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May 18, 2020

The Challenges of Doing Research while Social Distancing

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

A group of my colleagues have started a support group for qualitative researchers, called “Ethnographers in Exile.” After spending a year securing a field site and getting Institutional Review Board approval to do an ethnography in an emergency room, one colleague found that his research could not go forward under the current circumstances, with no timeline for his project to begin any time soon.

Ethnography involves immersing one’s self in the lived experience of the group that you are studying and being present to observe interactions and ask questions that might come up in the course of our participants’ day-to-day lives. Ethnographers observe the tempo of interactions, what happens when seemingly nothing is happening, and ultimately try and learn what it is like to be a member of a particular group.

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May 13, 2020

Are Social Bubbles a New Form of Segregation?

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Are we moving from "social distancing" to "social bubbles?" What are the factors and consequences involved in such a move?

Based on the TV show Lost, I used to ask my Introduction to Sociology students (back in the before times) what characteristics they would want their fellow castaways to behold. What kinds of skills would you hope people in your group would have on your beautiful-yet-isolated island?

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May 06, 2020

Race, Class, Work, and Health

Jpi author photoBy Janis Prince Inniss

Five young men and one woman who look like they’re in their mid-twenties clustered around blue plastic trays and carts. I’ve never seen that sort of cart before, but otherwise it looked like any other day outside of the Walmart I have been going to for the last 19 years. This was bizarre because we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic!

I was blown away by how normal everything looked outside the store—but also horrified. None of the five store employees wore gloves or masks, and none was maintaining any physical distance from the other as they chatted. Personally concerning was when one of the young men approached my car—too close for my comfort—to confirm my name for the grocery pick-up order. What about the 6 feet rule we should maintain between ourselves and others, recommended by the CDC?

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May 04, 2020

When Back Stage becomes Front Stage: Goffman’s Dramaturgy in the Age of Teleconferencing

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Nearly eight years ago, I blogged about how we might reconsider Erving Goffman's front stage/back stage distinctions in the age of social media. As I now teach, attend meetings, and visit with family members using teleconferencing, I have been thinking about what actually constitutes “back stage” right now.

Erving Goffman wrote in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life that, “back regions are typically out of bounds to members of the audience” (p. 124). That was in 1959, when he could not have foreseen that we would have the technology to share audio and video with hundreds of people at a time from a device that could fit in the palm of our hand.

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April 29, 2020

What's that I Feel? Role Strain!

author photoBy Jennell Paris

Professor of Anthropology, Messiah College

Most of the time I feel fairly comfortable in the roles that correspond with my social statuses. I know what to do, as a daughter, or a church member, or a U.S. citizen.

As a professor these days, I'm feeling something unpleasant. I can't find the right word for it: overwhelmed, verklempt, disoriented, stumped? Whatever it is, it's not good. The word I'm after is not a mental health term like depression or anxiety. It's sociological: role strain, when the expectations or duties of a role become overwhelming or confused.

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April 27, 2020

Stay at Home and Formal Social Control

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

The COVID-19 crisis has led to an unprecedented experience for many people around the world: formal orders to stay at home and the closure of businesses deemed non-essential. The closure of businesses has created an economic crisis too, as more than 25 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits between mid-March and mid-April.

Protesters have held rallies to end these orders, arguing, among other things, that the orders are an overreach of government and that their individual rights are being taken away. This post is not about whether the stay at home orders or the protesters are right or wrong—it is about reactions to formal social control.

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April 20, 2020

I Miss People

Jennell Paris author photoBy Jenell Paris

Professor of Anthropology, Messiah College

Editor’s note: Many of us are going through a similar transition as the author describes below. What can we learn about the importance of social interaction through this experience? Is it similar to or different from yours? How might situations like the one we are experiencing now create more family conflict? How might social isolation impact older adults and those who live alone differently?

“Stay Home.” I am, and I will. I thought I knew what I was in for -- kids off school for a good while and my college classes shifted online. What I didn’t anticipate was how much I’d miss people, including the ones I don’t like, and the ones I don’t even know. This became clear as soon as I started spending day after day with my cats.

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