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

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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November 12, 2018

What is a Ghetto?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I ask students this question, they often dance around the answer. “A place where low-income people live,” is a common response. “Somewhere that isn’t very nice,” is another. But when I ask where this term comes from, few know.

The term is one we might avoid now, as ghetto might be seen as a derogatory word used to describe a low-income neighborhood in the central part of a U.S. city. Sometimes the term is also used as an adjective to describe people, often negatively.

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November 05, 2018

People are Different. People are the Same.

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

We seem to be living through a particularly violent time and, by some measures we certainly are. Pipe bombs and recent gun violence are very likely tied to the midterm elections.

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October 29, 2018

Thinking About Marijuana Legalization

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

On October 17, recreational marijuana became legal in Canada. There are rules about purchasing marijuana depending on where people live. In the province of Ontario, the legal age is 19, the possession limit is 30 grams in public, and it is not yet legal to purchase edible products. In Quebec, the legal age is 18, there are online and retail sales, and one can possess 30 grams in public, and no more than 150 grams at home. Alberta’s government offers a short video to inform citizens about the rules, including being allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants at home for personal use. The company Shopify was chosen to design and manage online sales in four provinces. According to this New York Times article, there will be lower levels of THC in legal marijuana than products available in the illegal market. Motorists will be fined if caught driving while high. And Canadians may face restrictions from using marijuana depending on their job (for instance, working as a pilot or police officer).

This short BBC video poses an important question: should those who’ve been convicted for marijuana offenses get amnesty? The video reports that 500,000 Canadians have criminal records for marijuana possession. In the video, politician Murray Rankin points out that black people in Toronto and Halifax were much more likely to be arrested than white people for cannabis possession. In an op-ed for The Globe and Mail, André Picard says that criminal records for marijuana possession should be expunged. As he mentions, having a criminal record makes it difficult to get a job and obtain bank loans. “Racialized and low-income Canadians have been disproportionately prosecuted and harmed,” he writes, linking to an article that talks about the especially negative impact on segments of the Canadian population during the era of cannabis prohibition, and concludes his article by saying the war on drugs has failed.

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October 22, 2018

Home, Interrupted

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I recently recived a phone call from a former neighbor, someone who lived next door to me for many years while I rented an apartment. She called to tell me that she received an eviction notice after more than 20 years in the apartment.

She let me know that she was in the midst of experimental treatment for an aggressive form of cancer that had spread, and didn’t have the full amount for rent at the start of the month. A few weeks later, though, she sent the balance to the landlord. The property management company let her know they would not accept the late payment, and proceeded with the eviction process.

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