8 posts from August 2012

August 30, 2012

Why Sociology?

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Now and then, a student will come into my office and ask why I chose to become a sociologist. Like many people new to sociology, they often wonder what my process was in deciding to study sociology.

They are often surprised to learn that I came to sociology accidentally, due to a bureaucratic dilemma most college students can relate to: the class I had wanted to take was full, and a sociology course was open and fit my schedule.

I came to my first sociology class, Sex and Gender in Society, a week or two into the drop/add period, so I started off a bit behind and the class was already engaging in lively conversation. It was as if I had entered into a new world, surprised to find that issues pertaining to my everyday life could actually be part of the college curriculum.

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August 20, 2012

Crawling in the Shoes of Others

Peter_Kaufman_Bio_PicBy Peter Kaufman

“We sociologists must—at the very least—acquire the ingrained habit of viewing our own beliefs as we now view those held by others.” This is one of my favorite sociological quotes. It comes from Alvin Gouldner who wrote it in his book, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (1970). Gouldner was making a case for sociologists to be more reflexive in their work.

The word reflexive is one of those awkward words in part because it sounds and looks so much like the word reflective. We know that to be reflective means that we are introspective, thoughtful, or contemplative. Reflexive is similar although it takes the definition of reflective one step further. To be reflexive, in the sociological sense, means that we reflect on and contemplate our own position in the world.

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August 16, 2012

What's Soft about Social Science?

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Social science is sometimes called “soft science” compared with physical, or “hard science.” You’ll rarely hear a social scientist use this distinction, though.

Why don’t we like it? Just as it sounds, “soft science” suggests that the social sciences aren’t really sciences. As psychologist Timothy D. Wilson wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed:clip_image002

There has long been snobbery in the sciences, with the "hard" ones (physics, chemistry, biology) considering themselves to be more legitimate than the "soft" ones (psychology, sociology). It is thus no surprise that many members of the general public feel the same way. But of late, skepticism about the rigors of social science has reached absurd heights.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to eliminate funding for political science research through the National Science Foundation. In the wake of that action, an opinion writer for the Washington Post suggested that the House didn't go far enough. The NSF should not fund any research in the social sciences, wrote Charles Lane, because "unlike hypotheses in the hard sciences, hypotheses about society usually can't be proven or disproven by experimentation."

As Wilson describes, the social sciences use rigorous empirical research to test hypotheses, and we do use experimentation in some cases. And like physical sciences, the social sciences have made important discoveries about human behavior that have eased human suffering and provided important insights into both individuals and groups. As I have previously blogged about, the public hears lots of stories about social science research that seems trivial or obvious, leading some people to support cuts to funding for research.

Continue reading "What's Soft about Social Science?" »

August 14, 2012

Gender and the Olympics

clip_image002By Sally Raskoff

Many people struggle with the idea that gender and sex could have more than two categories, while some cultures have many ways to define who we are.

The 2012 Olympics gives us yet another example of the difficulties and diversity of how we categorize people. Olympic events are divided into two groups: those for men and those for women.File:Tower Bridge Olympics 2012.jpg

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August 09, 2012

Everyday Sociology Blog: Lisa Wade Discusses Concerns about "Hook-Up Culture"


Lisa Wade discusses assumptions and problems with "hook-up" culture.

For more videos, see www.youtube.com/nortonsoc

August 06, 2012

Everyday Sociology Talk: Thinking Sociologically about Rap Music


Jooyoung Lee discusses how to think sociologically about rap.

For more videos, see www.youtube.com/nortonsoc

August 02, 2012

Informal Social Control and Knowing When it's Time to Go

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

If you’ve ever thrown a party, you’ve likely had guests that overstay their welcome. What’s a polite host to do?

  1. Nothing: they are your guests and as host you have an obligation to entertain them as long as they want to stay.
  2. Ask them to leave: why be subtle when it is late and you’re ready to go to sleep?
  3. Drop hints: start removing food and dirty dishes, and maybe ask a good friend to make the rounds to say goodbye to get the other guests moving.

Continue reading "Informal Social Control and Knowing When it's Time to Go" »

Everday Sociology Talk: Sharon Zukin on Global Shopping


Sharon Zukin discusses her current research on global shopping.

For more videos, see www.youtube.com/nortonsoc

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