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

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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September 14, 2018

A Sociology of My Death

Unknown-2By Peter Kaufman

I’m dying. I don’t mean this figuratively—like I’m dying of thirst or dying to visit Hawaii. I mean it quite literally. I have incurable, stage IV lung cancer.

I was diagnosed in June 2017, a few months after my fiftieth birthday. My only symptom was a nagging, dry cough, but by the time the disease was detected the cancer had metastasized throughout my body. Since then I have had numerous treatments and interventions. Some of these worked quite well, allowing me to resume most of my normal activities; others were not as effective, resulting in adverse side effects, extreme discomfort, and, in one instance, a week-long stay in the hospital. My current treatment plan showed great initial promise but now, after just a few weeks, the tumors started growing again.      

For me to have lung cancer—indeed any form of cancer—is the epitome of a tragic irony. I have never smoked or tried illegal drugs, and I’ve never even been drunk. I’ve pursued clean living, good nutrition, and regular exercise in part to avoid the sort of medical misfortune that I am now experiencing. As a kid I played sports all day long. At sixteen I swore off junk food. At eighteen I became a vegetarian. In my twenties I ran marathons and did triathlons, and, in my thirties and forties when my aching knees no longer let me run, I swam or biked most days. About six months before my diagnosis I completed a one-day workout that simulated two-thirds of an Ironman triathlon, swimming 2.4 miles, then biking 120 miles (with 5,000 feet of climbing). A few weeks later I recorded my fastest one-mile swim time ever. I was incredibly healthy . . . until I wasn’t.

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August 27, 2018

Shopping Malls and Social Change

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I was a teen in the 1980s, the shopping mall was the center of social life. It was a regular gathering place for people my age; it was one of the few places to go that was free (unless you decided to buy something), parents generally felt like it was safe, and we might see other kids our age there. Remember, there was no email, no Internet, and no social media, so aside from the telephone, hanging out was the only way to socialize.

Malls were also a site of aspirational consumption. While I could occasionally buy clothes, records (on vinyl or cassette), food, or other goods, mostly the mall was the place of imagination of what I would buy if I could. My friends and I could try on clothes to see what styles were flattering for occasions we might someday need an outfit for. This was not just a way to pass the time, but to bond with friends. Memorialized in movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Valley Girl (1983), and Mall Rats (1995) to name a few, malls were center stage for middle-class American teens living in the suburbs.

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August 20, 2018

Social Networks and Diversity in College

Colby (1)By Colby King

With the beginning of another fall semester, I have been thinking about the opportunities college presents to students. If you are a student who is working to make the most of your opportunities on campus, you may very reasonably be focused on earning good grades, or on avoiding accumulating much loan debt. But, I want to underscore a particular opportunity that college presents to students that I hope you do not overlook: the opportunity build a diverse social network.

I have been thinking about these issues because last spring, I was chosen as the recipient of Bridgewater State University’s Honors Outstanding Faculty Award. This was a really nice honor, and as part of the award I was interviewed for the Honors Program student blog, The Paw. In that interview I was asked about what advice I might have for students. I drew on my responses in that interview, and the speech I gave for that award in writing this essay. You can see the whole interview on the blog here.

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