5 posts from March 2019

March 25, 2019

Researcher Reflexivity: Why who we are Matters

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are interested in researching something, there is often a personal reason. Maybe you have a parent who is incarcerated and are interested in understanding the relationships between family members of the incarcerated. Or perhaps your religious background gives you unique insight into a specific cultural practice that many people might not know about.

You might have your own point of view about these issues, even if they are not experiences you have had. Does having a perspective prohibit an individual from conducting research on a subject?

Of course, the answer is no. People conduct research on issues close to their experiences and interests all the time. Does this make their research “biased?”

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March 20, 2019

The College Admissions Scandal: Can We Be Honest about Social Class in America?

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

I’m teaching a Social Stratification course this semester. One of the themes in our course is whether social class is an ascribed or achieved status. The popular conception is that social class in America is earned and accomplished and therefore an achieved status.

Sociologists beg to differ, because to say that social class is primarily an achieved status ignores the advantages given to the children of those who are better off in society. We can’t disregard the basic fact that children inherit the social class of their family. In other words, social class is ascribed in that it’s an involuntary status for the child who is raised in the social class surroundings of their family.

This is not to say that a person born into the middle-class is guaranteed to stay middle-class throughout their life, or that the child born into a rich family will surely reproduce their family’s social class position, or that being poor in one’s childhood inevitably means one will stay poor. No doubt there is movement up and down the social class system in the United States.

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March 18, 2019

Social Infrastructure, Postlandia, and Shared Investment in Public Space

author photoBy Colby King

Each day, it seems, we see new controversies that highlight how we (intentionally or not) misunderstand each other. These controversies regularly lament the decline of public life in our society. You are likely familiar with these laments: We gather news inside our own bubbles. Our neighborhoods, schools, and social activities are increasingly segregated by race, class, or other social groups. Our political views are polarized, and “the discourse” of online discussion further polarizes us.

Last year, sociologist Eric Klinenberg published a book in which he suggests one solution to these dilemmas is social infrastructure. The book Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure can help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life takes on an ambitious agenda for social infrastructure.

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March 11, 2019

Applied Sociology: Evaluation Research 101

author photo Karen Sternheimer

If you have taken a sociology class, you know that sociology has many practical applications. Some sociologists use the tools of the discipline to help organizations make decisions—this can include anything from a small nonprofit to your university and even the government.

Evaluation research can take on many forms, but put simply its purpose is to determine whether a particular program, technique, or approach to addressing an issue is effective. This can be very helpful when deciding how an organization might spend its time or money. Why invest in a program that isn’t effective, or assume that something won’t work without first testing it and finding out?

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March 04, 2019

A Sociological Road Trip (with Podcasts)

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

My family just finished a long road trip from Massachusetts to Texas, and we listened to a lot of podcasts. (I’ll be a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin.) I realized that the podcasts we listened to on the way, served as a kind of sociological road trip—a tour of a series of sociological topics: urban development, race, politics, cultural history, music, technology, and the criminal justice system. I think a sociology instructor could assign any of these series and have students connect their readings and lecture notes to their content. They are rich in description, and most are begging for some sociological analysis.

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