it all in a clip_image003most engaging manner. (It is noteworthy that Rubin is among the bestselling authors of sociology books.) Each of those are skills that drew me to becoming a sociologist—a particular kind of sociologist. I am a sociologist who tends to be interested in questions best answered by “thick description” (or a scoop of ice-cream). The research seminar I took with Dr. Rubin gave me the opportunity to learn from a master about qualitative methodology, and I built on those skills in graduate school and subsequent research.

Reading Intimate Strangers and then meeting the author provided me with clarity about who I could be professionally. I was already a psychology major, so I identified with the therapist career that Dr. Rubin was also pursuing. Until then, I didn’t have a clear sense of how my clinical interests could be paired with and even enhance my sociological interests. Before reading Intimate Strangers, although I was excited about the discipline of sociology, I didn’t know on what areas in the field I wanted to focus; marriage and family issues continue to drive my professional interest today. And I had given little thought to questions of research methodology. This experience continues to shape my professional identity and path; I wish you a journey that is at least as exciting.

November 11, 2010

Dancing with Gender Norms

SR_20081011_100p By Sally Raskoff

Have you watched any of the Dancing with the Stars television shows? Or So You Think You Can Dance? Or any of the other dance reality competition shows? We’ve been enjoying them in my household for many reasons. My main source of joy rests with the shows’ reflections of our culture’s definitions of gender.

Gender norms include standards of behaviors and appearance that feed the traits we expect from each gender. Masculine men are supposed to be powerful and in charge while feminine women are supportive (of men) and passive yet sexy. Men are free to be sexually explorative while women are to both protect their sexuality (virginal) and perform sexually for their male partner(s). Men hold the power in society thus they are expected to strictly conform to these norms while women, who have less power, may be more free to vary or improvise their realities albeit within limits.


Let’s focus on Dancing with the Stars. On that show, the three-person panel of judges and the two hosts walk us through the competition in which celebrities are paired with professional dancers. Each season, the celebrities reflect a range of ages, ethnicities, entertainment industry niches, and start out with equal numbers of men and women. For example, there is typically an older person, a younger person, one or two in their 40s or 50s, with the rest in their 20s and 30s. Their professions range from musicians and singers to reality show characters, actors, and athletes. The competition consists of learning and performing new dances and gaining votes from the judges and viewers. Each week the couple with the lowest votes leaves the show.

Sociologically, the show is fascinating! From the judge’s scoring and comments to the way that the celebrities leave the program, it is a microcosm of our society’s culture.

From my observations over the past eleven seasons (yes, I’ve watched them all), the contestants who conform to traditional societal definitions of gender stay the longest and get the highest scores from the judges. While the judges are sometimes careful in their criticism of those who present less conformist images of their gender, they are clearly harsher with their judgment of their performances.

For example, if a woman doesn’t have an hourglass figure (hips and bust larger than the smaller waist) or a man doesn’t have the expected inverted triangle body shape (shoulders larger than the slimmer waist and hips), they do not often make it into the finals. They may also be more deeply criticized for lacking the correct ”form” of the dance since their body appearance defies expectations of what professional dancers typically look like.

The clothing reinforces traditional gender norms, as the women’s bodies are exposed while the men are fully clothed in suits. When the women wear costumes that are more revealing than usual, the male host or judges make comments, often growling or purring in approval. When the men dare show their chest, as some do to get viewers’ attention, the judges do not always approve. Len Goodman, head judge, often shows his dismay at such displays although he is the first to appreciate the scanty attire on the women.

The professional dancers all conform to the female hourglass and the male inverted triangle shapes. The men are much larger than the women and while the women are smaller, they are by no means less athletic. However, the women are lauded for their grace and elegance while the men for their power.
It isn’t mentioned or doesn’t seem to occur to many that the women are just as powerful in their body expression and are just as athletic as the men.

Sometimes the power of the women is demonstrated in the dance numbers in which they take on a dominatrix role (and dress the part in black leather) to subdue the men but, of course, that is embedded in a context of sexuality and sometimes ends with the tables turned and the man overpowering the woman. In episode 11 of season 11, Jennifer Grey (an actress) was chastised for being out of control and showing too much power while Rick Fox (an athlete) was complimented for showing a lot of power.

All the couples have been heterosexual pairings, and thus the show conforms to a heterosexual normative structure. When they do group dance routines, the couples may stay intact or the genders dance together but typically in relation to the other group.

The one show that I’ve seen vary from the heterosexual norm – sort of – is the latest seasons of So You Think You Can Dance. They have had some same-sex pairings do some types of contemporary or Broadway dance yet no ballroom dances. In the bloopers or failed auditions shown for comic relief they have shown dancers who have auditioned as same-sex couples doing more traditional couple dances. It is to their credit that they did include these on the air yet they often frame them as either comical or grossly incompetent.

While the competition is about an appreciation of the fun and difficulty of dance, the scoring seems tied to issues of body control, “musicality” or artistic movement, sex, and gender. If you watch who is eliminated and when, those without any body control are the first to go. I will not soon forget Master P in Season Two especially since it seems that he didn’t appear to want to dance at all.

It’s interesting to compare the bodies of the women who are professional dancers with those of the actresses who are contestants; the lack of stamina on the part of the actresses seems to suggest that physical strength and proper nutrition aren’t as valued in their profession as an extremely thin body is. Practices in one industry (low body weight in acting) may not foster success in a different albeit related industry (the athletics of dancing).

After weeks of dancing, some contestants undergo a physical change much akin to weight loss reality shows .. Some of these contestants lose some of their individuality as they gain these new dancing skills. One of the celebrities who experienced a personal transformation even came close to winning the competition: Joey Fatone who placed second in Season Four.

I’ve focused on gender, but social class and some other dimensions of our society come through loud and clear on these dancing shows. How does Dancing with the Stars reflect these and other sociological issues?

November 08, 2010

Crossword Puzzles and the Null Hypothesis

KS_2010a By Karen Sternheimer

Most Sundays I enjoy working on the crossword puzzle in my local newspaper. I typically fill it in with a pen since pencil can be hard to read on newspaper. Of course it can get messy as I make mistakes and have to write over them in ink.

Years ago, I had a job answering phones and could do the puzzles when the phones were quiet. A co-worker walking by joked that I must think I’m always right since I was using a pen on the puzzle. clip_image002

I occasionally think of that comment all these years later. We academics can sometimes come off as though we are always right, although most of us know we are not. We even have a basic concept reminding us of this, called the null hypothesis.

If you have taken a statistics class, you’ve probably heard this term. Basically, the null hypothesis means that when we are testing any hypothesis we have to first consider the possibility that we are wrong.

Let’s say we hypothesize that there is a relationship between exam scores and hours spent studying; those who spend more time studying will have higher scores. We can conduct a simple survey asking about hours spent studying and compare this measure with the exam scores to test our hypothesis. Seems reasonable, right?

Technically, this is our alternative hypothesis. Although it sounds strange to call our research hypothesis the “alternative,” the use of this word reminds us that we must be open to being wrong. The null hypothesis is basically the opposite of our alternative hypothesis; in this case, the null hypothesis would be that there is no relationship between hours spent studying and higher test scores.

This is painful for instructors to consider—we want students to study! But we still have to admit that we might be wrong. We can word the null hypothesis in a variety of ways, so long as it represents a “nullification” of our research hypothesis. We might even offer a null hypothesis that students who spend less time studying will have higher test scores—even if this seems unlikely. Critically evaluating our hypotheses is a central part of the scientific method.

There is even a formal way to present and discuss the alternative hypothesis and null hypothesis. The alternative hypothesis (again, in this case that more time spent studying is related to higher test scores), is denoted by H1, while the null hypothesis is denoted by H0:

H0: More hours studying are not related to higher test scores

H1: More hours studying are related to higher test scores

Imagine that we have conducted a random sample of sufficient size to conduct a statistical test. In this case, we might choose to conduct correlation analysis, which tests for relationships between our two variables, hours studying and exam scores (note that correlation can not asses causation; we would need to conduct an experiment with a control group and an experimental group to do that).

Each statistical test uses slightly different mathematical measures—these are beyond the scope of this post—but they all enable us to test for statistical significance. This means that our findings are unlikely to be the result of chance, but instead indicate that a relationship between our variables exists.

Now back to the null hypothesis. If we conduct our statistical test and the measure is statistically significant, we typically can reject the null hypothesis in favor of the alternative hypothesis. If our findings were not statistically significant, we would fail to reject the null hypothesis.

Notice that either way we frame our results using the null hypothesis; the possibility that we are wrong remains front and center. And of course the result of one study doesn’t necessarily mean that something is proven true in all situations. We have to keep returning to the null hypothesis as we continue studying social phenomena.

Researchers might not like being wrong, but sometimes they are. Sometimes we have trouble admitting this. The null hypothesis is a constant reminder that we must be humble about our findings. Even when we write them in ink, we have to be ready for rewrites.

November 04, 2010

Family Rules: What Is a Family?

new janis By Janis Prince Innis

When I learn of friends and families who have decided to live together, I wonder about the legal implications—especially when the couple decides to buy a home or share some other large financial undertaking. In fact, when I hear of some couples getting married, I often think about the legal implications of those unions. Does she really want to be legally bound to that guy? Is he sure about legally joining with such a woman?

The romantic notion of marriage is that it is a union between a man and woman (or, if you’re more liberal, this definition could include two people of the same sex). Have you ever been married or even involved in a long-term serious relationship? If so, then you know that these relationships are not ever just between two people!


I’m sure you’ve heard things like: I don’t care what his mother thinks because I’m not marrying her! Really? Marriage and similar relationships are not only legal institutions but also social institutions that define who our family is. And trust me, your family of origin (the one into which you were born) has a lot to say and do with your family of (pro)creation (the one you create through marrying and having children).

At a basic level, think about the quality and nature of family relationships if your in-laws hate you! Imagine the friction this could cause between you and your spouse and between your spouse and his or her parents. Want to bet that this will interfere with the spousal relationship? And if children are born into this fractured situation, how do you imagine all of this might play out? Yes, it will lead to another area of battle: “Your mother hates me! Why would I let her watch the baby?”

The truth is that although we like to think about our romantic lives as just ours, they exist in a much wider context. Wearing my family therapist hat, I could discuss the many ways that your past influences your mate selection. But thinking as sociologist, I know the familyour most basic unit of societyis important too.

I had never heard of the Sister Wives until I saw it showcased on The Oprah Winfrey Show, but it illustrates some important issues about family formations in this society. The show is about a polygamous family (one in which three or more people are married). Actually, it features a polygynous family—one man with more than one wife; this is the most common form of polygamy. How come? Why is polyandry—one woman married to at least two men—not at least as common as polygyny? How come fundamentalist Mormons practice polygyny, but not polyandry? Do you think that in a society of single women outnumbering single men, these double standards are a surprise?

In a society in which we have double standards about sexual mores and behaviors that constrain female sexuality, polyandry would be an even bigger stretch than polygyny. (In fact, the husband in the show referred to the idea of his first wife being in a polyandrous relationship as “vulgar.”) This is an example of how much more prescriptive we can be about the numbers of sexual partners women have than men.

During the show, one of the “Sister Wives” asked a question worth considering: Given that all of the women entered into this relationship freely, why can’t they be left alone? (I think the comment was made in the context of the husband facing felony charges for bigamy.) Good question: Why can’t society leave people to form families as they like? Or do you think you’re free to stay single, mingle as you want to, or marry whomever you choose? Surebut there are a few guidelines:

1. Be single if you want to, but you’ll miss out on the tax and other incentives that married couples enjoy.

2. If you’re cohabiting, be glad you didn’t live in a time when it was illegal to do so, as you would not have been able to rent a place together. And if you live in Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, or Virginia, be careful as these five states still have anti-cohabitation laws on the books! According to a legal expert I consulted, these laws have not been enforced in years and are thought to have been made unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), which gave gay couples a constitutional right to be intimate—and therefore, gives heterosexual cohabitants the same right.

3. Your beloved had better be of a different sex (in most states of the United States, anyway) or you can’t marry.

4. You had better only have one beloved, or at least keep your additional loves outside of marriage. We practice monogamyat least ostensibly. (I’m not endorsing extramarital affairs, simply stating the conditions for marriage in this society.)

5. Your beloved had better not be a family member. (Like almost every other society, we insist on rules upholding exogamy: We prohibit marriage and sex between relatives.)

Can you think of other rules to add to this list?

November 01, 2010

Managing Hearts in the Happiest Place on Earth

new sally By Sally Raskoff

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild has published many great books, but The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling remains one of my favorites. In it, she recounts the work of flight attendants and bill collectors (among others) and how they must manage their emotions to effectively do their jobs. Her work set the foundation of the study of emotional labor that has helped us better understand the pressures and demands of service work.

Emotional labor includes actually feeling those emotions, not just ”performing” them. The “feeling rules” are actual norms that guide us to the feeling appropriate for the settings in which we find ourselves.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times recounts the Disney organization’s latest workplace issue involving workplace attire and religious inclusion. Workers are “cast members” and work clothes are “costumes.” Every costume is tied to the workplace locale in the park and the job, thus those who interact with the public don’t just wear the same costume, (costumes differ for the Tomorrowland Star Tours, Fantasyland’s Village Haus Restaurant, or Adventureland Enchanted Tiki Room). Even those who work in contracted work outside the parks are required to wear costumes. image

Disneyland is called “The Happiest Place on Earth,” and maintaining this atmosphere requires significant emotional labor of its employees. Cast members must greet park visitors and maintain the illusion of satisfaction so as to create it. If one attends Disneyland on one’s birthday, one gets a large button to wear. Cast members must greet the birthday person by name (as written on the button) and say Happy Birthday.

A friend and I recently visited Disneyland and my friend wore her birthday button for most of our visit. We both had memories of attending the park when we were younger and saw the workers, er, cast members keeping their emotional labor constant and appropriate. Perhaps as children (and not yet sociologists), we don’t notice when people don’t conform to the norms of their job.

During this recent visit, we both noticed that many workers did not seem to be happy to be working at the Happiest Place on Earth. Indeed, in one workplace, we noticed two cast members taking a break and complaining within earshot about their work frustrations.

These workers were failing at their emotional labor since they were not following the feeling rules set up by their employer. Cast members are supposed to genuinely feel proud to work at the park and ensure that all guests feel just as happy to be there.

Is failing at following the ”feeling rules” better or worse than what happens when one does follow them? If one does adopt the feeling rules of one’s workplace, one can become alienated from one’s own real feelings. Sociologist Erving Goffman might suggest that the back stage behavior (away from the clients, guests, or customers) is a place to alleviate any potential alienation since one is free in that space to vent or complain about the front stage situations. However, Hochschild might point out that when emotional labor is done well, there is no break from the “performance” and one actually does feel the emotions that one has to adopt.

Actors who are good at their craft do indeed feel the emotions of the characters they are playing. However, they are playing those roles in a particular place and time. Flight attendants and Disney cast members are expected to feel the appropriate emotions at work and often take these emotions home with them as well.

What “feeling rules” guide you in the various locations you find yourself?

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Norton Sociology Books

The Real World

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Terrible Magnificent Sociology

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You May Ask Yourself

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Essentials of Sociology

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Introduction to Sociology

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The Art and Science of Social Research

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The Family

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The Everyday Sociology Reader

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Race in America

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