151 posts categorized "Social Psychology"

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.

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June 24, 2019

Emotional Labor and Leisure

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I recently had the opportunity to attend my nephews’ Little League and soccer games. Since we live in different states and I am seldom in town when they play, this was a treat for all of us.

As is automatic for a sociologist in a new setting, I couldn’t help but make some basic observations about the participants in both games. While I played softball as a child, I have never been an adult onlooker of a child’s sporting event before (hard to believe, I know). In my brief time observing, I found myself observing the parents and coaches as much as the children who were playing.

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April 22, 2019

The Sociology Everyone Knows: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

This month Yale economics professor and Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller posited that the next recession could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. As I read about it, thought about how common a term it is. You, perhaps, have used this term in your everyday lives but haven’t realized that it’s a sociological term in origin. (Unless you read this Everyday Sociology blog post from almost ten years ago!)

According to Robert K. Merton, the self-fulfilling prophecy is a “false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true.” The subject of an article by Robert K. Merton, he builds on the “Thomas Theorem” (coined by W.I. and Dorothy Swaine Thomas): when a situation is defined as real, it is real in its consequences. The self-fulfilling prophecy is when a prediction is stated, no matter how incorrect, the resultant series of actions will be what he calls, brilliantly, a “reign of error.” He then states that everything that happens can be used ex post facto, as proof of the initial incorrect prediction.

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April 08, 2019

Why Small Social Cues are a Big Deal

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Hands up. Staying on topic. Remaining silent while others speak. Waiting until others are done speaking to raise your hand.

These are social rules many of us take for granted in the classroom. It helps keep the learning environment orderly and efficient, and provides opportunities for many people to participate in the learning experience.

What happens when a participant has difficulty following some of these social rules?

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February 27, 2019

Racism, Stress, and Health

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

This past weekend I was shopping at the grocery store. This wasn’t the grocery store I usually shop at, but while doing other errands in this part of town I figured I’d stop in and get this errand done too. It’s a bigger location than our local store but part of the same chain, and they have a greater selection than at my usual store.

As I was checking out, a commotion started in the front of the store. A customer was being escorted by out a security guard. I’m not sure what prompted the security guard’s action, as the store is rather big and they were walking from the other side of the store from where I stood. As people started to notice the commotion, tension hung in the air.

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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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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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