9 posts from May 2012

May 31, 2012

The Failure of Grades

Peter_Kaufman_Bio_PicBy Peter Kaufman

I recently had to do the one thing that I dislike most about being a college professor: assign final grades. For me, giving out grades is definitely a necessary evil. I find it so frustrating that an entire semester of thinking, learning, exploring, and discussing comes down to assigning a letter or number to students. And yet, I know I must do this to keep my job. To put this in succinct sociological terms, my agency (my capability to act) is constrained by the institutional structure (the rules of the university that I must follow).

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May 28, 2012

Gaming, Gambling, and Labeling

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Years ago I had a friend who worked in the public relations department of a large Las Vegas casino. I noticed that whenever I used the word “gambling” in conversation she would politely correct me. “It’s gaming,” she would say.

Technically, gaming means waging bets are legal, so she was sort of right. But in reality the two words seem to represent very similar activities.

Continue reading "Gaming, Gambling, and Labeling" »

May 24, 2012

Harry's Law, The Girls, and the Media Marketplace

imageBy Sally Raskoff

How well does the entertainment media represent society? With the debut of a new show on HBO Girls and the cancellation of a popular show on NBC Harry’s Lawthere is a lot of discussion about what shows depict and who watches them.

The new show Girls on HBO depicts a foursome of friends, all white, upper or upper-middle class, college educated, and finding their way through their twenties. The show has gotten a lot of attention for its depiction of “hipster racism” and for the writers’ responses to such criticisms.

Continue reading "Harry's Law, The Girls, and the Media Marketplace" »

May 21, 2012

Rethinking Goffman's Front Stage/Back Stage

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Over the years, many posts on this site have referenced sociologist Erving Goffman’s concept of “front stage” and “back stage” behaviors. Stemming from his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), the twin concepts suggest that we have two different modes of presenting our selves: one when we are “on” for others (front stage) and another when we let down our guard (back stage).

But does this dichotomy hold up in the internet age?

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May 17, 2012

Sociology and Social Activism

clip_image001By Janis Prince Inniss

My undergraduate yearbook holds a treasured picture. It’s a picture of me and some friends standing on a shut-down Kissena Boulevard in front of Queens College, the City University of New York (CUNY). We were protesting a proposed hike in tuition that would have seen tuition increase from $1,250 a year. Initially, there was a proposal to raise tuition by $200 annually, but the Governor vetoed that proposal because of student marches and occupations of buildings. Here is a New York Times quote about the protest:

At Queens College in Flushing, students seized Jefferson Hall, which houses the offices of the bursar and the registrar, and blocked traffic at Cassena (sic) Boulevard and Horace Harding Boulevard, student leaders there said.

The pictures from my yearbook include one of students in front of Jefferson Hall; the student occupation of buildings went on for days at about two-thirds of the 21 CUNY campuses.

Continue reading "Sociology and Social Activism" »

May 14, 2012

Understanding Generalizations and Stereotypes

imageBy Sally Raskoff

Max Weber wrote about the importance of verstehen, or understanding, for those investigating social reality. This means that we must understand what life is like for the individual or self before we can truly understand life at more macro levels of society such as groups, organizations, communities, and/or nation-states.

While we tend to teach this concept in relation to research methods, it can also be connected to many different aspects of social research.

How does the idea of a deep understanding of life in society connect to generalizations and stereotypes?

We make generalizations about objects in order to make sense of the world. When we see something, we want to know what it is and how to react to and interact with it. Thus seeing a flat horizontal surface held up by one or more legs, we would generalize that to be a table upon which we could put our stuff, eat a meal, or play a game.

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May 10, 2012

Cleaning and Class

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

This year I am doing a massive spring cleaning. I have donated several bags of books, recycled and shredded what seems like an endless amount of paper and have thrown away what can now only be described as junk.clip_image002

I’ve also been scrubbing: floors, shelves, and even the grout between tiles in the kitchen and bathroom. I take an old toothbrush, pour on some cleanser and clean spots I usually overlook in my normal cleaning routine. 

After a day or two of super-cleaning, I noticed my wrists and shoulders getting sore. Not what I’d call pain, but they clearly needed a few days off from cleaning. That was no problem; I had work to do and little extra time to clean for a while anyway.

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May 07, 2012

Past Meets Present: Education, Housing, and Segregation

clip_image001By Janis Prince Inniss

Want to make some quick cash? $250 to be exact. Easy money. What would you do for that kind of money?

This proposition is completely legal. All you have to do is make one telephone call. (Operators are probably standing by!) In order to qualify, all you have to do is have the city and state, name of a school, name of a person, age or grade level of a child, a second address, know how long the person has lived there—and with whom. Add some information about how you know whether the person in question does not live in a particular home and $250 is yours.

Continue reading "Past Meets Present: Education, Housing, and Segregation" »

May 03, 2012

Civil Unrest, Riots, and Rebellions: What's the Difference?

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of what is commonly known as the 1992 Los Angeles riot, events triggered by the acquittal of four LAPD officers charged with beating suspected drunk driver Rodney King. Here in Los Angeles, there have been many reflections on the events that took place over a six day period, which ended with the deaths of 54 people, thousands of injuries, and estimates of $1 imagebillion in property damage due to thousands of buildings set on fire.

Typically, the events are called riots, but some refer to what happened as a rebellion, uprising, or civil unrest. Do all of these terms apply? While it might just seem like semantics, sociologists who study collective behavior can help us understand the differences between these concepts and help us better understand what happened twenty years ago—and many other times throughout history.

Continue reading "Civil Unrest, Riots, and Rebellions: What's the Difference?" »

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