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

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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December 16, 2019

Thinking Like a Sociologist: Is Minimalism a Social Movement?

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Minimalism” seems to be everywhere, with advice on decluttering, living in tiny houses, or the promise of early retirement through frugal living seemingly endless online. Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was first published in 2014 and has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, making the Japanese consultant a one-woman industry with her own Netflix series.

I confess that I have never read Kondo’s book, but am still drawn to the idea of simplifying and decluttering (but not living in a tiny house, although the HGTV series can be fun to watch). I spend less time online or watching television; I try to minimize mental clutter as much as physical clutter. I like going through my closet and donating little-used items, which also reminds me that I can do with less. I rarely go shopping. When I do, I try to be very conscientious about whether this is something I need. I prefer not to exchange gifts during the holiday season, especially because receiving stuff I don’t want or need from family and friends is awkward. My spouse and I decided a few years ago not to mark special occasions with gifts but rather with fun experiences like travel; when we travel I challenge myself to travel light.

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December 09, 2019

Teaching in the Shadow of Slavery

Myron strongBy Myron Strong

On a warm day in the spring, a colleague and I walked into Hilton Hall located on the Catonsville campus of my college. The campus was once a plantation and Hilton Hall, which more commonly is known as “the mansion,” had been renovated over the past 3 years for $10 million. I had never been there before and it was an eerie experience. It reminded me of growing up in Eudora, Arkansas, a small rural town that also was once a plantation, and had evolved into a segregated town separated by railroad tracks. There is spiritual weight to these places. History has mass – you feel it, see it and taste it. I felt it in “the mansion.”

I was there giving a lecture for a program, Invisible History: Exploring CCBC Hilton Center, a program created to address complaints expressed by some students, faculty, and staff concerning the college embracing a symbol of trauma and oppression. The program featured a panel of professors from different disciplines as well as the college president. When I heard about the program, I was afraid that it would glance over or romanticize history, so I insisted on being a part of it.

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November 11, 2019

Lower Ed: Replicating Inequality

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

What do you get when you combine the increase in low-wage work, the increase in people earning college degrees, and the decrease in state funding for higher education?

You get something sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom calls Lower Ed, which she examines in her book of the same name. Lower Ed refers to for-profit colleges and universities, which are on average twice as expensive as public four-year colleges and four times as expensive as community colleges. As public colleges and universities have lost a good deal of their state support, for-profit colleges have stepped into the void, offering easy year-round enrollment and assisting with financial aid applications.

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October 28, 2019

Collective Action Derailed: The Danger of Judgment

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We all jump to conclusions sometimes. We apply our past experiences and information that we may have gathered and apply it when processing information. Sometimes we do this so we don’t have to think much about a subject, especially if it causes us some distress. We may be especially likely to do this when we don’t have all of the facts about a situation or understand the context.

Hearing about people in poverty, people who are unemployed, homeless, victims of crime, and victims of police misconduct can be overwhelming. So sometimes we draw our own conclusions and focus on how the people affected must have done something wrong and are suffering the consequences. We do this in order to minimize any sadness, guilt, or responsibility to take action collectively.

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September 30, 2019

Where People Live: The Socio Spatial Perspective

Colby King author photoBy Colby King

It is important to study both how residents socially construct meaning in their settlement spaces, and how the built environment shapes social life. The socio spatial perspective (SSP), which is a framework for studying urban social life that integrates sociological and political economy dimensions into the analysis of urban space and social life. (For more discussion see The New Urban Sociology.)

This approach to urban sociology is deeply informed by Mark Gottdiener’s efforts to bring Henri Lefebvre’s writing to urban sociology. Drawing on Lefebvre, the SSP focuses on the social production of space, and as we explain in the book, examines how everyday life throughout metropolitan regions is affected by the interplay of cultural, political, economic, and social forces.

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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 30, 2019

Sociological Bits of Knowledge

Todd Schoepflin author photoBy Todd Schoepflin

My sociological mind is racing with excitement for the new school year. Whether you’re beginning college, going back to college, graduated from college, or never been to college, here are some useful sociological bits of knowledge:

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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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June 18, 2019

Canopies and Contact Zones

Jonathan WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Last month, the Speaker of the House for Ohio, a Republican named Larry Householder, was upset by a local library story time hosted by a drag queen. He said, “Taxpayers aren’t interested in seeing their hard earned dollars being used to teach teenage boys how to become drag queens.” But taxpayers should absolutely be interested in the idea that a public space like a library can be places where people who are different from one another can meet and engage with each other. In fact, State Rep. Householder should visit a few places like that.

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg recently published a wonderful book on this very topic, called Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. The idea is as simple an idea as it is profound: societies need public places for people to engage with others in meaningful ways. Parks, libraries, public places of all sorts are where people from different places can come together. This idea has really taken off in the last few months, and I know that librarians are happy to have Klinenberg write in a New York Times op-ed that the effort should start with libraries!

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