225 posts categorized "Theory"

November 16, 2020

Moral Panics in 2020

Jessica polingBy Jessica Poling

It is no secret that 2020 has been a time of public unrest. Mounting outcries regarding police brutality, gender inequality, and the Trump administration’s mishandling of climate change and COVID-19 dominate the daily news cycle, our social media pages, and conversations with friends and family.

Alongside these very legitimate concerns are political conspiracy theories that have slowly gained space in the public discourse and enraged (predominantly) conservative Americans. We can use sociologist Stanley Cohen’s theory of “moral panics” to understand why these conspiracy theories have gained public prominence, and what their impact has been on our country.

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October 30, 2020

Folk Games

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

I came across a Twitter thread of folk games, which are not board games but rather interactions that appear to be highly improvisational. Take a few minutes to click through and get a few well-deserved laughs. 

But it got me thinking about games. Partly because COVID-19 restrictions have limited opportunities for in-person social interaction,  the video gaming industry is booming. Sales have been high, even if production has been down.

Although I certainly loved my Atari 2600 when I was a kid, I’ve not really kept up with gaming. There are others who are definitely gamer sociologists. Jooyoung Lee uses Twitch (a videogame streaming site owned by Amazon) to teach his classes, and Ian Larson is a gamer and a sociologist who hosts a blog about the sociology of video games. (Karen Sternheimer wrote a post about research methods and video games ten years ago.)

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October 05, 2020

Merton’s Role Set: Chairing a Sociology Department

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

Have you met the chair of the sociology department? What do they do, anyway?

When I was an undergraduate at a large public university, I didn’t know who the chair was, let alone what they did. Heck, I am the chair of a sociology department right now, and I’m still figuring it out! But, I think it’s important for you to know what chairs do, particularly in our current, historical moment.

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September 07, 2020

Connecting the Dots II: Linking Theory with Research, Revisited

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Last year, I wrote about the connections between theory and research. It’s very tempting for the first-time student researcher to come up with a research topic and either ignore theories about the topic, or have difficulty integrating theories with their research question or their findings. Theories may seem abstract and sometimes difficult to grasp, while research is concrete and its results sometimes easier to digest. Connecting the two takes practice.

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July 29, 2020

The Panopticon and Protest Surveillance

Jessica polingBy Jessica Poling

There is no doubt that the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd will be one of the defining features of the year 2020. Following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, this recent wave of outcry and activism has dominated public discourse and gained traction—even among those who were previously skeptical of the movement.

The explosiveness of the protests, particularly in metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, have created more tension between civilians and law enforcement, who have at times escalated peaceful protests or harassed protesters. These are just a few of the many visible examples of the mechanisms government officials and law enforcement use to control and manipulate protests. However, to fully grasp the nature of this conflict, it is equally important to discuss the invisible, subtle ways that protestors are surveilled and punished.

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June 29, 2020

Collective Trauma and COVID-19

Liana tuller author photoBy Liana Renée Tuller,  Research Fellow at Northeastern University's Brudnick Center on Conflict and Violence

Numerous newspaper and magazine articles, health advisories, blogs, radio segments, and op-eds have dubbed COVID-19 a “collective trauma.” What does that mean? And, if our city, our country, and our world is, indeed, experiencing a collective trauma, what lessons can previous collective traumas offer us to help us cope?

Unquestionably, COVID-19 has affected people’s psychological state, not only through grief when loved ones die, but also through the stress of job loss, fear of being infected, isolation imposed by social distancing, and anxiety that life will never return to normal. These emotions, communally experienced, could indeed be described as traumatic.

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June 17, 2020

The Generalized Other During COVID-19

Jessica Poling author photoBy Jessica Poling

It is an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted our social lives and how we interact with others. Mandated to self-isolate, in-person interactions have been replaced with countless Zoom meetings, Facetime calls, and virtual happy hours and game nights.

The limited face-to-face interactions we do have are defined by new social norms. Suddenly, tasks that used to be mundane are defined by necessary, potentially life-altering decisions such as: should I go into public today? When should I wear a mask? When should I wash my hands? How close should or shouldn’t I get to other people?

In essence, how we think about our own behavior and actions in interaction with others has changed dramatically. How we address these questions is largely guided by external expectations, both formal (like those from the Center of Disease Control) and informal (such as peer-pressure from other affected citizens). In both cases, our day-to-day lives now invoke constant reflection on the impact of our actions on others.

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May 04, 2020

When Back Stage becomes Front Stage: Goffman’s Dramaturgy in the Age of Teleconferencing

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Nearly eight years ago, I blogged about how we might reconsider Erving Goffman's front stage/back stage distinctions in the age of social media. As I now teach, attend meetings, and visit with family members using teleconferencing, I have been thinking about what actually constitutes “back stage” right now.

Erving Goffman wrote in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life that, “back regions are typically out of bounds to members of the audience” (p. 124). That was in 1959, when he could not have foreseen that we would have the technology to share audio and video with hundreds of people at a time from a device that could fit in the palm of our hand.

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April 06, 2020

Race, Class, and “Hybrid” Masculinities

Jessica poling author photoBy Jessica Poling

In 1995, gender theorist R.W. Connell wrote her seminal book, Masculinities. In this book, Connell expands our understanding of gender by focusing on gender relations (rather than roles) with a specific focus on masculinity. Connell argues that rather than a universal quality among men, masculinity refers to a practice with the goal of embodying the dominant, male position in the gender hierarchy. In this perspective, masculinity is not an innate quality of men but rather a practice that aims to achieve some hierarchical relationship in reference to the female “other.”

Moreover, Connell argues that a multitude of masculinities exist, but that they are not all the same. While masculinity is always defined in opposition to the feminine, not all masculinities occupy a dominant position. Connell refers to the dominant masculinity as “hegemonic masculinity,” borrowing Gramsci’s original term which described how social groups claim power through dominant ideologies in addition to politics and economics.

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April 01, 2020

Ideology and the Grocery Store

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

In recent weeks, grocery shortages have been common around the country as people stock up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have had a hard time finding staples like garlic, potatoes, and dry beans at my usual local grocery store. What can the concept of ideology teach us about the run on food and paper products?

Ideology is a system of beliefs that appear normal and natural to a particular group. Rather than a fancy way of saying “idea,” ideology is a grouping of ideas that seem unquestionable and are often taken for granted. These systems of beliefs that we live within often seem to be “human nature” and beyond the need to think about critically.

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