204 posts categorized "Social Institutions: Work, Education, and Medicine"

July 15, 2019

"Are You an Athlete?" The Social Construction of Identity

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

No one had ever asked me if I was an athlete until recently. While checking my vital signs before a routine procedure, a nurse noted my low resting heart rate and asked this question. I didn’t know what to say; I must have had a puzzled look on my face.

“Do you get a lot of cardiovascular exercise?” she clarified. “Oh, yes,” I told her. In fact, fitness is probably what occupies most of my time, after sleeping and working. But I never think of myself as an athlete.

This got me thinking about how identity is constructed in a variety of social contexts. The identity of “athlete” is often related to social institutions, particularly those that have a special designation for this social category. For collegiate athletes, there is a governing body that creates rules and guidelines that schools must follow.

Continue reading ""Are You an Athlete?" The Social Construction of Identity" »

July 08, 2019

The Intersection between Biography, History, and Health

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We often think about our health as profoundly personal, rooted in individual choices regarding what we eat, how much we exercise, and how well we comply with medical advice. Federal laws protect the privacy of our health information, and many people opt not to share information about their health with anyone but family and close friends (and sometimes not even with them), reinforcing the notion of health as personal.

And yet much of our health status is beyond our personal control, as I wrote about last year. Whether it is access to healthy food options, the time and space to exercise, or the availability of regular medical care, many aspects of our health are tied to public policy decisions and historical changes.

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June 18, 2019

Canopies and Contact Zones

Jonathan WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Last month, the Speaker of the House for Ohio, a Republican named Larry Householder, was upset by a local library story time hosted by a drag queen. He said, “Taxpayers aren’t interested in seeing their hard earned dollars being used to teach teenage boys how to become drag queens.” But taxpayers should absolutely be interested in the idea that a public space like a library can be places where people who are different from one another can meet and engage with each other. In fact, State Rep. Householder should visit a few places like that.

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg recently published a wonderful book on this very topic, called Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. The idea is as simple an idea as it is profound: societies need public places for people to engage with others in meaningful ways. Parks, libraries, public places of all sorts are where people from different places can come together. This idea has really taken off in the last few months, and I know that librarians are happy to have Klinenberg write in a New York Times op-ed that the effort should start with libraries!

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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 20, 2019

The College Admissions Scandal: Can We Be Honest about Social Class in America?

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

I’m teaching a Social Stratification course this semester. One of the themes in our course is whether social class is an ascribed or achieved status. The popular conception is that social class in America is earned and accomplished and therefore an achieved status.

Sociologists beg to differ, because to say that social class is primarily an achieved status ignores the advantages given to the children of those who are better off in society. We can’t disregard the basic fact that children inherit the social class of their family. In other words, social class is ascribed in that it’s an involuntary status for the child who is raised in the social class surroundings of their family.

This is not to say that a person born into the middle-class is guaranteed to stay middle-class throughout their life, or that the child born into a rich family will surely reproduce their family’s social class position, or that being poor in one’s childhood inevitably means one will stay poor. No doubt there is movement up and down the social class system in the United States.

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February 19, 2019

Why College Costs Keep Climbing

author photoBy Irina Seceleanu, Colby King, Maria Hegbloom

Irina Seceleanu is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Bridgewater State University and the BSU Chapter Vice-President of the faculty union—Massachusetts State College Association. Maria Hegbloom is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Bridgewater State University and the BSU Chapter President of the faculty union—Massachusetts State College Association.

Growing up, we heard a lot about how school would be easier for either of us than it was for our parents and grandparents. “These days,” they’d say, “kids have it easy. The teachers are great, the schools have resources. When I was your age, I had to walk to school, in snow, uphill both ways!”

Maybe you’ve heard similar things about college today? Your campus likely has fantastic professors, maybe a few new buildings, and plenty of student services. If you’re at a public institution, especially a regional comprehensive university like Bridgewater State University (BSU) in Massachussetts that is known for small class sizes, teaching-focused professors, and lower tuition costs, you might also note the relatively affordable price compared to other nearby institutions.

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February 18, 2019

Furnace, Kiln, and Oven Operators in the American Community Survey

Colby (1)By Colby King

In one of my research projects, I’m examining shifts in employment by occupational categories in the Detroit and Pittsburgh region. One result of my work is that I’ve become much more familiar with the 1990 Census Bureau occupational classification scheme.

The occupational categories that respondents are placed into are fairly detailed. Specific categories exist for locksmiths and safe repairers (code 536), railroad conductors and yardmasters (code 823), payroll and timekeeping clerks (code 338), funeral directors (code 019), and even sociology instructors (code 125, under Teachers, Postsecondary). Examining the characteristics of workers in particular occupation categories can illustrate the structure of their labor market, and the information can help develop a sociological imagination.

The category that recently caught my eye, is “furnace, kiln, and oven operators, apart from food (code 766),” because working around kilns and furnaces has become a tradition in my family.

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December 31, 2018

Emotional Intelligence and Sociology

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

There is a secret piece of your college education that I think we could talk more about. Despite its importance, I am only now I am realizing that it’s perhaps one of the most important skill sets you need to develop as an undergraduate. It is tucked into the classes and the general requirements, hidden between the lines. It’s called emotional intelligence, and I think it can be a profoundly sociological—not just psychological—phenomenon.

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December 10, 2018

The Definition of the Situation: Resisting Discussions of Death

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A family member’s recent illness and passing highlighted a concept within micro sociology: the definition of the situation. This idea posits that situations come with social scripts that shape our behavior within any given context. How we define a situation guides our actions; sometimes our actions might seem strange if others around us define the situation differently. Put simply, people base their behavior on our understanding of events, and we generally ascribe meaning to these events based on our interactions with others.

Although he was 85-years-old and was being treated for lymphoma, a type of cancer, my father-in-law was healthy enough to play tennis this past August when he fell and broke his hip on the court. Our family defined this situation as a sports-related injury, albeit one with more risks due to his age and overall health status. It seemed that medical professionals defined his injury the same way too.

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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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