March 01, 2021

Eldercare, Economics, and COVID-19

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

In 2019, I wrote about my mother-in-law’s struggles with isolation after losing her husband of 61 years. As you can imagine, the pandemic has only made this challenge more difficult.

Adding to the challenge of 2020 were two injuries she experienced, first a spinal compression fracture in January and a pelvic fracture after a fall in May. Both left her in need of constant care, which family members alone have been unable to provide. Fortunately, she has been able to afford—although not easily afford—the help of in-home caregivers.

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February 22, 2021

Managing Risk and Sociological Theory

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Here’s a situation that you might be familiar with: After months of being careful with a very small "pod" of three families, they decided to take a risk and allow another person into their trusted group.   That person ended up being an asymptomatic carrier of COVID and infected the whole group.  This is a tragic (and real) scenario.

It’s likely that you and your loved ones have had to individually assess risk and have been challenged either by a glut of some information, a confusion of incorrect information, or a deficit of good data. How are you assessing the decision to return to campus? Are colleges right to open up?

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February 15, 2021

Are Dogs People? Dog Valuation, Sacralization, and the Dog Consumer Market

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos, Sociology Doctoral Student, Rutgers University

Long considered “man’s best friend,” dogs have undoubtedly come to occupy a significant role in U.S. society. Their popularity with Americans is striking: an estimated 63.4 million households owned a dog in 2019-2020, which makes up 67% of all households in the U.S.  Dogs are by far the most popular pet in America.

Dog owners are increasingly opting for more affectionate terms for their pets like “companion,” “family member,” or even “person.” And perhaps rightly so. An abundance of research demonstrates that for many owners a dog can serve as an attachment figure– someone who the person turns to for psychological and emotional support. Indeed, the psychological benefits of being in the presence of an animal, and of a dog in particular, have proven to be plentiful: dogs can reduce a person’s anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as increase their self-esteem and playfulness.

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February 08, 2021

Amanda Gorman’s Sociological Imagination

Janis prince innissBy Janis Prince Inniss

The breakout star of the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris inauguration was not Biden or Harris, or even Bernie Sanders! Amanda Gorman takes that title as evidenced by the media swirling around her, her new modeling gig, and the fact that her as yet unpublished books took the top two spots on Amazon’s bestseller list the following day.

At age 22, Gorman is the youngest poet to recite poetry at a United States inauguration and is the nation’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. In the poem she read at the inauguration, “The Hill We Climb,” I heard a sociological perspective. Therefore, I was not surprised when I learned that Gorman was a sociology major at Harvard who graduated cum laude and see how that may have shaped her poetry. My intention here is to highlight some of the sociological aspects of “The Hill We Climb.” Disclaimer: I am not an English literature professor; my intention is not to provide a definitive or literary analysis of the poem, but instead to highlight its sociological connections.

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February 04, 2021

An Inauguration and a Funeral: Rituals and Rites of Passage

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

On January 20, 2021, along with nearly 39 million people across the country, I watched the presidential inauguration. An inauguration is more than just a swearing-in ceremony; it includes a presidential address, followed by events like the “pass in review,” where the first and second couples (and in non-pandemic times, their guests) watch as a series of military processionals pass by to celebrate a new commander-in-chief from the steps of the Capitol building. Along with three former presidents and their spouses, the newly-inaugurated leaders also laid a wreath at Arlington Cemetery at the tomb of the unknown soldier, which included a prayer, the performance of the national anthem, and a military canon salute.

Moments after the ceremony, I attended a funeral for a beloved aunt via Zoom. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, most of my family and I could not travel to be there, and only a small number of family members were allowed to attend the brief graveside service. Along with about 75 others, I watched the rituals on my computer: the prayers, a eulogy, the family members putting dirt in the grave as the coffin is lowered into the ground.

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February 01, 2021

Writing a Literature Review: Connecting Past Studies with Your Research

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Writing a literature review demonstrates that you are familiar with previous research and theoretical concepts related to your research topic. The “literature” includes scholarly publications written by primarily by researchers in your discipline. Reports of research and theoretical discussions are mostly found in peer-reviewed journals and books, which you should read before designing your own study.

A literature review is more than a list of previous research, and it’s more than a description of studies. It is a detailed case that we make to justify how and why our study will contribute to the existing scholarly knowledge on our topic. When writing a literature review, we need to explain why this is important based on the scholarly discussion on our topic, not just why it is important to society in general.

How do you get started?

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January 27, 2021

The Symbols of the Capitol Siege

Jonathan Wynn (1)

By Jonathan Wynn

There are plenty of articles and posts that explore how sociological concepts can inform our understanding the Capitol siege on January 6th, 2021. (There’s a great post, titled “Sociology of the Siege” here). Of all the things going on that day, symbolism was a big part of it.

On the one hand, you have one of the great symbols of American democracy, the U.S. Capitol Building—such a significant symbol that was the alleged fourth target of another symbolic act, the 9/11 attacks. But there, among the crowd laying siege to it, was a wild mass of signs and imagery that was quite difficult to decipher for those who might not know what all of it means.

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January 25, 2021

Learning from the Literature: How to Find Categories and Themes

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Are you writing a literature review? If you are doing this for the first time, you might be struggling with how to write about the various sources you have found for your project.

First, recall that a literature review is a detailed discussion of academic research related to a specific research question. The two words can be confusing; by literature, we primarily mean the scholarly books and journal articles that have been published on your topic. These sources should peer-reviewed, which means that scholars in the field have determined that the research was of sufficient rigor to merit publication. The sources you include in the literature review should mostly come from your academic discipline—in this case, sociological journals and books by sociologists.

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January 18, 2021

Is Your Professor a Republican?

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

As I write, the 2020 presidential election is (almost) behind us. Perhaps you are wondering, "What’s the political affiliation of my professors?" It is not an unreasonable question. Some faculty are quite forthright about their political leaning. Some might be more discreet.

I suppose I can admit something here, among friends: I am quite liberal. I have toned down expressing political sentiments as I’ve gotten older but also out of a (perhaps unfounded) fear that some video of me might be taken out of context and uploaded on social media. The political leanings of our students at UMass Amherst reflect the state at large, politically, as being about 1/3 Republican, 2/3 Democrat. I say this knowing that tenure and academic freedom allows for great latitude in these matters. Still, people who are not professors might not realize this, but faculty aren’t exactly eager to have a media fiasco on their hands.

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January 11, 2021

Binging Bob’s Burgers: Social Class, Shrimp Cocktail, and First-Generation College Students

LT Rease author headshot LT Rease author headshotBy La’Tonya Rease Miles and Colby King

La’Tonya Rease Miles is the Dean of Student Affairs at Menlo College

Have you been binge watching any particular shows during the pandemic? We were talking recently about how we have both been watching Bob’s Burgers with our families. 

If you have not seen Bob’s Burgers, take a look at this one-minute clip from earlier this year which shows the family operating their burger shop in a socially distanced way.  In the clip, the owner’s children create a song about their boredom.

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