7 posts from November 2012

November 28, 2012

Twinkies & Big Macs: Thinking Sociologically About Black Friday

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

There were Black Friday protests at my local WalMart in Western Massachusetts, organized by unions and worker’s rights advocates. If you watched the news you may have seen one in your town too. Protesters object to the fact that the company offers low-pay, limited-benefit jobs while the Walton family holds as much wealth as the bottom third of the U.S. population. This follows reports from Hostess (makers of Twinkies), claiming a worker’s strike gave them little choice but to shut down production, and liquidation seems eminent. Hostess feels the pinch from owing over a billion dollars to creditors, including their workers’ pensions but also to hedge funds (like Silver Point Capital) that own 30% of the company’s debt).

Of course, you can still buy Twinkies at WalMart. While some lament the potential loss of the yellowcake confection (according to a book on Twinkies, some of the ingredients are "more closely linked to rocks and petroleum than any of the four food groups," and the primary sweetener is high-fructose corn syrup), we don’t talk too much about the working conditions of the folks that make them. Liquidation of Hostess would not only eliminate jobs but worker’s pension plans as well, even though workers already made significant concessions and the CEO pocketed a 300% increase in his compensation package.

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November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks?

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman 

National holidays such as Thanksgiving provide a wonderful opportunity for us to apply many of the themes related to sociological mindfulness. It is useful to think about the role that holidays play in society, the values and beliefs these holidays instill, and the extent to which we can deconstruct the “facts” and assumptions of these holidays. Consider some of the myths and realities of Thanksgiving taken from sociologist James W. Loewen’s national bestseller, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.

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November 15, 2012

The Sociology of Busyness

SternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are a student, and even if you are not, chances are this time of year means you are very busy. Whether it’s the upcoming holidays, exams, term papers, or other obligations, for some reason the end of the year can mean a lot of busyness.

I recently had a student come to my office hours to talk about his progress, and the student admitted that he was overcommitted to many campus activities and that it had affected his coursework. I’m sure he is not alone; students regularly struggle with their workload and find that it is virtually impossible to devote the amount of time to each of their classes as they would like to.

I can relate, as I have been busy grading and juggling my own deadlines and workload. What can sociology add to our understanding of busyness?

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November 12, 2012

What’s Funny about Racism?

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

Is racism funny? This question may seem outrageous. In fact, I can hardly believe I’m asking it because no one with even the slightest amount of sociological insight would ever entertain such a thought. Let’s face it: There is nothing funny or amusing about racism or any other form of oppression such as sexism, homophobia, or ableism.

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November 09, 2012

Thinking Sociologically about Twilight

ERZEN,TANYA-by_William_QuigleyBy Tanya Erzen

Tanya Erzen is an associate professor of comparative religious studies at Ohio State University and visiting scholar at University of Washington.

A teenage fan of the Twilight series explains that she thinks Edward Cullen, the brooding and gorgeous vampire hero, is controlling, creepy and even violent in his relationship with Bella, an ordinary human high school girl with whom he is passionately in love.  While the fan criticizes Bella and Edward’s tumultuous relationship, she is simultaneously wearing a button on her jacket with the text, “Edward can bust my headboard, bite my pillow and bruise my body any day.”   This refers to the part of the story when Bella awakes with her entire body black and blue after losing her virginity on her honeymoon.   In the aftermath, there are feathers from the pillow Edward has bitten drifting around the room, and the bed is shattered into pieces. 

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November 05, 2012

Voting as a Social Act

SternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Are you planning to vote during this year’s election? If so, you will be participating in a form of civic engagement, a subject of sociological study examining anything from volunteering, participation in social movements, or any action we take that involves consideration of the greater good.

Sociologists study what factors motivate people to make commitments towards creating social change, and often use ethnography to study the how this process works from the inside, focusing on how people work together (and sometimes struggle to work together) in the course of commitment to a particular cause.

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November 02, 2012

A Tasty Correlation

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Did you see the news about the relationship between chocolate and Nobel Prizes? Dr. Franz Messerli reported in a New England Journal of Medicine article that a country’s chocolate consumption is positively and statistically significantly associated with their rate of winning the Nobel Prize. If a country has high chocolate consumption, they are also likely to have many winners of the Nobel Prize.

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