314 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

May 06, 2019

The Sociology Everyone Knows: Meritocracy and Gentrification

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

Perhaps you’ve heard that sociology just explains the things we already know about in the everyday world just in less accessible ways. But what if I told you that the everyday world already had a couple of very sociological ideas already in circulation? In my last blog post I wrote about a term that is used in everyday language that is sociological in origin: the self-fulfilling prophecy. For this post I want to write about two more everyday terms we don’t think of as sociological in origin: meritocracy and gentrification.

You have likely heard and even used the term meritocracy, believing that it is part of the foundation of the American education system. The term has certainly been in the news lately due to the college admissions scandal. (Todd Schoepflin recently wrote an Everyday Sociology blog post about it.)

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April 15, 2019

The Men of Tomorrow: Gillette’s Call for a Healthier Masculinity

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

The phrase “boys will be boys” irritates me. It suggests an inevitable outcome; that no matter what happens in life, it’s in the nature of boys to behave a certain way. It goes against what I’ve learned and believe as a sociologist, and runs contrary to my own experiences and observations as a parent. The idea that “boys will be boys” grossly downplays the significance of how children are raised, and says nothing about social contexts and cultural influences.

Contemplating how our social environment shapes masculinity is something that occurs on a regular basis in sociology courses. It’s not the kind of content you’d expect to see depicted in a commercial for razors. But the recent “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” Gillette advertisement critically addresses the subject of masculinity and got a lot of attention for doing so.

Near the beginning of the ad, we hear a voice ask, “Is this the best a man can get?” followed by images about bullying, sexual harassment, and mansplaining. A man pinches the butt of a woman on a sitcom set, and we hear the voice say “It’s been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off. Making the same old excuses.”

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April 01, 2019

Culture, Conflict, and Politics

Author photoBy Jessica Poling

Sociology Ph.D. student, Rutgers University

The 2016 presidential election sparked a nation-wide period of cultural conflict characterized by the working-class’s rising frustrations towards “elites.” President Trump himself has fostered a spirit of anti-intellectualism, at times even celebrating his own lack of intellectualism. These tensions go deeper than just economic class; rather, they are grounded in differences in cultural proclivities.

The differences between the often culturally conservative working-class and the often liberal upper-middle class may therefore be deeper than political affiliations. To understand this particular political moment, we must thus understand the cultural tensions beneath political divisions.

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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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February 25, 2019

The Political Power of Sports and Music

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

As the NFL settled with Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, who had claimed that the league colluded against them, I’ve marveled at how sports have been such a political lightening rod. (Peter Kaufman wrote about it for Everyday Sociology in 2016.)

In the opening weeks of the 2017 football season, NFL players, coaches, owners, commentators, and fans expressed outrage over the president’s insistence that players shouldn’t protest the national anthem. While Colin Kaepernick’s protests over police brutality were the start, momentum brewed. (An important point: U.S. Soccer star Megan Rapinoe was the first white professional athlete to join him by kneeling during the national anthem last year.)

Individual athletes can wield considerable symbolic power, from John Carlos and Tommie Smith to Muhammad Ali. NFL players are largely acting on their own. (Peter Kaufman wrote about this a few years ago as well.) The NFL as a league, however, has much greater power and, as an organization, it has been covertly political: from dealing with issues of domestic violence backstage to agreeing to have the U.S. military stage patriotic displays before games. Similarly, NBA players voicing their support for Black Lives Matter has been effective, but when the NBA as a league decided to move its All-Star game to New Orleans to target funding for flood relief and rebuilding efforts in the city it infused $45 million into the city’s economy.

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February 13, 2019

Nipplegate 2.0: Privilege and the Construction of the Body

author photoBy Angelique Harris

I can’t believe that I am discussing nipples, privilege, and the Super Bowl Halftime Show for the second year in a row, but here we are. While performing during the Halftime Show for Super Bowl LIII, Adam Levine, lead singer of Maroon 5 took off his top, exposing his bare-chest, and not one, but both of his nipples. Remembering Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004 during the Super Bowl XXXVIII’s halftime show, there was a quick and immediate backlash to the obvious double standard that allowed Levine to expose his nipples, while penalizing Jackson when it was Justin Timberlake, her guest performer, who ripped off part of her costume exposing her breast.

This begs the question, why was Levin able to expose his nipples while Jackson was not? Although a relatively simple question, the response is pretty complicated and is rooted in the ways in which we as a society construct the body and the privileges associated with these constructions. However, it’s important to note that this wasn’t just any Super Bowl halftime show, before Maroon 5 even took stage, their performance was steeped in controversy.

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January 21, 2019

Online Media Dystopia

Colby (1)By Colby King

Concerned about online misinformation and fake news, I made a few revisions to the syllabi for my Introduction to Sociology courses before the start of the semester this past fall. I created an information literacy assignment based on the ongoing debate about the “marshmallow test.” But, I also made space to discuss Zeynep Tufekci’s research, particularly her analyses of how digital platforms and their algorithms shape how we collect information, share ideas, and interact with each other. Many students responded enthusiastically to these topics. And, while most were not surprised by the various concerning issues that Tufekci raises about digital platforms, many did report that understanding her research was causing them to reconsider the ways in which they engage online.

Zeynep Tufekci is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina in the School of Information and Library Science with an affiliate position in UNC’s Department of Sociology. Her book Twitter and Tear Gas, provides a vivid analysis of the ways in which social media supported social movements including the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, while also describing the challenges created by these same platforms.

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December 14, 2018

Making Sense of The Senseless: A Sociological Perspective on Mass Shootings

Professional PicBy Lauren Madden

Instructor, Long Beach City College

"You can't make sense of the senseless," said one of the police officers in response to the Borderline shooting on November 7, 2018, in Thousand Oaks, California. This statement really struck me. Shouldn't we at least try? This is what social scientists do; they try to make sense of the seemingly senseless. So how can we make sense of the phenomenon of mass shootings?

One theory, supported by clinical psychologists, is that it is anger, not mental illness, causes violence. "Violence is not a product of mental illness. Nor is violence generally the action of ordinary, stable individuals who suddenly "break” and commit crimes of passion. Violent crimes are committed by violent people, those who do not have the skills to manage their anger," writes Laura Hayes, Slate contributor and psychologist. However, Hayes notes that the mental health community has not found appropriate diagnoses for anger disorders, prevention measures, or a specific framework to help people to comprehend the violence that occurs within their communities.

Sociologists, on the other hand, try to look at the bigger picture, zooming out to study external factors such as the impact of social institutions, cultural norms and values, and patterns in the social environment to explain the "senseless."

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November 05, 2018

People are Different. People are the Same.

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

We seem to be living through a particularly violent time and, by some measures we certainly are. Pipe bombs and recent gun violence are very likely tied to the midterm elections.

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October 29, 2018

Thinking About Marijuana Legalization

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

On October 17, recreational marijuana became legal in Canada. There are rules about purchasing marijuana depending on where people live. In the province of Ontario, the legal age is 19, the possession limit is 30 grams in public, and it is not yet legal to purchase edible products. In Quebec, the legal age is 18, there are online and retail sales, and one can possess 30 grams in public, and no more than 150 grams at home. Alberta’s government offers a short video to inform citizens about the rules, including being allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants at home for personal use. The company Shopify was chosen to design and manage online sales in four provinces. According to this New York Times article, there will be lower levels of THC in legal marijuana than products available in the illegal market. Motorists will be fined if caught driving while high. And Canadians may face restrictions from using marijuana depending on their job (for instance, working as a pilot or police officer).

This short BBC video poses an important question: should those who’ve been convicted for marijuana offenses get amnesty? The video reports that 500,000 Canadians have criminal records for marijuana possession. In the video, politician Murray Rankin points out that black people in Toronto and Halifax were much more likely to be arrested than white people for cannabis possession. In an op-ed for The Globe and Mail, André Picard says that criminal records for marijuana possession should be expunged. As he mentions, having a criminal record makes it difficult to get a job and obtain bank loans. “Racialized and low-income Canadians have been disproportionately prosecuted and harmed,” he writes, linking to an article that talks about the especially negative impact on segments of the Canadian population during the era of cannabis prohibition, and concludes his article by saying the war on drugs has failed.

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