June 03, 2019

What is Sociological Research?

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We do research all the time, or at least we use the word research regularly. Trying to figure out where to stay on a vacation? “Research” it online! Choosing a restaurant? Do some “research” by asking your friends about their favorite places in the area. Hoping to learn more about a movie before shelling out money for tickets? “Research” reviews and see what other people think.

You can probably tell from my use of quotations that looking something up online is not the same thing as doing sociological research. This should go without saying, but on several occasions I have seen students genuinely confuse a Google search with doing social science research.

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May 28, 2019

Comparative Historical Research: The Intersection between Sociology and History

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We’ve written a lot on this blog about the intersection between biography and history, C. Wright Mills’ now classic explanation of the sociological imagination. But beyond individuals’ connections with history, sociologists sometimes venture into the historical study of social phenomena and events in order to identify shifts over time and what social forces may be the cause of change. This is called comparative historical research.

Sociologists who conduct comparative historical research often use methods that overlap with historians’ research, such as using census data and other archived records, historical news clippings, oral histories, written correspondence and other sources of data. When sociologists use historical data, we are often trying to explain macro-level changes in society and have the benefit of time to analyze the causes and consequences.

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May 20, 2019

Guys Like Me: Life History Analysis and the Intersection Between Biography and History

To listen to Karen's interview with Michael, click below to hear the first episode of the Everyday Sociology Podcast!

Michael Messner

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author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Life history analysis is a method that seems to perfectly fit sociologist C. Wright Mills’s concept of the sociological imagination. Mills encourages us to think of the sociological imagination and a way of thinking about the intersection between biography and history; it’s a wonder sociologists don’t embrace life history analysis more, as it helps us analyze how our informants’ experiences overlay with historical events.

Sociologist Michael Messner uses this method to better understand men’s experiences in war and how they come to make sense of these experiences over the course of their lives. His book, Guys Like Me: Five Wars, Five Veterans for Peace, examines the life stories of veterans to understand how they have grappled with their experiences in war and how this is connected with constructions of masculinity.

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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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April 29, 2019

Connecting the Dots: Linking Theory with Research

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

As I wrote about previously, one of the main things to consider when making sure that your research topic is sociological is its connection with sociological theory. How does your study—or idea for a study—reflect or inform a theoretical perspective within the discipline?

First, let’s remind ourselves about what the difference is between a hypothesis and a theory. A hypothesis is a specific, testable “educated guess” about the relationship between two or more variables, while a theory is a system of ideas, often based on previous studies.

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April 22, 2019

The Sociology Everyone Knows: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

This month Yale economics professor and Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller posited that the next recession could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. As I read about it, thought about how common a term it is. You, perhaps, have used this term in your everyday lives but haven’t realized that it’s a sociological term in origin. (Unless you read this Everyday Sociology blog post from almost ten years ago!)

According to Robert K. Merton, the self-fulfilling prophecy is a “false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true.” The subject of an article by Robert K. Merton, he builds on the “Thomas Theorem” (coined by W.I. and Dorothy Swaine Thomas): when a situation is defined as real, it is real in its consequences. The self-fulfilling prophecy is when a prediction is stated, no matter how incorrect, the resultant series of actions will be what he calls, brilliantly, a “reign of error.” He then states that everything that happens can be used ex post facto, as proof of the initial incorrect prediction.

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April 15, 2019

The Men of Tomorrow: Gillette’s Call for a Healthier Masculinity

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

The phrase “boys will be boys” irritates me. It suggests an inevitable outcome; that no matter what happens in life, it’s in the nature of boys to behave a certain way. It goes against what I’ve learned and believe as a sociologist, and runs contrary to my own experiences and observations as a parent. The idea that “boys will be boys” grossly downplays the significance of how children are raised, and says nothing about social contexts and cultural influences.

Contemplating how our social environment shapes masculinity is something that occurs on a regular basis in sociology courses. It’s not the kind of content you’d expect to see depicted in a commercial for razors. But the recent “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” Gillette advertisement critically addresses the subject of masculinity and got a lot of attention for doing so.

Near the beginning of the ad, we hear a voice ask, “Is this the best a man can get?” followed by images about bullying, sexual harassment, and mansplaining. A man pinches the butt of a woman on a sitcom set, and we hear the voice say “It’s been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off. Making the same old excuses.”

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April 08, 2019

Why Small Social Cues are a Big Deal

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Hands up. Staying on topic. Remaining silent while others speak. Waiting until others are done speaking to raise your hand.

These are social rules many of us take for granted in the classroom. It helps keep the learning environment orderly and efficient, and provides opportunities for many people to participate in the learning experience.

What happens when a participant has difficulty following some of these social rules?

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April 01, 2019

Culture, Conflict, and Politics

Author photoBy Jessica Poling

Sociology Ph.D. student, Rutgers University

The 2016 presidential election sparked a nation-wide period of cultural conflict characterized by the working-class’s rising frustrations towards “elites.” President Trump himself has fostered a spirit of anti-intellectualism, at times even celebrating his own lack of intellectualism. These tensions go deeper than just economic class; rather, they are grounded in differences in cultural proclivities.

The differences between the often culturally conservative working-class and the often liberal upper-middle class may therefore be deeper than political affiliations. To understand this particular political moment, we must thus understand the cultural tensions beneath political divisions.

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March 25, 2019

Researcher Reflexivity: Why who we are Matters

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are interested in researching something, there is often a personal reason. Maybe you have a parent who is incarcerated and are interested in understanding the relationships between family members of the incarcerated. Or perhaps your religious background gives you unique insight into a specific cultural practice that many people might not know about.

You might have your own point of view about these issues, even if they are not experiences you have had. Does having a perspective prohibit an individual from conducting research on a subject?

Of course, the answer is no. People conduct research on issues close to their experiences and interests all the time. Does this make their research “biased?”

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