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

May 16, 2022

What Sociology Students Should Know about “Think Tanks”

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Have you ever heard the term “think tank” and wondered what it meant? It sounds like a locked glass room filled with smart people who just want to ponder life’s questions. That’s not entirely wrong (except, I assume, for the locked part).

A think tank is typically a nonprofit organization that focuses on a particular set of issues to make policy recommendations. They might study issues like inequalities in the job market, racial inequality, foreign policy, technology, and social change. They may be affiliated with a university, an advocacy group, or another organization, but they might also be stand-alone independents. (Here is a list of some of the major think tanks in the U.S.)

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May 02, 2022

Not My Job: Navigating Bureaucracies

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I was recently cc’d on an email sent by a colleague. It was addressed to another colleague and to someone in our dean’s office and it concerned a student who was upset about a requirement they needed to meet. The sender was angry that, based on information the student shared, a class they had taken would not meet a particular university requirement.

This email was problematic on a number of levels that give us insight into the concept of bureaucracy:

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April 18, 2022

Work and the Body

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Several years ago, the small company my husband worked for had an employee challenge: get the company’s logo tattooed on a visible part of your body, and the company would donate several hundred dollars to the charity of your choice.

My husband did not take them up on this offer (and his team was soon after acquired by another company anyway), but several of his coworkers did. More than just a charitable impulse, it seemed like a way for these employees to demonstrate their commitment to the small startup. This was a company that expected its workers to be not just good employees, but “heroes” that would be available at any hour to meet its clients’ needs, albeit with little room for growth in terms of career or salary.

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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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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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December 13, 2021

Maintaining Order

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I like a certain amount of orderliness in my life. I make lists and have rather predictable patterns when it comes to what I eat and how I spend my time at work as well as my leisure time. As I blogged about two years ago, I strive to be a minimalist. Order makes me feel a semblance of control and relief.

Perhaps this is part of the reason I am interested in a core aspect of sociology: how groups large and small seek to maintain order. Whether it is challenging the current social order on a grand scale or how rules are created within small groups and organizations, the quest to achieve order is woven through many areas of study within sociology. Emile Durkheim wrote quite a bit on this topic, noting that interdependence, or solidarity were central to maintaining stability.

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November 22, 2021

Commodities, Neoliberalism, and the Economy of Imprisonment

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos  

Under capitalism, we are surrounded by products that promise to improve or fulfill our lives in some way. Whether it’s beauty products, nutritional supplements, clothing, or even technology, the advertisements we are exposed to tell us that we need to keep consuming products in order to be the best versions of ourselves. Consumerism, or society’s incessant preoccupation with purchasing consumer goods, has seeped into just about every corner of our lives. Even holidays – our cultural traditions that are about celebration and togetherness – have become multi-billion-dollar industries, with consumption (like buying gifts or decorations) now being a condition for participation. After all, it is impossible to celebrate Halloween without at least buying a pumpkin!

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November 09, 2021

Striketober!

Colby King author photoBy Colby King

Over the past several weeks, we have seen a number of labor actions across the country, including strikes and walk-offs. Some observers have referred to this past month as “Striketober,” with the #striketober hashtag being popularized on social media, including Twitter.

As Catherine Thorbecke of ABC News reported:

A confluence of unique labor market conditions -- including record-high levels of people quitting their jobs and an apparent shortage of workers accepting low-wage jobs -- has contributed to the recent rash of work stoppages, experts say, but they also come after decades of stagnating wages and soaring income inequality in the U.S.

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October 18, 2021

Climate Change, Work and the Economy

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic is that more people are now working from home, some permanently. While the initial purpose of working from home was to avoid the spread of infection, it also may have some environmental benefits too.

At my university, there is a big push towards sustainability and there is now even a Chief Sustainability Officer working with the president. In addition to liquidating fossil fuel investments, the university has been encouraging alternative means of transportation and telecommuting when possible. So far this semester, aside from in-person classes, all of my meetings have been video conferences, and the decision of several people in leadership positions has been to keep this going even after the threat of COVID-19 ends. This has saved me hours of Los Angeles’s infamous traffic.

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