March 14, 2022

Student Debt, the Racial Wealth Gap, and (the lack of) Investment in Public Higher Education

Colby King author photoBy Colby King

In late December of 2021, President Biden extended the pause on student loan repayment for 90 days, until May 1, 2022. People with student debt breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that they would have at least a few more months of the needed financial flexibility this pause has provided.

The pause was extended amid an ongoing debate about what should be done about student debt, which has become a substantial social problem. What is the scope of this problem? The Student Debt Crisis Center maintains a twitter account that regularly updates about the total amount of student debt. Their most recent tweet as of this writing showed that student debt had accumulated to $1,885,848,223,792.

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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 28, 2022

Far from “Post-Racial”: Color-Blind Racism, Group Threat, and Anti-Asian Prejudice

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

Since the election of President Obama in 2008, many Americans have claimed that we live in a “post-racial society” in which race no longer matters. After all, if we elected a Black man to be president – the ultimate position of power in the country – how can people still claim that racism exists?

Some telling societal metrics also speak to an increasingly leveled playing field between the races; for example, the difference in college enrollment rates for White and Black 18-to 24-year-olds has decreased from 8 percentage points in 2000 to 5 percentage points in 2018. At the very least, might these numbers suggest that we are headed in the right direction?

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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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February 07, 2022

Greetings

Cornelia Mayr PhotoBy Cornelia Mayr

Department of Sociology, University of Klagenfurt, Austria

Human connection starts with a friendly smile and a warm hello. How does it feel to greet someone and not have the greeting returned?

I regularly visit the local ladies’ gym, and often have contact with mothers and grandmothers. One granny occasionally brings her five-year-old grandchild with her, a young girl who does not greet nor react to warm greetings. You might presume that the child is too shy to greet a stranger. Can you really be too shy to greet? Is it a must to greet people when we do not feel that we want to do so? The social greeting etiquette made me think of the meaning of this common ritual in everyday interactions.

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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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January 24, 2022

Me and My 70,000 Friends: Tailgating and Togetherness

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

I’ve always enjoyed going to Buffalo Bills games. I like watching football live and being part of a crowd. I’ve written before about the tailgate scene which adds fun and unpredictability. I’ve attended three games this year and have been reflecting on why I’ve been enjoying these games in person more than usual.

In one sense, I think it’s a simple matter of escapism. If watching sports normally feels like a break from the regular routine of life, I would say that watching a football game in a stressful and ongoing pandemic definitely feels like an escape for me. It’s a full day of not thinking and worrying about pandemic ills.

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January 21, 2022

Retail Exodus

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

For the past year and a half of the pandemic, I have been fortunate enough to order groceries online and drive up for curbside pickup. Not only has it saved me from exposure to others, it also saves me time and enables me to shop throughout the week on the store’s app.

When I put in my most recent grocery order, I received an email about an hour later saying that my order had been canceled. It didn’t give a reason, it just said there was a problem with my order. At first I wondered if there was a problem with the credit card or if lots of things were out of stock.

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January 13, 2022

The Sociology of Luck   

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin      

“Even the losers get lucky sometimes,” sang Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “You got lucky babe, when I found you,” they sing in another. Paul McCartney and Wings have a song titled “With a Little Luck.” Social Distortion has a song called “Bad Luck.” Daft Punk has a song “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell Williams. The expression “lucky as sin” appears in the song “Young Man’s Game” by Fleet Foxes. In “Superstition,” the legend Stevie Wonder sings about broken glass and bad luck as he warns us not to believe in things we don’t understand. 

We say good luck to each other in everyday life. We have expressions like “Better to be lucky than good” and “See a penny pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck.” To explain the misfortune of a loved one, we sympathetically remark: “If it wasn’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.” We might explain our favorite team losing a game because “that’s the way the ball bounces,” suggesting it was a matter of bad luck, or that the opposing team won because they caught a lucky break. Luck means something to us.

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January 03, 2022

Civil Inattention: Behind the Mask in the COVID Era

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

The pandemic has clearly impacted the way people interact in public. First, we often wear masks, a practice very unusual in the U.S. before 2020. We might give people a wide berth when encountering them on public sidewalks, walking in the street sometimes to avoid passing too closely. (The chorus of The Police’s 1980 hit song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” has a whole new meaning now.)

And sometimes, we just ignore each other.

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