366 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

May 03, 2021

John Fetterman, Working Class Hero?

Todd Schoepflin Colby King author photoBy Todd Schoepflin & Colby King

John Fetterman is currently the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, and before that served as mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, from 2005 to 2019. He is running for a Pennsylvania senate seat in 2022. His website describes him as “a different kind of Democrat,” one who “doesn’t look like a typical politician.” In media outlets, much is made of his size (he’s 6'8") and his tattoos (dates of homicides in Braddock when he was mayor are tattooed on his right arm). For example, one article about Fetterman is titled “Unconventional in his size and rise”. He’s twice appeared on The Colbert Report, been profiled in GQ, and had his clothing style analyzed in an article about the politics of workwear. His home (once an indoor Chevy car dealership) has received attention, and his family life has also been in the spotlight.

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April 05, 2021

Vaccine Disparities and COVID-19

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

As I write, both of my parents just received their second COVID-19 vaccinations. This is of course a great relief, since they are in their 70s, but their experience highlights some of the inequities built into the scramble to get vaccinated.

While the U.S. supply cannot keep up with demand at the moment, in some countries there is no supply at all. According to UNICEF, and reported by NPR, about 130 countries had no vaccine as of mid-February. In the U.S., the distribution varies quite a bit per state, with some states vaccinating at twice the rate of others. (See this NPR Tracker to find out how your state compares.)

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March 29, 2021

The Challenges of Academia and Finding Positivity during the Pandemic

Myron strongBy Myron Strong

There is a sadness in parts of academia, facilitated by toxic structures like outdated tenure systems, labor exploitation, unrealistic research demands, financial constraints, isolation, and COVID-19, to name just a few. And as I go on Twitter and scroll through posts, there is so much pain from professors and students and I am reminded of Jay Z’s song Song Cry:

I can't see 'em comin down my eyes
So I gotta make the song cry.”

Some social media posts often convey a sense of hopelessness from academics, and even if I cannot see the tears coming down their eyes, I can feel them. Without question academia can be a challenging place and the pandemic and magnified existing problems. Yet how can we begin to fully understand the world and how to solve problems if we are caught in a web or sorrow and misery?

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March 22, 2021

Applying Weber’s Concept of Bureaucracy to the Pandemic

Jessica polingBy Jessica Poling

Like many of the classical theorists of his age, nineteenth-century German social theorist Max Weber sought to define “modernity.” Weber lived in a society experiencing rapid economic, political, and social changes and devoted much of his time to characterizing what defined modern society and how (and why) society had come to look differently than it ever had before. Weber explored many facets of modernity (including religion, social class, and politics), eventually developing one of his most famous concepts, “bureaucracy.”

According to Weber, modern society is in part defined by the introduction of bureaucracies, a new type of organization developed alongside capitalist values in western Europe. Unlike other organizational forms, bureaucracies exhibit a unique set of characteristics that set them apart. First, bureaucracies are defined by a clear-cut chain of command, wherein every member reports to someone of higher status and knows their own role and responsibility within the organization.

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March 15, 2021

Unions: Power Houses of Political Engagement

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

Sociology Doctoral Student, Rutgers University

It’s no secret that elections are heavily influenced by spending and donations from wealthy individuals, corporations, and various special interest groups. In the 2020 presidential election a less obvious key player in the political field garnered plenty of attention: labor unions. Given that many unions represent blue-collar workers – a key demographic for any presidential campaign – their endorsements of candidates are widely sought after among both Democrats and Republicans.

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March 08, 2021

Reflections on the Capitol Insurrection: Values, Symbols, and Contradictions

Myron strong author photoBy Myron Strong

Like most kids in the 1980s, part of my daily school routine each morning back then was to stand for the pledge of alliance. Images of my grade school teachers asking a class of snaggle-toothed, freshly groomed brown-skinned joyous third graders run across my mind. We all rose for the pledge, but none of us really knew what it meant. How could we, since we were children? 

I remember standing together, silent and thinking more about the impending morning chocolate milk more than the pledge. But the pledge has never felt right to me, even when I was just a kid. I stopped rising and standing for it about 30 years ago. Throughout the years various people have asked me why I don’t rise. I usually just respond with an answer based on the treatment of minorities (racial, sexual, religious) and women, and I explain that I do not feel like the United States its iconography represents justice, respect, acceptance, and freedom.

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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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