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.

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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 29, 2018

Thinking About Marijuana Legalization

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

On October 17, recreational marijuana became legal in Canada. There are rules about purchasing marijuana depending on where people live. In the province of Ontario, the legal age is 19, the possession limit is 30 grams in public, and it is not yet legal to purchase edible products. In Quebec, the legal age is 18, there are online and retail sales, and one can possess 30 grams in public, and no more than 150 grams at home. Alberta’s government offers a short video to inform citizens about the rules, including being allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants at home for personal use. The company Shopify was chosen to design and manage online sales in four provinces. According to this New York Times article, there will be lower levels of THC in legal marijuana than products available in the illegal market. Motorists will be fined if caught driving while high. And Canadians may face restrictions from using marijuana depending on their job (for instance, working as a pilot or police officer).

This short BBC video poses an important question: should those who’ve been convicted for marijuana offenses get amnesty? The video reports that 500,000 Canadians have criminal records for marijuana possession. In the video, politician Murray Rankin points out that black people in Toronto and Halifax were much more likely to be arrested than white people for cannabis possession. In an op-ed for The Globe and Mail, André Picard says that criminal records for marijuana possession should be expunged. As he mentions, having a criminal record makes it difficult to get a job and obtain bank loans. “Racialized and low-income Canadians have been disproportionately prosecuted and harmed,” he writes, linking to an article that talks about the especially negative impact on segments of the Canadian population during the era of cannabis prohibition, and concludes his article by saying the war on drugs has failed.

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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 15, 2018

The Behavior of Buffalo Bills Fans: A Mini-Ethnography

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

Buffalo Bills fans have a reputation. As seen in this Deadspin video, they are known for wild antics that take place at home games. Last season, in his role as an analyst, former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher acknowledged Bills tailgaters by breaking a table during a CBS pregame show. The so-called Bills Mafia arrives several hours before kickoff for tailgate parties.

I’ve attended many Bills games in my life and have fond memories of partying with my peer group in the parking lots surrounding the stadium. We did most of our tailgate partying in our 20s, and I can recall cracking open the first beer during breakfast. Our partying consisted of drinking, eating chili (our gatherings usually occurred in winter), and playing catch with a football. I have no recollection of people jumping through tables in those days. I decided to conduct a mini ethnography to see if this reputation reflected the experiences of fans, at least in my presence.

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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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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 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 14, 2018

A Sociology of My Death

Unknown-2By Peter Kaufman

I’m dying. I don’t mean this figuratively—like I’m dying of thirst or dying to visit Hawaii. I mean it quite literally. I have incurable, stage IV lung cancer.

I was diagnosed in June 2017, a few months after my fiftieth birthday. My only symptom was a nagging, dry cough, but by the time the disease was detected the cancer had metastasized throughout my body. Since then I have had numerous treatments and interventions. Some of these worked quite well, allowing me to resume most of my normal activities; others were not as effective, resulting in adverse side effects, extreme discomfort, and, in one instance, a week-long stay in the hospital. My current treatment plan showed great initial promise but now, after just a few weeks, the tumors started growing again.      

For me to have lung cancer—indeed any form of cancer—is the epitome of a tragic irony. I have never smoked or tried illegal drugs, and I’ve never even been drunk. I’ve pursued clean living, good nutrition, and regular exercise in part to avoid the sort of medical misfortune that I am now experiencing. As a kid I played sports all day long. At sixteen I swore off junk food. At eighteen I became a vegetarian. In my twenties I ran marathons and did triathlons, and, in my thirties and forties when my aching knees no longer let me run, I swam or biked most days. About six months before my diagnosis I completed a one-day workout that simulated two-thirds of an Ironman triathlon, swimming 2.4 miles, then biking 120 miles (with 5,000 feet of climbing). A few weeks later I recorded my fastest one-mile swim time ever. I was incredibly healthy . . . until I wasn’t.

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