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

April 03, 2023

Public Libraries as Social Infrastructure

Colby King author photoBy Colby King

A few years ago, I wrote about post offices as social infrastructure. I referred to sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s book Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure can help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, in which he defines social infrastructure as “the physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact,” (p. 5). I recently saw a vivid illustration of how Klinenberg’s original subject, libraries, operate as social infrastructure. I want to share the story and discuss its context.

My wife and I have been taking our daughters, who are 5 years old and 21 months old, to our local public library and borrowing books. Our oldest has been particularly excited about this. She finds a new book from the Princess in Black series on each visit.

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March 27, 2023

Getting a Job: Working for AI

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I have been fortunate to have had my job for more than twenty years. I have never looked for a job in the twenty-first century. If I did, the process would be a lot different than it was in the 1990s. Monster.com, the first online resume database, only launched in 1999. And while the internet might have had job listings, old-fashioned snail mail was still the main way to apply for a job for many years after that.

Back in the twentieth century, writing a good resume was key. It still is today, but an algorithm is likely to be the first to “see” your resume. In theory, this is meant to help streamline the hiring process and perhaps even get better candidates. Even a first interview might be submitted as a video, screened by a bot to read a candidate’s facial expressions and keywords used.

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March 13, 2023

Student Parents: Rethinking Assumptions about College Students

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

All too often, administrators at my university informally refer to students as “kids” during meetings. Not only are the vast majority college students legal adults, but some are older than traditionally aged college students (18-24). And some of our students are parents themselves.

The Education Trust recently reported that approximately one in five college students in the United States are parents, and that student parents are more likely to be students of color. This percentage is even higher at  for-profit colleges; an Aspen Institute report based on U.S. Department of Education data found that 45 percent of students attending private for-profit schools were also parents. Of all student parents, 42 percent attend community colleges. Most are mothers, and student mothers are less likely to be married than student fathers. Most have children under 6. According to the report, student parents are also more likely to take on student debt—and more perhaps surprisingly—more likely to have GPAs over 3.5.

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March 06, 2023

What is a Good Member of Society?

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I never really thought about this question until reading a recent Pew Research Center report. While we might have a good idea of what it takes to be a good student (go to class, do all readings and assignments), a good parent (provide for a child’s physical and emotional wellbeing as best you can), and a good friend (spend time together, listen to one another, be supportive), there aren’t really obvious answers to being a good member of society.

That alone is telling. In a society marked by individualism, or the notion that we are separate rather than interdependent, we might focus more on how to be a good person or on our interpersonal relationships, but seldom on how to be a good member of the larger whole. Even as a sociologist, I seldom think about what makes someone a good member of society.

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January 16, 2023

Why Doctors Don’t Want Patients Like Me, and How it Impacts all of Us

Stacy Torres author photoBy Stacy Torres

People with disabilities experience substandard medical care, disrespectful doctor-patient interactions, and longstanding barriers to accessibility. A recent study published in Health Affairs helps explain why. 

When granted confidentiality in focus groups, doctors revealed personal aversion to and avoidance of patients with disabilities—patients like me. Their reasons ranged from prejudicial attitudes to the logistical and financial hurdles of treating patients with complex care needs.

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January 06, 2023

Macro Meets Micro: Time Management

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I’d like to think I’m pretty good at managing my time. At least until I start thinking about time as linked with structural forces, and then I realize there are a lot of factors at play in the regulation of time that are not solely up to the individual.

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October 24, 2022

Lonely at the Top: The Toll of “High Functioning” Depression and Our Pandemic Mental Health Crisis

Stacy Torres author photoBy Stacy Torres

From the vantage of midlife, I’ve pondered social mobility’s toll on myself and others who’ve climbed from the poor or working-class into the professional class. I’ve spent my entire life developing a titanium outer shell, making myself strong and tough as poverty conspired to knock me off track. Skilled at powering through, I’ve worn my resilience like a Purple Heart. I had to fight. And fight. And fight.

But I’m tired of running to stay in place. At 42, I still spend considerable time quieting the inner monologue that says I’m not good enough. In my current position as an assistant professor of sociology, work and productivity remain intertwined with my identity and self-worth. Rejections can feel personally crushing. I’ve often dwelled on my failures, feeling like an imposter. Being hard on myself served me in the climb, but harmful perfectionism now yields diminishing returns.

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October 17, 2022

Gender Nonconformity and Culture Wars

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

For the past few years, an unprecedented “culture war” has been brewing in the U.S. While contemporary issues of race, class, sexuality, gender, and abortion (just to name a few) have deep historical roots, our current hyper-polarized climate has amplified each of these debates to the point where each side feels that their very existence is threatened by the other. We have recently seen this sense of threat escalate to violence numerous times: from the insurrection on January 6th 2021, to parents fighting at local school board meetings, to deadly massacres driven by white supremacist ideology.

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October 03, 2022

Smile for a Change

Cornelia Mayr Author Photo By Cornelia Mayr

Department of Sociology, University of Klagenfurt, Austria

“The circus is coming! The circus is coming!” a colorful street poster silently shouted at us while a friend and I were walking down the sidewalk. Amazing trapeze artists, skilled acrobats in fabulous costumes and exotic animals, all captured in a performing pose in front of a tent-like symbol. Right next to the artistic performers grinned the huge face of a comical clown cheerfully down on us. “Clowns are creepy,” my friend claimed determinedly. “Why?” I asked him. “It’s because. I don’t know. Just look at them. They are... clownish.”

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September 26, 2022

Changes in the Middle: Explaining Shifts in the Middle Classes

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

In my lifetime, there has been a major shift for middle income families, sometimes called the “middle class squeeze.” Some households have been squeezed up, as the growth in technology and globalization have created new high paying “knowledge class” occupations, especially in technology-related jobs. As I mentioned in a recent post about growing up in a middle- to upper-middle-class community during the 1970s and 1980s, I have witnessed how these changes have manifested in the past several decades.

What does this mean, how did this happen, and why does it matter?

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