7 posts from September 2012

September 28, 2012

Race and a Political Race

Wynn Dwanna_Robertson Jonathan R. Wynn and Dwanna L. Robertson

Robertson is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation,and a PhD candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The Massachusetts Senate race between incumbent Scott Brown and Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren took an unexpected sharp turn this week. Shades of racialized language (reminiscent of the 2008 Presidential campaign) seeped in. This actually started in April, when Brown’s staffers uncovered that Warren claimed she was a minority, implicating her as committing ethnic fraud because she lacked proof of a Native American ancestry.

During their first political debate, Brown went straight at this issue in a prepared remark, saying, “Professor Warren claimed she was a Native American, a person of color — And as you can see, she’s not.” With this statement, Brown contends he can identify Native Americans—and other people of color—just by looking at them.

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September 24, 2012

¿Se Habla Español?

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

¿Se habla español? ¿En su vida, ve y oye español en las calles, en las tiendas, en la televisión y en su escuela? Es probable, porque la población de personas que hablan español en los Estados Unidos está creciendo rápidamente. Hoy, hay más de 50 millones personas que hablan español en este país. En menos de cuarenta años, la cantidad de personas que hablan español será más de 130 millones—esto será el 30% de la población de los Estados Unidos.  Se habla

Did you understand anything above? Are you wondering why I started out this blog in Spanish? It is not because I am bilingual, although I have been studying Spanish in an effort to become somewhat proficient in the language. And it is not because this month (September 15 to October 15) is Hispanic Heritage month. To understand why I began in Spanish it is necessary to understand what I wrote.

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September 20, 2012

Road Maps and Social Context

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

I recently went on a weekend road trip and didn’t even think to bring paper maps. I had a Global Positioning System (GPS) and a smart phone, so I wasn’t completely unprepared. The devices told us how to get to our destination, and where the nearest restaurants and gas stations were. But when we were trying to decide whether to take small excursions, the tiny screens couldn’t give us much context.clip_image002

Before the advent of these handy electronic devices I would pour over maps before a trip to an unknown region to get a sense of distance, maybe its topography, and where places are in relation to others in the area.

While heading to a place known for its sand dunes, I set the GPS to the coordinates listed on a web site. We got there to find that was a place for ATVs and dune buggies to drive on the beach; we were looking for a place to walk around, and the coordinates clearly led us to the wrong place for a beach walk.

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September 13, 2012

A Random Invitation: The American Community Survey

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimerclip_image002

Earlier this week I opened my mail to find an invitationnot to go to a party, but rather to be a participant in the American Community Survey (ACS). As a sociologist, this was exciting since I have used ACS data in my research and teaching for many years. Now I will get to be a part of the process from the inside.

The ACS is a survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau each year to learn more about the American population between the census collections, which take place every ten years. Not only does the survey provide data on population changes, it also provides us with annual data on marital status, housing, education, and income.

While by law the census studies the entire population—or at least attempts to include the entire population—the ACS is a smaller sample of approximately 3.5 million Americans, randomly selected by home address. According to the Census’s population clock site, the U.S. population is just over 314 million, making the ACS survey a sample of just over 1 percent of the overall population.

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September 10, 2012

The Rationality of Irrationality

Peter_Kaufman_Bio_PicBy Peter Kaufman

One of the most well-known sociological theories is George Ritzer’s idea of McDonaldization. Ritzer based his idea on Max Weber’s theories of bureaucracy and rationality. Weber was concerned that capitalism and industrialization were fueling a world where our individual freedoms were being eroded. He warned that we were increasingly living in an iron cage, as we become trapped in an impersonal world that values efficiency, rationality, and control over individuality and autonomy.

Ritzer picked up on Weber’s concerns and adapted them to contemporary life. He realized that the fast food industry epitomized many of the concerns that Weber identified. Ritzer used McDonald’s restaurants as the basis for his theory, although he argues that McDonaldization is applicable to (or taking over) many social institutions, including education, health care, religion, the family, sports, the media, politics, and even sex.

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September 06, 2012

Anecdotes and Examples

clip_image002By Sally Raskoff

In class, you may notice that many professors tell anecdotes and give examples to illustrate the points they are making in their lectures. Some professors also invite students to come up with their own. An anecdote, or story, and examples serve the main purpose of bringing a concept or theory alive with relevance.

Anecdotes can provide many points of connection for a theory or set of concepts.Examples can illustrate a concept or theory with a singular mental image.

As an introduction to social norms, I will often use an example or actual image of some social reality they don’t expect to see, such as a group of bikers with their motorcycles-- who happen to be women over 70. This example prompts thought and discussion about how norms (and stereotypes) operate in our lives often without our notice. I may tell a story about a trip to Europe (for an International Sociological Association meeting!) in which I learned that airport norms are not as universal as some would have thought.

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September 03, 2012

Gay Marriage Made Me Get Married

WynnAuthorPhoto1By Jonathan Wynn

Call me old fashioned, but before I went to Robyn’s father to ask for her hand, I went to Human Resources. I wanted to know if my partner could share my health care benefits as a civil union or a common-law marriage. “Nope. Massachusetts allows anyone to get married, so we don’t recognize ‘registered partnerships.’” The advisor on the other end of the line giggled and added, “It looks like you’re going to have to get hitched, son.” She hung up the phone still chuckling.

We’d been together for seven years. “What happens when a feminist rapper and a sociologist get together?” sounded more like a joke in search of a punch line rather than a description of a couple in search of a registry. As a musician who values feminist ideals and gay rights, Robyn was uncomfortable with the patriarchal and heteronormative trappings of marriage. As a sociologist (and son of divorced parents, and both sets of grandparents), I was keenly aware of the issues and personal struggles with marriage as an institution. We were also uncomfortable with both the religious norms and the billion dollar wedding industry surrounding it as well.

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