360 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

February 08, 2021

Amanda Gorman’s Sociological Imagination

Janis prince innissBy Janis Prince Inniss

The breakout star of the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris inauguration was not Biden or Harris, or even Bernie Sanders! Amanda Gorman takes that title as evidenced by the media swirling around her, her new modeling gig, and the fact that her as yet unpublished books took the top two spots on Amazon’s bestseller list the following day.

At age 22, Gorman is the youngest poet to recite poetry at a United States inauguration and is the nation’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. In the poem she read at the inauguration, “The Hill We Climb,” I heard a sociological perspective. Therefore, I was not surprised when I learned that Gorman was a sociology major at Harvard who graduated cum laude and see how that may have shaped her poetry. My intention here is to highlight some of the sociological aspects of “The Hill We Climb.” Disclaimer: I am not an English literature professor; my intention is not to provide a definitive or literary analysis of the poem, but instead to highlight its sociological connections.

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February 04, 2021

An Inauguration and a Funeral: Rituals and Rites of Passage

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

On January 20, 2021, along with nearly 39 million people across the country, I watched the presidential inauguration. An inauguration is more than just a swearing-in ceremony; it includes a presidential address, followed by events like the “pass in review,” where the first and second couples (and in non-pandemic times, their guests) watch as a series of military processionals pass by to celebrate a new commander-in-chief from the steps of the Capitol building. Along with three former presidents and their spouses, the newly-inaugurated leaders also laid a wreath at Arlington Cemetery at the tomb of the unknown soldier, which included a prayer, the performance of the national anthem, and a military canon salute.

Moments after the ceremony, I attended a funeral for a beloved aunt via Zoom. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, most of my family and I could not travel to be there, and only a small number of family members were allowed to attend the brief graveside service. Along with about 75 others, I watched the rituals on my computer: the prayers, a eulogy, the family members putting dirt in the grave as the coffin is lowered into the ground.

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January 27, 2021

The Symbols of the Capitol Siege

Jonathan Wynn (1)

By Jonathan Wynn

There are plenty of articles and posts that explore how sociological concepts can inform our understanding the Capitol siege on January 6th, 2021. (There’s a great post, titled “Sociology of the Siege” here). Of all the things going on that day, symbolism was a big part of it.

On the one hand, you have one of the great symbols of American democracy, the U.S. Capitol Building—such a significant symbol that was the alleged fourth target of another symbolic act, the 9/11 attacks. But there, among the crowd laying siege to it, was a wild mass of signs and imagery that was quite difficult to decipher for those who might not know what all of it means.

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January 08, 2021

Come Together: Applying Durkheim's Ideas to the Capitol Siege

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I am struck by one photo in particular from the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol. It is a picture of members of the House of Representatives sheltering in place in the House chamber. Rep. Susan Wild lies on the floor, mask down, eyes closed, and appears in distress. Her left hand is on her chest; Rep. Jason Crow reaches out and holds her right hand. (You can see this image and the video of them recounting their experience here.) This picture reveals the fear members of Congress felt during these tense moments. Facial expressions range from apprehension to terror, with many members sitting and lying on the floor.

The most striking part of this picture highlights the connectedness between colleagues Wild and Crow. This is a very human image of one person reaching out to comfort another. But it also a very sociological image, one that highlights the interdependence we share (see Todd Schoepflin and Peter Kaufman’s previous posts for excellent discussions of interdependence).

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December 07, 2020

COVID Babies: Boom or Bust?

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

Back in April, there was speculation as to whether the coronavirus would lead to a baby boom, the premise being that people are home more than usual because of the pandemic, which could lead to an increase in baby- making activity. It was also thought that regular access to contraception might be interrupted.

However, at the time, sociologist Philip Cohen predicted a baby boom was highly unlikely, offering this explanation: "So even if a few people accidentally or on purpose decide to have a baby now, they will probably be outnumbered by the lost births from people meeting less, having sex with non-residential partners less and deciding now is not a good time."

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November 30, 2020

Collective Effervescence and the Election

Myron strongBy Myron Strong

On Saturday, November 7, 2020, the result of the election for the President of the United States was officially confirmed. At that moment, many people across the world expressed a sense of relief as well as a physical and emotional weight being lifted. Regardless of who you voted for, or your feelings about the election, the feeling and sentiment expressed by others was undeniable.

And as I bathed in the joy, I also pondered what it meant. This moment was the closest I have ever felt to what Émile Durkheim called collective effervescence. According to Durkheim, these are events that transcend everyday lives. People experience intense enjoyment by sharing the sentiments and values of a larger collective, because it makes people feel part of something larger. It creates a collective conscience, the common sentiments and values that people share as a result of living together, and they glimpse eternity, as we experience a moment that will outlive us.

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November 16, 2020

Moral Panics in 2020

Jessica polingBy Jessica Poling

It is no secret that 2020 has been a time of public unrest. Mounting outcries regarding police brutality, gender inequality, and the Trump administration’s mishandling of climate change and COVID-19 dominate the daily news cycle, our social media pages, and conversations with friends and family.

Alongside these very legitimate concerns are political conspiracy theories that have slowly gained space in the public discourse and enraged (predominantly) conservative Americans. We can use sociologist Stanley Cohen’s theory of “moral panics” to understand why these conspiracy theories have gained public prominence, and what their impact has been on our country.

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November 09, 2020

The Meaning of Masks in Everyday Life

Todd Schoepflin author photoBy Todd Schoepflin

A recent article about masks in Australia caught my attention. It’s written by a group of scholars who are working on a book about masks in the COVID-19 era. As they note in the article, wearing masks is compulsory in Victoria, a state in southeast Australia. As indicated by the Victoria state government, “all Victorians must wear a fitted face mask when they leave home, no matter where they live” (there are several exceptions to the requirement). 

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October 19, 2020

2020: The Ultimate Example of Emotional Labor

Todd Schoepflin author photoBy Todd Schoepflin

At 7:50 each weekday morning, my wife heads out the door, off to work at the elementary school where she is a social worker. This year is unlike any of the first ten years she’s worked at the school. There are no children in the building. Our local public school district is currently doing remote learning.

Teachers report to the building and conduct classes from empty classrooms. Staff members continue their daily work to make sure regular functions run smoothly. Social workers and psychologists go to their offices and do the best they can to contribute to the academic and social development of students. “Sad” is the word my wife most commonly uses to describe what it feels like to walk into a quiet school without the hustle and bustle of hundreds of children.

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September 28, 2020

Informal Social Control and Pandemic Behavior

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

A few months ago I wrote about what the pandemic-related stay at home orders can teach us about formal social control, the use of rules, laws, and sanctions to try and shape people’s behavior. What can the pandemic teach us about informal social control?

While formal social control involves large-scale institutional actions, informal social control involves the influence of the people closest to us. Our primary groups, which include our family members and friends, have the most influence on us for several reasons.

We often seek their approval, even if we are not conscious of doing so, and thus our behavior may be influenced in order to maintain these close ties. We typically spend the most time with people in our primary groups, so we also tend to view social issues similarly due to our influence on one another and self-selection of friends and mates whose perspectives our compatible with our own.

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