367 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

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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September 21, 2020

Health, Racial Inequality, and Residential Segregation

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos, Sociology Doctoral Student at Rutgers University – New Brunswick

We often talk about health as a strictly biological concept. After all, poor health outcomes such as heart disease and cancer are heavily dependent on biological factors such as our genetic makeup and our age. Public discourse is also rife with notions that viruses, such as COVID-19, “do not discriminate” and affect all of us equally – regardless of the vastly different social circumstances under which people in the U.S. are living.

Sociologists, however, have long emphasized that health outcomes are far from strictly biological. In fact, the subfield of medical sociology – one of the American Sociological Association’s largest sections – is entirely devoted to the study of how social contexts and structures influence health, illness, and healthcare. Although certain poor health outcomes are indeed influenced by factors outside of the social world, medical sociologists stress the importance of social influence in examining e.g. who gets sick and why.

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September 14, 2020

Antiracism as a Process

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I stumbled upon a celebrity story that actors Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds recently apologized for getting married at a former plantation where people were held as slaves.

My initial response was, well, confusion. How do people who think that a plantation is a fine location for a wedding (and there are apparently many that do) decide a few years later that it is something to apologize for? Isn’t one’s wedding location something that one gives a great deal of thought and consideration in advance? Why didn’t the idea of getting married on a plantation bother them in 2012, but it does now?

This post is not about bashing or praising the actors, who have since donated large sums of money to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. It is instead about understanding that becoming more aware of the tangled web of racism in the United States is a process, one that we all stumble through imperfectly. This is a learning process, especially for people who do not regularly experience the negative effects of racism.

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August 10, 2020

On Being, and Not Being, a “Karen”

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

My name has become a trendy insult.

“Karen” has become a shortcut for an entitled, middle-aged white woman who is prone to throwing a fit. Sometimes it is because she doesn’t think she has to follow rules, particularly now with mask restrictions becoming more common. Paradoxically, she also contacts authorities to report what she views as others’ transgressions, particularly if they are persons of color.

While the use of my name to describe this insufferable character is not new (apparently it is at least three years old), it has proliferated over the past few months both in social and traditional media. A proposed San Francisco law to charge people who call the police for racially motivated reasons is called the CAREN Act. You can find regular updates on #KarensGoneWild and numerous other Twitter hashtags.

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