5 posts from July 2018

July 30, 2018

Aging and Identity

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of my elderly neighbors, who I will call John, has a degenerative neurological disorder. It has dramatically affected his speech and his ability to walk. His wife confided in me that he really doesn’t like to see people who knew him “before”—and as residents in their home for 45 years, that means many people in our community haven’t been able to see much of John.

Not only has John been struggling with the effects of this disease, but he has been struggling with his sense of self. It is clear from his wife’s observations that he does not want his current condition to change the way people think of him. John’s wife regularly recounts that he was an avid hiker and loved to ride his bike and go camping before this illness, helping to shape others’ perceptions of John. This, unfortunately, has contributed to his sense of isolation.

As George Herbert Mead teaches us, the way we view our identity and ourselves is rooted in the social context. This means that our sense of self is something we negotiate with how we think others perceive us. It doesn’t mean we simply adopt the sense of identity that others may project onto us. Instead, we might take these perceptions into account, even if that means constructing an identity in opposition to how we think others might see us.

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July 23, 2018

Race and Studying Abroad

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Have you been traveling this summer? If you have, I’m sure that you packed your sociological imagination with you. Last month I participated in a Study Abroad trip with a group of first year students who were all either first-to-college or global majority students. We traveled to the Dominican Republic so the students could do an intensive cultural exchange and service learning course.

These students are part of a program to improve racial and ethnic diversity in our Honors College here at UMass Amherst, and I taught Intro to Sociology with them last fall. Similar to honors programs (as well as high school college prep courses) study abroad programs are, generally, a primarily white experience. Only about 5% of students who study abroad are black. Our International Programs Office recognizes this disparity, and assists and supports the program my students participated in because of this inequity.

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July 16, 2018

Families and Ancestry

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In one of my graduate school courses, we read a book called Families We Choose, Kath Weston’s 1991 study of how gay and lesbians create family ties. This was particularly enlightening in the 1990s, when the concept of LGBT families seemed like an oxymoron to many people. I had never given much thought to what constituted a family until reading that book.

I had an arguably narrow idea of the meaning of families then: one based on legal or biological ties, as I had known in my family. A few kids I went to school with had been adopted, and that was always a quiet curiosity, one that was typically only brought up rarely, and was seldom the topic of conversation. The meaning of families seemed to be very clear-cut.

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July 09, 2018

Labor

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

What do you see when you look at the picture below? Perhaps nothing is remarkable about this part of my home. I experienced a lot of pain in my back and knees after constructing the tiny patio on which two chairs and a table sit. The chairs are mainly for my wife and me. A small tree used to be in this space. I don’t like to kill trees, but it occurred to me that if we removed the tree we could have a nice area to relax. To be honest, it also a comfortable place to sit with a good vantage point for people watching. Not sinister people watching, just observations of people that I am compelled to make in my lifelong quest to understand what makes people tick. It's also a pleasant space for coffee drinking and book reading. An outdoor patio on a sunny day. On the right are two wicker chairs and on the left is a well manicured lawn and garden. A side of a house is also visible.

My wife designed our small retreat. After consulting her father for accurate measurement, she determined we needed 25 paver stones, and that’s what we purchased from Home Depot. We aren’t very bright at times, so we showed up with her Kia Sportage to haul the stones and six 50-pound bags of sand. We failed to think ahead, or, you know, do the math to realize that each stone is 40 pounds and that equals 1,000 pounds plus 300 pounds of sand. My brother-in-law bailed us out with his pickup truck. He helped me unload the materials.

The following day, my father-in-law served a dual role as supervisor and co-worker. He instructed me to dig out the area and to make it as level as possible so that we could lay the stones. He returned a few hours later, and, after correcting for a few of my errors (notably, I dug out too much dirt) we finished preparing the ground for the stones. He directed me to set down stones one at a time, usually telling me to pick a stone up if it wasn’t yet level and then signaling to put it in place again after he adjusted the surface.

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July 02, 2018

Micro Meets Macro: Gender Selection and Population Problems

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When we think about our family decisions, such as whether to have children, this may seem to be based solely on individual preferences. After all, child rearing and family planning are very personal.

But our decisions take place within both structural and cultural conditions that are not just individual. For instance, if you live in an agrarian-based society, where many hands are needed in fields and farms, you might have more children than in a highly industrialized society that rewards high levels of education.

Continue reading "Micro Meets Macro: Gender Selection and Population Problems" »

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