435 posts categorized "Social Problems, Politics, and Social Change"

January 18, 2021

Is Your Professor a Republican?

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

As I write, the 2020 presidential election is (almost) behind us. Perhaps you are wondering, "What’s the political affiliation of my professors?" It is not an unreasonable question. Some faculty are quite forthright about their political leaning. Some might be more discreet.

I suppose I can admit something here, among friends: I am quite liberal. I have toned down expressing political sentiments as I’ve gotten older but also out of a (perhaps unfounded) fear that some video of me might be taken out of context and uploaded on social media. The political leanings of our students at UMass Amherst reflect the state at large, politically, as being about 1/3 Republican, 2/3 Democrat. I say this knowing that tenure and academic freedom allows for great latitude in these matters. Still, people who are not professors might not realize this, but faculty aren’t exactly eager to have a media fiasco on their hands.

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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 14, 2020

Risk, Crime, and The Military: How Risk-Taking May Impact Outcomes for Soldiers with Criminal Records

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

Sociology Doctoral Student, Rutgers University

Sociologists have long sought to understand what drives people to break rules or laws, both formally (breaking a law upheld by a particular governing structure), and informally (breaking unwritten rules of societies or groups ), or what we refer to as “norms.” Particularly since the 1980s, crime has also become an increasingly prominent issue in U.S. politics with multiple candidates – the latest example being Donald Trump – running on a platform of being “tough on crime.”

A major theoretical approach to understanding criminal behavior frames crime as a form of risk-taking. Under this framework, scholars have argued that people commit crimes in pursuit of excitement or as a way of escaping the mundaneness of everyday life. In an effort to explain why crime is often concentrated in lower-income and marginalized communities, some research taking such an approach reasons that working-class or impoverished individuals may have “boring” lives and little access to socially acceptable outlets for excitement. Of course, such arguments have been criticized for being class-biased and for lacking consideration of how middle-class and even wealthy individuals engage in criminal risk-taking behavior, too. Instead, criminal risk-taking is now mostly considered a personal orientation rather than a class-based characteristic, and risk remains a key component in the study of crime for many scholars.

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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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August 05, 2020

Gender, Ethnicity, and the COVID Recession

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

The recent economic downturn has impacted millions of Americans. As of this writing, about 30 million Americans are collecting unemployment benefits. Those earning less than $40,000 have endured the greatest job losses; according to the Federal Reserve, 40 percent of these workers have lost their jobs in recent months. In contrast, just over one in ten households earning more than $100,000 have experienced job losses.

You might have seen news reports that women have been more likely to experience job losses during the current recession. The Great Recession of a decade ago hit construction and finance particularly hard, and came to be known as a “mancession” because those fields tend to be male dominated.

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August 03, 2020

Empty Pedestals, Monumental Culture

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

A non-trivial aspect of the wave of protests over the last few months has been focused on public monuments.

The Theodore Roosevelt statue at the National History Museum will be replaced because of its representation of racism and colonialism. Controversial former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo’s statue has been removed. Statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and other confederates are being removed on Richmond’s Monument Ave. Christopher Columbus statues are also being brought down in several states. This movement didn’t start weeks ago, however. The University of Texas Austin campus removed its statues of Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson in 2016.

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July 29, 2020

The Panopticon and Protest Surveillance

Jessica polingBy Jessica Poling

There is no doubt that the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd will be one of the defining features of the year 2020. Following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, this recent wave of outcry and activism has dominated public discourse and gained traction—even among those who were previously skeptical of the movement.

The explosiveness of the protests, particularly in metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, have created more tension between civilians and law enforcement, who have at times escalated peaceful protests or harassed protesters. These are just a few of the many visible examples of the mechanisms government officials and law enforcement use to control and manipulate protests. However, to fully grasp the nature of this conflict, it is equally important to discuss the invisible, subtle ways that protestors are surveilled and punished.

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June 22, 2020

Putting the “Diplo” in Diplomacy: Music as Soft Power

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

This summer, I’ve been obsessing over Wind of Change—a podcast about the CIA’s possible involvement in the titular 1990s global mega hit by the German rock band, The Scorpions. The story unravels the sometimes-shadowy threads between music and foreign policy, and gets us to think about how culture is used.

I absolutely remember ”Wind of Change,” but didn’t think it was as big a hit as ”Rock You Like A Hurricane,” a song U.S. readers might recognize from a commercial. But “Wind of Change” was a theme song for the revolutions behind the Iron Curtain, culminating in the end of the cold war, and I was shocked to learn that it is the fifteenth most purchased song in history, outranking any Beatles song. The podcast is a fantastic journey into how the U.S. government has secretly used American music, from jazz to hard rock, to further its own interests overseas.

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March 19, 2020

Coronavirus: Early Impressions of Sudden Social Change

Todd Schoepflin author photoBy Todd Schoepflin

I can’t believe I was in a classroom less than a week ago. It feels much longer than that. In one of my courses last week, a student started a conversation about Coronavirus. It gave us an opportunity to talk about our various emotions and reactions to an emerging and uncertain situation. In the next class (and final class before spring break recess), I thanked the student and told her I was grateful that she initiated a discussion about a sensitive and difficult subject.

During my office hours on Thursday March 12, two student athletes stopped in to drop off papers that were due. They asked if they could be excused from class due to a team meeting in which they were expecting to find out their athletic season would be canceled. One of my students was visibly upset and fighting back tears. I thanked them for coming by, told them not to worry about missing class, and said I was sorry their season was suddenly ending. I started thinking about all the student athletes who have worked so hard, putting in countless hours at the gym, during practice, in games, only for their pursuits to end unexpectedly. And then I started thinking of students in their senior year who are so close to the finish line and whom are surely excited about a graduation ceremony. But customary rituals like a commencement event are up in the air at colleges nationwide. It’s too early to tell how our lives will continue to be disrupted in ways ranging from minor inconveniences to major emergencies.

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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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