4 posts from November 2022

November 28, 2022

Tears as Social Phenomenon

Cornelia Mayr Author Photo By Cornelia Mayr

November marks the point in the year when the cold beings to set in. Fields, buildings and streets are blanketed in heavy fog, blurring the city like an old painting. Trees look like skeletons and dawn frost carpets the grass. It is the time when biting winds gnaw on our skin and whip chilly, wintry air into our eyelashes. Our eyes tear up, because it's freezing.

Tears keep our eyes lubricated when it is cold and blustery; wash away smoke, dust or other irritant substances; and protect us from foreign particles that enter the eye’s environment. Though some animals do have the physiological ability to produce tears, humans are the only creatures whose tears can be triggered emotionally.

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November 21, 2022

Branding Racism

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

In Sociology, we often talk about how race is a social construct. Rather than being a fixed system of classification rooted in biological difference, racial difference is (and has always been) created through social interactions, policy, and cultural meaning-making. Who is included in specific racial categories is fluid and context-dependent, constantly shifting over time. Medical and biological scientists are increasingly beginning to agree with this sociological understanding of race.  For something allegedly rooted so firmly in genetics, there is surprisingly little evidence to suggest that race is a good measure for genetic heterogeneity.

When we contend that race is a social construct, we can start noticing the ways in which race and racial difference are constantly being negotiated, (re)defined, and solidified by social processes and institutions. How corporations brand and advertise their products is a particularly interesting way in which meaning-making happens around racial difference. As they market their products to consumers through advertising, corporations attach social meanings to their products. For example, a shoe brand doesn’t sell shoes just because people need shoes; rather, the brand sells shoes because they convince consumers that there is a desirable lifestyle associated with the shoes (e.g., a life of being active, free, “cool”, or rebellious). In this sense, brands both reflect our cultural marketplace and influence what we think is desirable and how we create meaning.

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November 14, 2022

Monetizing the Natural World

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I had the privilege of taking a vacation to the French and Swiss Alps this past summer. It was a trip I had wanted to take for several years, and even with all the anticipation, the experience lived up to my expectations. The natural beauty, delicious food, and the chance to be a temporary local in a new location are all things I relish.

Being a sociologist, I bring my sociological imagination with me wherever I go, whether it is on an airplane, where I'm staying, or even just planning a vacation. I find having a sociological imagination enhances rather than interferes with my experiences. One of my observations on this trip was how the natural world is monetized and commodified, a process I participated in and though I experienced it through critical lenses, I still enjoyed.

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November 07, 2022

Culture, Structure, and Public Transportation

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Traveling by train from Chamonix, France to Grindelwald, Switzerland was a breeze, despite having to change trains five (!) times. It wouldn’t have been so easy in most other countries. Certainly not where we live, in Los Angeles, where public transportation is much more limited, especially when traversing mountainous regions.

It’s not really fair to compare a city with lackluster public transportation like Los Angeles with Switzerland, the country with perhaps the best public transit system in the world, but I will in this post to make a point about the importance of social structure and how it shapes culture.

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