10 posts from April 2012

April 30, 2012

Notes and Images from Las Vegas

clip_image001By Janis Prince Inniss

Las Vegas—or at least “The Strip”—reminds me of a movie studio. A massive one. There is so much fakery there. This is not a criticism necessarily, simply an observation. Who thought of creating monumental replicas of some of the world’s most recognizable landmarks in Las Vegas? And why? There is New York in Las Vegas. There is Paris in Las Vegas. Egypt in Las Vegas. Is that Chicago too? I saw a building with the Coca Cola bottle with the glass elevator, right next door to a Coca Cola store and that looks like the World of Coca-Cola I saw in Atlanta years ago.

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April 26, 2012

Cram. Memorize. Regurgitate. Forget.

Peter_Kaufman_Bio_PicBy Peter Kaufman

clip_image002If you are or have ever been a student, then the title of this post probably needs no explanation. You should know exactly the process I am referring to. You probably also know why I am writing this post at this particular time of year. After all, this is the season to cram, memorize, regurgitate and forget.

As another school year comes to a close, students all across the country and at all educational levels are spending many of their waking hours engaged in a similar ritual: Shoving large amounts of material into their brains with the hope that they will retain it all just long enough so that they can spit everything back on a final exam. Once this act of expulsion is complete, the information is banished from their heads and they will probably never think of it again.

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April 23, 2012

Collective Memories

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Memories seem like one of the most personal aspects of who we are. What we remember, what triggers memories, and how we remember things help define our identities. But memories are more than just personal. They can be something we share collectively too.

Sociologists who study collective memory focus on how groups share information about the past and construct meanings about the past together. This can be done through the creation of monuments and storytelling, which serves not only to remind members of events but also defines the group in the process.

The recent centennial anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking brought this issue to mind. While many ships sank over the centuries, and many passengers were killed, the Titanic has taken on a role in our collective memory for a number of reasons. The Titanic story continues to lurk in our collective memory because the ship was meant to be unsinkable, a feat of modern technology in the industrial age. That it sunk, and took the lives of people across class lines down with it, serves as a reminder of the limits of conquering nature.

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April 19, 2012

Challenging Gendered Beauty Norms: Ashley Judd's Conversation

imageBy Sally Raskoff

Did you read Ashley Judd’s essay regarding the media attention to her appearance?

It is a rare day that an actor calls attention to the disparities and inequalities in our societal structure. Ms. Judd’s essay is a great example of sociology and social science in action. Her argument has direct connections to feminist theory and uses a sociological perspective.

She describes beautifully how the societal surveillance of women’s appearances and bodies may humiliate women as individuals and also objectifies them at a more macro level of culture and society. Objectifying women encourages them to live their lives focused on their appearance and their relation to men, which reinforces the patriarchal power structure in society. One gender group (women) is made passive and submissive so that the other gender group (men) retains their dominance and power. image

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April 16, 2012

Correlation vs. Causation: Decoding Autism Research

imageBy Sally Raskoff

Recent news reports cite a huge increase in autism rates. Autism, a disorder involving problems with social interaction and communication, is estimated at 1 in 88 children. The rates by gender are 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls, so it’s much more prevalent in boys.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website has a great discussion of these numbers and speculation about increase.

A large part of the reason for this increase may be because autism is more often reported and diagnosed now than it was in the past. The CDC also mentions that older parents, premature births or parental drug use are risk factors. Scientific studies continue to investigate genetic factors and other biological factors.

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April 12, 2012

When is a Social Problem no Longer a Social Problem?

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

If a tree falls and nobody is around to hear it, does it make any noise?

You’ve likely heard this hypothetical question before. Sociologically speaking, we might ask in a similar vein: if a social problem improves dramatically but few people know about these improvements, is it still a social problem?

I started thinking about this in my social problems class recently. Each semester, students are very surprised to learn that rates of teen pregnancy have declined dramatically. In fact, a recent report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute notes that the teen pregnancy rate is now at an all-time low in U.S. history.

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April 09, 2012

Waiting and Social Interaction

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

In our fast-paced society, waiting is not something that people like to do. For people who rely on public transportation, waiting is built into everyday life. But if your daily routine doesn’t involve a lot of waiting, it takes you away from the rhythm of life.

Put in a situation where you have to wait, maybe you don’t mind it for a bit. You might like a few quiet moments to yourself. Maybe you meditate while you wait. Perhaps you get reflective and write a poem. But there’s so much to entertain us while we wait, like listening to music, tweeting, or exploring for a new app. I wonder if anyone truly likes to be alone with their own thoughts for an extended period of time.

Recently, I had an interesting experience with waiting. I waited, and waited, and waited some more at a hospital with my wife on a day when our son had surgery. Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but notice what people were doing while they waited. And it occurred to me that waiting involves a lot of social interaction.

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April 05, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Shooting: Examples of Institutional and Interpersonal Racism?

imageBy Janis Prince Inniss

Racism. That’s a word we have been hearing quite a lot about with regard to the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Just in case you've missed this story, Martin was a 17-year-old African American who was shot and killed on February 26, 2012. With all the relentless news coverage, most us know these basic facts: Martin went to a 7-Eleven store during half-time of the NBA All Star Game. He bought a packet of Skittles and some iced tea and was returning to the home of his father's fiancée in Sanford, Florida when he encountered George Zimmerman.

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April 02, 2012

Framing the Trayvon Martin Case: A Tale of Two Narratives

image By Janis Prince Inniss

There are two distinctly different tales being told to us regarding the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. One narrative is that of an innocent youth who was mild-mannered and caring, who baked cookies for his young cousins. Innocent Trayvon was especially young for 17 years old, looking at the camera in his red Hollister t-shirt (In that picture Martin is apparently 13 or 14 years old.) He was returning home from a trip to 7-Eleven where he bought Skittles and iced tea.

In this narrative, along comes George Zimmerman, a white wannabe cop, who was often suspicious of black males as evidenced by his repeated calls to the police to report them. Zimmerman is so wary of blacks that he refuses to let Innocent Trayvon out of his sight, although he calls in his suspicions to the police. Zimmerman is so racist that even when told by the police not to follow Martin, he does so anyway, even though the dispatcher says that police are on the way. The lone photograph we initially saw of Zimmerman reflects this portrayal: He is unsmiling and unfriendly in a mugshot taken in 2005. (Apparently, this cartoon was meant to capture this narrative, but many found it offensive.)

The second narrative stands diametrically opposed to the first.

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April 01, 2012

Culture (a)Drift

imageBy Sally Raskoff

Some exciting studies have been making the news lately. Human society will be better understood once the data from such studies are analyzed.

clip_image002Based on what we’ve been learning from life lived on the International Space Station, plans are continuing for sending a carefully chosen group of men and women out into space to reproduce. How will the biological and psychological processes work when not on the planet? This study should yield important information.

If we are to send humans out into space for missions to other planets or to establish colonies on the moon or elsewhere, we need to know if humans can reproduce and parent their offspring in such environments. While the Biosphere 2 and similar projects did not have tremendous success in establishing a self-contained sustainable ecosystem and social system, research continues into whether or not we could sustain and generate human life off the planet.

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