311 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

December 10, 2018

The Definition of the Situation: Resisting Discussions of Death

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A family member’s recent illness and passing highlighted a concept within micro sociology: the definition of the situation. This idea posits that situations come with social scripts that shape our behavior within any given context. How we define a situation guides our actions; sometimes our actions might seem strange if others around us define the situation differently. Put simply, people base their behavior on our understanding of events, and we generally ascribe meaning to these events based on our interactions with others.

Although he was 85-years-old and was being treated for lymphoma, a type of cancer, my father-in-law was healthy enough to play tennis this past August when he fell and broke his hip on the court. Our family defined this situation as a sports-related injury, albeit one with more risks due to his age and overall health status. It seemed that medical professionals defined his injury the same way too.

Continue reading "The Definition of the Situation: Resisting Discussions of Death" »

November 26, 2018

Identity and Retirement

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Sociologist Michelle Pannor Silver’s new book, Retirement and its Discontents: Why We Won’t Stop Working, Even if We Can, is based on interviews with retirees, many of whom are struggling with the transition to retirement. Many of her informants who held prestigious positions as doctors, CEOs, and professors said the biggest challenge they faced was related to their sense of self.

If a big part of one’s identity comes from work, who are you if you are retired?

This challenge is complicated when work occupies most of one’s time, often to the detriment of family and maintaining social ties outside of one’s field. For occupations that demand long hours while offering titles with a great deal of prestige, leaving the field can leave people unsure of what to do and of who they are.

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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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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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October 08, 2018

Language and Culture

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Have you studied a foreign language? If you have and are in the U.S., you may be in the minority, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. According to the report, about 20 percent of K-12 students in the U.S. were enrolled in a foreign language course in 2017. By contrast, 92 percent of European students were learning a foreign language during this time frame.

Wide disparities exist regarding foreign language study within the U.S. according the report, ranging from 51 percent of New Jersey students to just 9 percent in Arizona, Arkansas, and New Mexico. These disparities largely stem from differing state requirements; just ten states and the District of Columbia have a foreign language requirement for high school graduation.

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September 24, 2018

How to Find Reliable Data

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the big challenges students face in writing research papers is finding reliable sources of data. This challenge isn’t exclusive to students: many people might need a refresher course in what constitutes a reliable source.

First, what constitutes data? If you search the word “data” you will likely get many vague generalized definitions. When researchers are talking about data, we mean findings that are the result of empirical observation based on systematic study. Simply put, data are what we get when we do research. In most cases in the social sciences, research papers should include findings from a systematic study, yours or other peoples’.

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September 21, 2018

Meaning Making and Health

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Peter Kaufman’s recent post about his experience with stage IV lung cancer is an important reminder that our bodies—particularly as they appear and function at this moment—and our overall health, are temporary.

And yet we often perceive them to be permanent. Why?

We make sense of our health collectively; even the way in which we define illness is rooted in social interactions. As sociologists Peter Conrad and Kristen K. Barker explain in their article "The Social Construction of Illness," culture plays a role in how we view and respond to a condition, and people experience their condition in a social context.

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September 10, 2018

Being a Temporary Foreigner

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As C. Wright Mills noted in The Sociological Imagination, one of our tasks as sociologists is to “make the familiar strange.” Traveling to a foreign country—especially one where you barely speak the language—is a great way to undertake Mills’s advice.

Travel highlights how many little things we take for granted while interacting with others. The most obvious barrier is speaking the same language. While we English speakers of the world are uniquely privileged because so many people speak our language, or at least some of our language, not everyone does.

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August 27, 2018

Shopping Malls and Social Change

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I was a teen in the 1980s, the shopping mall was the center of social life. It was a regular gathering place for people my age; it was one of the few places to go that was free (unless you decided to buy something), parents generally felt like it was safe, and we might see other kids our age there. Remember, there was no email, no Internet, and no social media, so aside from the telephone, hanging out was the only way to socialize.

Malls were also a site of aspirational consumption. While I could occasionally buy clothes, records (on vinyl or cassette), food, or other goods, mostly the mall was the place of imagination of what I would buy if I could. My friends and I could try on clothes to see what styles were flattering for occasions we might someday need an outfit for. This was not just a way to pass the time, but to bond with friends. Memorialized in movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Valley Girl (1983), and Mall Rats (1995) to name a few, malls were center stage for middle-class American teens living in the suburbs.

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August 13, 2018

Inequality and the Cashless Economy

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What if you had money, maybe not a lot of money, but you couldn’t use the money you did have to buy some things you need or pay your bills? And what if you had to pay in order to access your money?

For some people, this is a day-to-day reality if they are unbanked or underbanked; people who either don’t have a bank account or a credit or debit card. Think about all of the things that you buy without cash, whether online or in person, and would not be able to because you don’t have a card. This lack of access is an important measure of inequality in an increasingly cashless economy.

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