December 05, 2022

Here We Snow Again (But Not On Our Own)

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

Nationwide, Buffalo is known for a few things: chicken wings, a football team that lost four consecutive Super Bowls, and a place that is cold and snowy. True, we happily claim our city as home of the chicken wing, we love our Buffalo Bills, and we take pride in being able to handle adverse winter weather conditions. Those of us on the inside refer to Buffalo as the city of good neighbors, and use slogans like “My city smells like Cheerios” and “Talking Proud.”

I’ve been through countless snowstorms, including what’s known as Snowvember in November 2014. Back in 2014, it wasn’t snow that was our biggest worry. It was the smell of gas in our basement that concerned us. We stayed with friends across the street who generously offered to take us in until a worker from the gas company was able to determine the leak was coming from outside our house and was able to solve the problem.

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November 28, 2022

Tears as Social Phenomenon

Cornelia Mayr Author Photo By Cornelia Mayr

November marks the point in the year when the cold beings to set in. Fields, buildings and streets are blanketed in heavy fog, blurring the city like an old painting. Trees look like skeletons and dawn frost carpets the grass. It is the time when biting winds gnaw on our skin and whip chilly, wintry air into our eyelashes. Our eyes tear up, because it's freezing.

Tears keep our eyes lubricated when it is cold and blustery; wash away smoke, dust or other irritant substances; and protect us from foreign particles that enter the eye’s environment. Though some animals do have the physiological ability to produce tears, humans are the only creatures whose tears can be triggered emotionally.

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November 21, 2022

Branding Racism

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

In Sociology, we often talk about how race is a social construct. Rather than being a fixed system of classification rooted in biological difference, racial difference is (and has always been) created through social interactions, policy, and cultural meaning-making. Who is included in specific racial categories is fluid and context-dependent, constantly shifting over time. Medical and biological scientists are increasingly beginning to agree with this sociological understanding of race.  For something allegedly rooted so firmly in genetics, there is surprisingly little evidence to suggest that race is a good measure for genetic heterogeneity.

When we contend that race is a social construct, we can start noticing the ways in which race and racial difference are constantly being negotiated, (re)defined, and solidified by social processes and institutions. How corporations brand and advertise their products is a particularly interesting way in which meaning-making happens around racial difference. As they market their products to consumers through advertising, corporations attach social meanings to their products. For example, a shoe brand doesn’t sell shoes just because people need shoes; rather, the brand sells shoes because they convince consumers that there is a desirable lifestyle associated with the shoes (e.g., a life of being active, free, “cool”, or rebellious). In this sense, brands both reflect our cultural marketplace and influence what we think is desirable and how we create meaning.

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November 14, 2022

Monetizing the Natural World

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I had the privilege of taking a vacation to the French and Swiss Alps this past summer. It was a trip I had wanted to take for several years, and even with all the anticipation, the experience lived up to my expectations. The natural beauty, delicious food, and the chance to be a temporary local in a new location are all things I relish.

Being a sociologist, I bring my sociological imagination with me wherever I go, whether it is on an airplane, where I'm staying, or even just planning a vacation. I find having a sociological imagination enhances rather than interferes with my experiences. One of my observations on this trip was how the natural world is monetized and commodified, a process I participated in and though I experienced it through critical lenses, I still enjoyed.

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November 07, 2022

Culture, Structure, and Public Transportation

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Traveling by train from Chamonix, France to Grindelwald, Switzerland was a breeze, despite having to change trains five (!) times. It wouldn’t have been so easy in most other countries. Certainly not where we live, in Los Angeles, where public transportation is much more limited, especially when traversing mountainous regions.

It’s not really fair to compare a city with lackluster public transportation like Los Angeles with Switzerland, the country with perhaps the best public transit system in the world, but I will in this post to make a point about the importance of social structure and how it shapes culture.

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October 31, 2022

Competitive Socialization and Exercise

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I’m not training for a triathlon. At least I don’t think I am.

Occasionally, people ask me if I am training for an event like a triathlon because my workout routine at our local rec center is pretty intense, and I can work out for an unusually long time. The staff might notice that some days I’m at the gym before the crack of dawn, go home for breakfast, and return soon after for a few hours of lap swimming. I also watch lots of videos on YouTube with training tips for swimming and running.

Why do I do this, if I’m not training for an event or trying to lose weight, you might wonder? I actually enjoy doing it.

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October 24, 2022

Lonely at the Top: The Toll of “High Functioning” Depression and Our Pandemic Mental Health Crisis

Stacy Torres author photoBy Stacy Torres

From the vantage of midlife, I’ve pondered social mobility’s toll on myself and others who’ve climbed from the poor or working-class into the professional class. I’ve spent my entire life developing a titanium outer shell, making myself strong and tough as poverty conspired to knock me off track. Skilled at powering through, I’ve worn my resilience like a Purple Heart. I had to fight. And fight. And fight.

But I’m tired of running to stay in place. At 42, I still spend considerable time quieting the inner monologue that says I’m not good enough. In my current position as an assistant professor of sociology, work and productivity remain intertwined with my identity and self-worth. Rejections can feel personally crushing. I’ve often dwelled on my failures, feeling like an imposter. Being hard on myself served me in the climb, but harmful perfectionism now yields diminishing returns.

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October 17, 2022

Gender Nonconformity and Culture Wars

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

For the past few years, an unprecedented “culture war” has been brewing in the U.S. While contemporary issues of race, class, sexuality, gender, and abortion (just to name a few) have deep historical roots, our current hyper-polarized climate has amplified each of these debates to the point where each side feels that their very existence is threatened by the other. We have recently seen this sense of threat escalate to violence numerous times: from the insurrection on January 6th 2021, to parents fighting at local school board meetings, to deadly massacres driven by white supremacist ideology.

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October 10, 2022

Greetings: The Cultural Context of Saying Hello

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Saying hello seems pretty straightforward, and something we seldom think about unless we are in an unusual cultural context. When do we offer a greeting, and when we do, what do we say? Recent travels abroad made me think about these questions as I interacted with people who spoke different languages and had different cultural customs.

We usually don’t have to think much about these questions because we have cultural and social scripts that guide our behavior when interacting with others. We might think of these scripts as a series of words and actions to take in particular situations.

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October 03, 2022

Smile for a Change

Cornelia Mayr Author Photo By Cornelia Mayr

Department of Sociology, University of Klagenfurt, Austria

“The circus is coming! The circus is coming!” a colorful street poster silently shouted at us while a friend and I were walking down the sidewalk. Amazing trapeze artists, skilled acrobats in fabulous costumes and exotic animals, all captured in a performing pose in front of a tent-like symbol. Right next to the artistic performers grinned the huge face of a comical clown cheerfully down on us. “Clowns are creepy,” my friend claimed determinedly. “Why?” I asked him. “It’s because. I don’t know. Just look at them. They are... clownish.”

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