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

March 04, 2019

A Sociological Road Trip (with Podcasts)

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

My family just finished a long road trip from Massachusetts to Texas, and we listened to a lot of podcasts. (I’ll be a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin.) I realized that the podcasts we listened to on the way, served as a kind of sociological road trip—a tour of a series of sociological topics: urban development, race, politics, cultural history, music, technology, and the criminal justice system. I think a sociology instructor could assign any of these series and have students connect their readings and lecture notes to their content. They are rich in description, and most are begging for some sociological analysis.

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February 27, 2019

Racism, Stress, and Health

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

This past weekend I was shopping at the grocery store. This wasn’t the grocery store I usually shop at, but while doing other errands in this part of town I figured I’d stop in and get this errand done too. It’s a bigger location than our local store but part of the same chain, and they have a greater selection than at my usual store.

As I was checking out, a commotion started in the front of the store. A customer was being escorted by out a security guard. I’m not sure what prompted the security guard’s action, as the store is rather big and they were walking from the other side of the store from where I stood. As people started to notice the commotion, tension hung in the air.

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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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February 19, 2019

Why College Costs Keep Climbing

author photoBy Irina Seceleanu, Colby King, Maria Hegbloom

Irina Seceleanu is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Bridgewater State University and the BSU Chapter Vice-President of the faculty union—Massachusetts State College Association. Maria Hegbloom is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Bridgewater State University and the BSU Chapter President of the faculty union—Massachusetts State College Association.

Growing up, we heard a lot about how school would be easier for either of us than it was for our parents and grandparents. “These days,” they’d say, “kids have it easy. The teachers are great, the schools have resources. When I was your age, I had to walk to school, in snow, uphill both ways!”

Maybe you’ve heard similar things about college today? Your campus likely has fantastic professors, maybe a few new buildings, and plenty of student services. If you’re at a public institution, especially a regional comprehensive university like Bridgewater State University (BSU) in Massachussetts that is known for small class sizes, teaching-focused professors, and lower tuition costs, you might also note the relatively affordable price compared to other nearby institutions.

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February 04, 2019

Food Options in Dollar Store Nation

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

According to The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, (ILSR) there are 30,000 dollar stores in the United States, more than the number of Walmart and McDonalds locations combined. This blows me away, even though I drive by dollar stores every day, and sporadically go to them to buy items like toothpaste, tape, paper plates, and balloons for special occasions. In my comfortable life in a middle-class suburb located south of Buffalo, dollar stores are an afterthought to me. I breeze by them knowing they exist if I need cheap products, but I don’t think about them as places to buy food.

Unlike Americans who depend on dollar stores for groceries, I’m accustomed to a variety of places offering a plentiful supply of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, snack foods, bakery goods, and other food items. I have the choice between six grocery stores in a five-minute drive (Wegmans, two locations of Tops Friendly Markets, Sav-A-Lot, Aldi, and The Market in the Square). If I extend the drive to ten minutes there’s another Wegmans location and yet another Tops location. In summer months there are also farmers markets close by and one roadside stand at a nearby small farm. As I reflect on all the options that surround me, I think of where I live as an over-served area.

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January 21, 2019

Online Media Dystopia

Colby (1)By Colby King

Concerned about online misinformation and fake news, I made a few revisions to the syllabi for my Introduction to Sociology courses before the start of the semester this past fall. I created an information literacy assignment based on the ongoing debate about the “marshmallow test.” But, I also made space to discuss Zeynep Tufekci’s research, particularly her analyses of how digital platforms and their algorithms shape how we collect information, share ideas, and interact with each other. Many students responded enthusiastically to these topics. And, while most were not surprised by the various concerning issues that Tufekci raises about digital platforms, many did report that understanding her research was causing them to reconsider the ways in which they engage online.

Zeynep Tufekci is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina in the School of Information and Library Science with an affiliate position in UNC’s Department of Sociology. Her book Twitter and Tear Gas, provides a vivid analysis of the ways in which social media supported social movements including the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, while also describing the challenges created by these same platforms.

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January 14, 2019

Applying Verstehen: Understanding the Transgender Experience

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It is very easy to fear what we don’t understand, and it is also easy to fear people who seem to be different from us. Our language enables this: the previous sentence contains the words “we” and “us,” suggesting that “they” and “them” are another group. As Peter Kaufman wrote two years ago, there is a danger in “othering” people that can mask our similarities.

People who identify as transgender get placed into the “other” category often, largely because many people don’t understand what it means to identify as any gender other than the one assigned at birth. When I came of age in the late twentieth century, I knew of no one who openly expressed gender identity issues—of course, that doesn’t mean no one I knew had these issues, just that they were hidden.

The concept of identifying as transgender was new to me, just as it was for many people. As sociologists, we strive to better understand people from their perspective. Sociologist Max Weber’s concept verstehen calls upon us to use research for the purpose of understanding people we study. This has led me to begin to read the growing body of sociological research on how people who identify as transgender come to this realization.

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December 24, 2018

Millennials, Sex, and the Economy: The Sociological Imagination in Action

12_01446By Angelique Harris

Although the exact definition of a millennial may vary, roughly speaking millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996, and are between 22 and 37 years of age in 2018. This is the first generation to come of age after the technology boom, having grown up with the internet and mobile phones. This is also the generation most impacted by the economic downturn. many of them graduated from college and entered the workforce during and immediately after the Great Recession, thus impacting not only their lifestyles and career opportunities, but even career choices and college majors.

While the economy impacts everyone, it has had a particular impact on millennials’ lives. We know so much about the lives and experiences of millennials in part because of their use of social media to document their lives, preferences, and habits and because, as the largest demographic, they are a target audience for market research.

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November 30, 2018

A Tribute to Peter Kaufman

Todd Schoepflin Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

After a battle with lung cancer, sociologist Peter Kaufman died on November 19. This post pays tribute to the special person he was and the exceptional writing he produced.

Less than a month before he died, Peter participated in a conversation about death and dying that took place at SUNY New Paltz, the place where he devoted his career as a sociology professor. It was a conversation with Rachel Somerstein, available to watch here. When I watch it, I see the Peter I knew and will miss dearly--contemplative, wise, honest, and funny. When asked why he chose to do this event (around the 12-minute mark), Peter said it was his idea, adding: “I’m not an expert on any of this stuff. I didn’t study death and dying as a sociologist. And I just have this unfortunate situation that I landed in this position and I’m gaining a lot of experiential wisdom. And I’ll have more wisdom after tonight, and more wisdom after next week, and I’ll have the most wisdom until my last breath.”

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November 19, 2018

Taking Sociology to the Circus

Colby (1)By Colby King

Did you know that before any U.S. city had a system of electric street lighting, Americans could see electric lighting at the circus? In 1878, James Bailey lit his circus with electricity, and as a result a large proportion of American saw electricity for the first time at the circus. Bailey even sold tickets for tours of the generator.

I learned this and a lot more from the recently aired documentary The Circus, from American Experience and PBS. The documentary illustrates the vibrant and problematic history of the circus, and underscored how the traveling circuses of the late 1800s and early 1900s were a quintessential part of U.S. society.

As someone who studies urban sociology, I was struck by the ways in which the circus functioned as a sort of traveling city. The film quotes one attendee describing the circus as:

a city that folds itself up like an umbrella. Quietly and swiftly every night it… [picks] up in its magician’s arms theatre, hotel, schoolroom, barracks, home, whisking them all miles away, and setting them down before sunrise in a new place.

Just as cities of the industrial era brought new patterns of social life, the circus brought culture and diversity, opportunities, and exploitation to the places it visited.

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