77 posts categorized "Jonathan Wynn"

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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May 06, 2019

The Sociology Everyone Knows: Meritocracy and Gentrification

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

Perhaps you’ve heard that sociology just explains the things we already know about in the everyday world just in less accessible ways. But what if I told you that the everyday world already had a couple of very sociological ideas already in circulation? In my last blog post I wrote about a term that is used in everyday language that is sociological in origin: the self-fulfilling prophecy. For this post I want to write about two more everyday terms we don’t think of as sociological in origin: meritocracy and gentrification.

You have likely heard and even used the term meritocracy, believing that it is part of the foundation of the American education system. The term has certainly been in the news lately due to the college admissions scandal. (Todd Schoepflin recently wrote an Everyday Sociology blog post about it.)

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April 22, 2019

The Sociology Everyone Knows: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

This month Yale economics professor and Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller posited that the next recession could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. As I read about it, thought about how common a term it is. You, perhaps, have used this term in your everyday lives but haven’t realized that it’s a sociological term in origin. (Unless you read this Everyday Sociology blog post from almost ten years ago!)

According to Robert K. Merton, the self-fulfilling prophecy is a “false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true.” The subject of an article by Robert K. Merton, he builds on the “Thomas Theorem” (coined by W.I. and Dorothy Swaine Thomas): when a situation is defined as real, it is real in its consequences. The self-fulfilling prophecy is when a prediction is stated, no matter how incorrect, the resultant series of actions will be what he calls, brilliantly, a “reign of error.” He then states that everything that happens can be used ex post facto, as proof of the initial incorrect prediction.

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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 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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December 31, 2018

Emotional Intelligence and Sociology

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

There is a secret piece of your college education that I think we could talk more about. Despite its importance, I am only now I am realizing that it’s perhaps one of the most important skill sets you need to develop as an undergraduate. It is tucked into the classes and the general requirements, hidden between the lines. It’s called emotional intelligence, and I think it can be a profoundly sociological—not just psychological—phenomenon.

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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.

Continue reading "People are Different. People are the Same." »

The Social Construction of Geography

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Ever since I was a kid I loved maps. How are maps sociological? They seem to just be objective reality, right; elevations, physical roads, and directions from point A to point B.

You might be surprised at just how much of a social construction our human geography is. I used to pore over maps, looking at the street systems, all the neighborhoods. Where did that name come from? Mapmaking—or, cartography—might seem to be an objective science. But it is not the mere reporting of the names of towns and directions of streets. Mapping is a social science!

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October 01, 2018

Clue: A Center of Knowledge, 15 Letters

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

This weekend I carved out a little time to do The New York Times crossword. I love puzzling over the clues, watching a quadrant emerge, and the satisfaction of finishing. As I sipped my coffee, I thought about how social life is a lot like a crossword puzzle.

Here is one clue from the July 28 puzzle: “What you might charge for a ride.” My mind cast about for a five-letter word. It couldn’t be TOKEN or TICKET. But then I remembered that puzzle masters love word play, and realized that “charge” has multiple meanings. The answer was TESLA—the name for Elon Musk’s electric car.

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September 03, 2018

Bridging Divided Values?

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Our national political divide seems to be widening. Our opinions have diverged, and we seem to have developed an ever increasing “us and them” national character. This summer I read four books on the topic, varying in their political and intellectual perspectives.

Sociologists have long been interested in our how our values (moral beliefs) and norms (the rules and expectations by which a group guides the behavior of its members) shape our culture. From Max Weber to Talcott Parsons, we are justifiably curious about how culture bends our beliefs into actions. We have a pretty good sense for how culture serves to push people into groups through accentuating differences. We have less of a handle on how to bring people from different belief systems together.

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