319 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

January 20, 2020

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Fight for Equality

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is highly celebrated this time of year, with a national holiday in his name occurring on the third Monday of January, and as a heroic figure recognized during Black History Month in February. We revere King for his incredible “I Have a Dream speech” delivered in August 1963 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. To remember King, I also like to teach my students about some of his other activism and speeches they may not know. It’s a way of appreciating more of what King valued and fought for, and contemplating what else he might have been able to accomplish had his life not tragically been cut short by assassination in 1968 at the age of 39.

It’s fitting that we honor King in the sociology community--he earned a Bachelor’s degree in sociology from Morehouse College where he was president of the sociology club. In sociology courses we learn about racism, injustice, inequality, social change and so many other subjects that King spoke poetically about and worked on while being at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. A summary of his achievements can be viewed at The King Center website, where we can gain understanding about his leadership and Gandhi-inspired philosophy of nonviolent resistance.

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January 06, 2020

A Strong Economy?                  

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

How long does it take you to get to work? Would you drive an hour to get on a bus for a four-hour round trip to make $13.26 an hour?

This is what people are willing to do to travel from the Mississippi Delta to Memphis, Tennessee, to work at FedEx sorting and loading packages (FedEx covers the cost of the bus ride). As explained in this Wall Street Journal article, workers have been recruited in places with high unemployment rates at a time when the national unemployment rate is low. In one example, the $13.26 starting wage was a big improvement compared to the $7.85 hourly wage a person was making at a previous job. These part-time jobs, with some overnight shits, offer health and retirement benefits.

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October 09, 2019

The 2020 Census: Help Wanted

author photoBy Colby King

If you study sociology you’ve very likely worked with data from one of the several surveys administered by the US Census Bureau. And while it is not 2020 yet, you might have already seen Census Bureau workers in your neighborhoods, as they have begun to check addresses ahead of next year’s count.

The US Census Bureau and its surveys are important to the discipline of sociology, and this fall I have been encouraging my students to consider applying for a job with the US Census Bureau. While field jobs and career positions with the US Census Bureau are always something sociology students might consider as long-term possibilities, the Bureau is currently recruiting thousands of people for several different temporary jobs in preparation for the 2020 Decennial Census. These temporary jobs include not just census takers, but also clerical positions, as well as a few supervisory and outreach positions. You can apply for all of the 2020 Census jobs through one online application form, which is available here.

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September 20, 2019

Climate Change and Statistical Inference

author photoBy Dan Lainer-Vos

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Southern California

Have you had the experience of discussing climate change only to be interrupted by a wise chuckle from a person who suggests that our planet has known natural fluctuations in the past and that, therefore, it is possible that the spate of record-breaking temperatures of past decades reflects naturally occurring fluctuation?

The climate-change denier, in such instance, presents him or herself as a hard-nosed skeptic while suggesting that the climate researcher community is hysterical. To an extent, this interaction is the story of climate change debate over the last twenty years—a long drawn out argument that is fed by the very fact that science, including climate science, is built on probabilistic models where absolute certainty is simply not part of the game. Is there a way out this pickle? Thinking about statistical inference, and especially the types of errors that statisticians are concerned with, can shed new light on this debate.

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August 26, 2019

Beyond the Binary and “Doing Gender”

Jessica poling author photoBy Jessica Poling

Sociology Ph.D. student, Rutgers University

Gender has become more intensely interrogated by many people who criticize the social expectations that accompany femininity and masculinity. The beauty industry, for example, has repeatedly come under fire for the unrealistic (and often financially burdensome) ideals it sets for women. Others have noted that women are held to unequal expectations when interacting with male peers, such as maintaining a “polite” and accommodating demeanor.

The emergence of the term “toxic masculinity” acknowledges the restrictions that accompany masculinity and the negative effects it has on both women and the men beholden to it. There is thus a growing acknowledgment that gender shapes how we live our daily lives, sometimes in harmful ways. While we still seem far away from completely throwing away the shackles of femininity and masculinity, there is a growing consciousness that gender impacts us and the way we move about the world.

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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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