336 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

December 23, 2019

Fear and Fire

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Twice in a period of eight days, people in my zip code were affected by brush fires. While I have been fortunate and haven’t had to evacuate, I live in a community surrounded by a state park and therefore by lots of trees, so fire is always a threat here.

Needless to say, seeing plumes of smoke and having helicopters swirl overhead is a scary experience. Fire reminds us that we are not completely in control of our environment, or our lives, for that matter.

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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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November 25, 2019

Tammy’s Story: Revealing Rural Poverty

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

As Colby King recently blogged, the film People Like Us: Social Class in America is a useful tool to discuss class in sociology courses. I have used clips in various classes over the years, but the segment that has had the most impact has been the segment titled “Tammy’s Story.” Tammy lives in Waverly, Ohio, population 4,408; her segment does a particularly good job detailing the challenges of rural poverty.

The 2001 film first introduces Tammy Crabtree, a 42-year-old single mother with two sons. She is interviewed in a run-down trailer, and appears to have aged beyond her years (my students in image-conscious Los Angeles are always shocked when I mention her age after seeing the clip). Tammy has no means of transportation, so she walks to work at a Burger King ten miles away from home. She is filmed on this walk, which looks quiet and pastoral on first glance, but Tammy mentions that people shout nasty things to her, such as “trashy bitch” as she walks.

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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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October 14, 2019

Libraries and Social Change

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I have vivid memories of visiting the library as a child, going to story hour and then being allowed to choose a few books to read that week. With age came the ability to take out more books and then eventually to have my own library card.

I still use the library all the time, but mostly online, whether it is my university’s library system or the public library to download e-books and audio books. While the way many of us use the library has changed, it is still a public institution whose importance we often overlook.

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October 07, 2019

The Blue Light of Privilege

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

While eating lunch recently, I accidentally bit down on the fork and heard a crunch. I felt a crunch too: it was my tooth. When I went to look in the mirror I could see a tiny jagged little chunk missing from one of my front teeth. You really did have to look to see it, and probably no one would notice unless I pointed it out, but I figured I’d better do something.

I did what most of us with Internet access probably do: I Googled “what do I do if I chipped my tooth” and most sites basically said, “Call a dentist.” But at the top of the page were a seemingly endless—and cheap—lineup of products that I could buy for DIY dental repair. YouTube also hosts numerous videos on how to fix your teeth yourself.

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August 07, 2019

Sociology and Religion

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I’m not an expert in the sociology of religion, but it is a fascinating area within the study of sociology. Religion is a topic that many other disciplines examine, including anthropology, history, and philosophy. So what is the focus of sociologists who study religion?

Rather than investigating religious doctrines, sociologists study the role that religion plays in social life. We don’t debate the virtues of any one religion, but instead look at how followers make meaning through the texts of their religious traditions. Émile Durkheim, one of the first sociologists, noted that religions distinguish between the sacred from the profane, or the holy from the everyday rituals and practices.

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July 29, 2019

Social Isolation, Living Alone, and Aging

author  photoBy Karen Sternheimer

If you live alone, you do not necessarily experience social isolation. That’s a good thing, because social isolation can have adverse health effects, including cardiovascular disease, depression, and even Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Maybe you don’t live alone and would like to carve out more time to spend by yourself. If you live with family members or roommates, having time alone might be a rare treat. Even if you do live alone, you do not necessarily experience social isolation if you regularly spend time with friends, family, or others. Social engagement could be informal social time or involve participation in organized activities through community groups, religious groups, and so on. Work is another way in which we might be engaged with others regularly.

Social isolation impacts older people more, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. The older we get, the more of our waking hours are likely to be spent alone. People under 40 spend on average 3.5 hours a day alone, compared with 4.75 hours for those in their 40s and 50s. Adults over 60 spend an average of 7 hours alone.

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July 15, 2019

"Are You an Athlete?" The Social Construction of Identity

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

No one had ever asked me if I was an athlete until recently. While checking my vital signs before a routine procedure, a nurse noted my low resting heart rate and asked this question. I didn’t know what to say; I must have had a puzzled look on my face.

“Do you get a lot of cardiovascular exercise?” she clarified. “Oh, yes,” I told her. In fact, fitness is probably what occupies most of my time, after sleeping and working. But I never think of myself as an athlete.

This got me thinking about how identity is constructed in a variety of social contexts. The identity of “athlete” is often related to social institutions, particularly those that have a special designation for this social category. For collegiate athletes, there is a governing body that creates rules and guidelines that schools must follow.

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