394 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

July 04, 2022

Pools and Privilege

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s possible that I learned to swim before I could walk. As an infant, my mother took me to a group swimming lesson at the local YWCA, where mothers introduced their babies to the water. While she held me, I learned such skills as floating, blowing bubbles, and kicking. I also became comfortable in the water, which I have been throughout my life thanks to years of swimming lessons as a child.

I’m a regular lap swimmer now, which provides numerous physical and mental health benefits. And while people at my community pool sometimes compliment my consistency and endurance in the water, I owe most of this to the hidden privileges of having access to pools most of my life. Sure, lots of people don’t swim regularly who could—so I’ll take some credit for suiting up on a regular basis (especially on cold days!)—but many of the factors that lead me to swim are class-based privileges that often go unrecognized.

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June 20, 2022

What Can Comedy Teach us about Sociology?

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

While preparing for take-off on a recent flight, a man in the row in front of me made a “joke” to his teenaged kids. After an announcement to take your seat and fasten your seatbelts, he said rather loudly, “Yeah, like seatbelts are really going to make a difference in a plane crash!”

He eagerly looked for a positive reaction to his comment. His kids didn’t appear to laugh, and those of us in the surrounding rows seemed to share a moment of nervous discomfort. Isn’t it an unwritten rule that you don’t mention plane crashes—even in jest—on an airplane?

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May 23, 2022

More Verstehen: What it’s Like to be a Juvenile Offender Sentenced to LWOP

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the central guiding principles that I follow as a sociologist (and a human) is Max Weber’s notion of verstehen, which is German for understanding. Weber encourages us to apply the tools of sociology to do our best to understand experiences that might be different from our own.

It’s probably safe to presume that most people reading this post have not had the experience of shooting someone in the face at the age of thirteen during a robbery, then being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) at fourteen and spending 26 years in prison; 18 of them in solitary confinement.

Continue reading "More Verstehen: What it’s Like to be a Juvenile Offender Sentenced to LWOP" »

May 16, 2022

What Sociology Students Should Know about “Think Tanks”

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Have you ever heard the term “think tank” and wondered what it meant? It sounds like a locked glass room filled with smart people who just want to ponder life’s questions. That’s not entirely wrong (except, I assume, for the locked part).

A think tank is typically a nonprofit organization that focuses on a particular set of issues to make policy recommendations. They might study issues like inequalities in the job market, racial inequality, foreign policy, technology, and social change. They may be affiliated with a university, an advocacy group, or another organization, but they might also be stand-alone independents. (Here is a list of some of the major think tanks in the U.S.)

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May 02, 2022

Not My Job: Navigating Bureaucracies

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I was recently cc’d on an email sent by a colleague. It was addressed to another colleague and to someone in our dean’s office and it concerned a student who was upset about a requirement they needed to meet. The sender was angry that, based on information the student shared, a class they had taken would not meet a particular university requirement.

This email was problematic on a number of levels that give us insight into the concept of bureaucracy:

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April 18, 2022

Work and the Body

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Several years ago, the small company my husband worked for had an employee challenge: get the company’s logo tattooed on a visible part of your body, and the company would donate several hundred dollars to the charity of your choice.

My husband did not take them up on this offer (and his team was soon after acquired by another company anyway), but several of his coworkers did. More than just a charitable impulse, it seemed like a way for these employees to demonstrate their commitment to the small startup. This was a company that expected its workers to be not just good employees, but “heroes” that would be available at any hour to meet its clients’ needs, albeit with little room for growth in terms of career or salary.

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April 06, 2022

Road Trip: Culture Shock and Renting a Car in Italy

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Culture shock is one of the most basic concepts in sociology, involving a feeling of confusion in a new environment that those accustomed to the location likely take for granted. Taking a road trip in a foreign country is a great way to experience culture shock: something at once familiar becomes strange in a place where the language and customs are different from what we are used to. Culture shock one of the most interesting things about travel.

Renting a car in most other countries often means that the instrument panels will look different, especially if the speedometer is based on kilometers per hour rather than miles per hour. While most rental cars in the U.S. have automatic transmission, nearly all European rentals are manual transmission, commonly known as a stick shift. And the one that we rented on our most recent trip didn’t even take gasoline, but instead ran on metano.

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March 07, 2022

Age and the Great Resignation

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

You have probably heard that many people have been voluntarily leaving their jobs in 2021 and 2022, often called “the great resignation.” Much has been made about people deciding that they prefer to work from home and maybe even change where home is, sometimes relocating to lower-cost, slower paced communities during the pandemic. Perhaps people have decided that their work wasn’t fulfilling and they are looking for a permanent change, having been “awakened” by the sudden change thanks to the pandemic.

There is an almost romantic story being told about people “finding themselves” as those looking to hire wring their hands about the lack of labor supply. The data tell another story. As Forbes reported in January 2022:

Fully two-thirds of the folks leaving jobs this past August weren’t actually ‘quitting.’ They were retiring. One million were ‘normal’ retirements, an additional 1.5 million opted for early retirement. That’s a whole different story.

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February 16, 2022

Travel as Ethnography: Being a Temporary Local (with a Kitchen)

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

When planning a trip to northern Italy last year, I stumbled upon a class of lodging I wasn’t familiar with: the condo hotel. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic meant limiting contact with others, so a traditional hotel was less desirable this trip. A refrigerator, and at the very least a microwave, was a must.

Because we happened to be searching for a weeklong place to stay, starting on a Saturday, all sorts of options appeared that hadn’t during previous trips we’d booked, where we stayed places for just a few nights rather than a whole week. We had looked for lodging in the same town previously and found very little available. That was because we didn’t do a Saturday-Saturday search, which we later learned was essential for this type of lodging.

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January 31, 2022

Tell Me Who I am: Identity and Society

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned/
I know it sounds absurd/
Please tell me who I am.

Supertramp, “Logical Song,” 1979.

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)/
I really want to know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)/
Tell me who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)/
Because I really want to know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

The Who,Who are You?” 1978

Who am I? Who are you? These two hit songs capture central questions we ask within American society, and within sociology. In the study of sociology, we are very interested in how people make sense of themselves. Some of our earliest thinkers asked these questions, such as George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) who saw identity emerging from interactions between the self and society, and later Erving Goffman (1922-1982), who described the process through which we work to manage the impressions others have of us during social interactions.

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