145 posts categorized "Social Psychology"

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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November 26, 2018

Identity and Retirement

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Sociologist Michelle Pannor Silver’s new book, Retirement and its Discontents: Why We Won’t Stop Working, Even if We Can, is based on interviews with retirees, many of whom are struggling with the transition to retirement. Many of her informants who held prestigious positions as doctors, CEOs, and professors said the biggest challenge they faced was related to their sense of self.

If a big part of one’s identity comes from work, who are you if you are retired?

This challenge is complicated when work occupies most of one’s time, often to the detriment of family and maintaining social ties outside of one’s field. For occupations that demand long hours while offering titles with a great deal of prestige, leaving the field can leave people unsure of what to do and of who they are.

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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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April 26, 2018

Learning to Perform Emotional Labor

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Think about all of the things you learn as students that have nothing to do with the actual content of your classes: you learn to meet deadlines, proper classroom decorum, how to navigate a large bureaucracy, and create social ties with peers, among other things. Sociologists call this education’s hidden curriculum, or unintended lessons, many of which are quite valuable to your future career—and to your life overall.

Learning to perform emotional labor is part of the hidden curriculum. What exactly is emotional labor? It happens when we work to control our emotions in order to fit the requirements of a job. Emotional labor is part of any job that involves interacting with others, and is important to consider when pondering your own current or future career choices.

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August 21, 2017

Read the Syllabus, Van Halen Style

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Welcome back to school! Lots of books, new friends, new classes. It’s a lot to take in.

With all the hubbub, it might slip your mind to read your syllabus carefully. I understand. You’re busy. You might think, “Hey, this class is like all the other ones. I’ll figure it out as I go along.” But, as you should expect, I couldn’t disagree more!

To encourage you to read your syllabus carefully, I would like to tell you an infamous story about a 1980s rock band, Van Halen.

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June 12, 2017

This is Your Brain on Sociology

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

“My head hurts!”

I’m sure many students have uttered these words after sitting through a particularly dense or complex sociological lesson. I know I’ve felt this way during my own education and I have certainly heard students say it at the end of class. But do our heads literally hurt when we are studying difficult material? Or is this phrase just a figure of speech to convey how confusing the topic is we are trying to learn?

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April 17, 2017

Learning Sociology through Collaboration

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If sociology teaches us that we learn about our social world, others, and ourselves through social interaction, it stands to reason that a great way to learn about sociology is through interacting with others.

On the most basic level, interactive learning takes the form of class discussions. Many courses require students to conduct research, often through observation, interviews, or surveys, and this is also a good way to learn some of the tools of sociology.

But collaborative learning is more than just talking and conducting research. Collaborative learning involves problem solving with others, where students brainstorm, come up with research questions, seek answers, or work on large projects together.

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March 08, 2017

Thinking Beyond the Case Study

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Case studies are singular examples that seem to illustrate a phenomenon. Textbooks would be dull without them, and journalists often use interviews to add color to their stories. But case studies can become so alluring, and seem to illustrate interesting patterns so well that they can encourage us to draw conclusions without further investigation.

Take the case of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death in Queens, New York, in 1964. Her case gained notoriety because there were purportedly dozens of witnesses to the attack who did not call the police. This led researchers to study something they called the bystander effect, positing that the more people who observe an event take place, the less likely they are to take action because they presume that someone else will.

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January 19, 2017

When Words Lose Meaning

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

We use a number of expressions with one another that serve as shortcuts. Some are as basic as “hello” and “how are you?” Others are seasonal or situational, like, “Happy New Year,” “have a good weekend,” or “I’m sorry for your loss.” These phrases are like ready-made greeting cards that we employ in social situations, often when we don’t know what else to say. Sometimes, like holiday greetings, they are a way of sending good wishes to people that we may or may not know.

But sometimes these words take on different meanings than the speakers intended, and might be received far differently that we might imagine. Conflicts around saying “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” are one example. A stranger actually answering the “how are you question” is another—we’re not really being asked to disclose personal information, particularly if it is simply meant as a casual greeting.

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December 16, 2016

Donald Trump and the F-Word: The Growing Elephant in the Room

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When most of us think of the F-word the first thing that comes to mind is probably the vulgar term for sex that rhymes with duck. Adding Donald Trump to the mix probably just reinforces this thought because we know that the president-elect has used this expletive in his outbursts and exhortations. However, the F-word that I am referring to here is not the four-letter obscenity but the seven letter description of one of the most frightening political ideologies: Fascism.

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