219 posts categorized "Class and Stratification"

November 18, 2019

Seeing People like Us in People Like Us

author photoBy Colby King

This week I screened People Like Us: Social Class in America, in my Introduction to Sociology class, as I have done just about every semester since I started teaching. Although the film is now about 20 years old, I’m still finding lots of reasons to use it.

People Like Us directly examines something we often have difficulty talking about: social class. As any student of sociology knows, the social categories we work with, like class, or race, or gender, can be difficult to discuss in both informal and academic settings. All of these categories are meaningful, shape patterns of social inequality, and are perpetually being contested and renegotiated in our everyday social interactions.

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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 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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September 09, 2019

College Campuses as Lifestyle Centers

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

“Welcome to our newly rebranded Lifestyle Spa and University! We aim to make sure that your stay as…” [Needle scratch]

Okay, college marketing is not quite like that. But, what is it that helped you make your decision to attend your college or university? Maybe it was the graduation rates, the faculty/student ratio, study aboard, or the financial aid? Was it because your parents were alumni?

What about the collegiate lifestyle?

A 2012 national study, The American Freshman found that 40% of students said that social life was part of their consideration.

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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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March 20, 2019

The College Admissions Scandal: Can We Be Honest about Social Class in America?

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

I’m teaching a Social Stratification course this semester. One of the themes in our course is whether social class is an ascribed or achieved status. The popular conception is that social class in America is earned and accomplished and therefore an achieved status.

Sociologists beg to differ, because to say that social class is primarily an achieved status ignores the advantages given to the children of those who are better off in society. We can’t disregard the basic fact that children inherit the social class of their family. In other words, social class is ascribed in that it’s an involuntary status for the child who is raised in the social class surroundings of their family.

This is not to say that a person born into the middle-class is guaranteed to stay middle-class throughout their life, or that the child born into a rich family will surely reproduce their family’s social class position, or that being poor in one’s childhood inevitably means one will stay poor. No doubt there is movement up and down the social class system in the United States.

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February 19, 2019

Why College Costs Keep Climbing

author photoBy Irina Seceleanu, Colby King, Maria Hegbloom

Irina Seceleanu is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Bridgewater State University and the BSU Chapter Vice-President of the faculty union—Massachusetts State College Association. Maria Hegbloom is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Bridgewater State University and the BSU Chapter President of the faculty union—Massachusetts State College Association.

Growing up, we heard a lot about how school would be easier for either of us than it was for our parents and grandparents. “These days,” they’d say, “kids have it easy. The teachers are great, the schools have resources. When I was your age, I had to walk to school, in snow, uphill both ways!”

Maybe you’ve heard similar things about college today? Your campus likely has fantastic professors, maybe a few new buildings, and plenty of student services. If you’re at a public institution, especially a regional comprehensive university like Bridgewater State University (BSU) in Massachussetts that is known for small class sizes, teaching-focused professors, and lower tuition costs, you might also note the relatively affordable price compared to other nearby institutions.

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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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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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