236 posts categorized "Theory"

August 16, 2021

Biography and History Intersecting: Thinking Critically about Individualism

Author photo

By Karen Sternheimer

In his book The Sociological Imagination, C. Wright Mills described the importance of historical events as shaping individuals’ lives. This is not just to say that historical events influence our personalities or preferences, but that sociology calls upon us to consider the interplay between our seemingly private lives and the world around us. The self cannot exist apart from society.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to think about the connection between the self and society, as clashes over mask mandates, shutdowns, and vaccinations highlight the tensions between individualism and the larger society that we are part of.

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June 21, 2021

A Generation of Homecomers: Alfred Schutz and the Experiences of “Boomerang Children”

Davison-Vecchione author photoBy Daniel Davison-Vecchione, PhD candidate in Sociology, University of Cambridge

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven many people in their twenties and thirties in high-income OECD countries to move back in with their families because of job losses and financial costs. A September 2020 Pew Research Center report found that most people aged 18 to 29 in the US now live with their parents – the first time this had been the case since the Great Depression. Similarly, a 2019 Office for National Statistics report in the UK found a 46% increase over the last two decades in the number of people aged 20-34 living with parents.

Millennials and older members of Generation Z have been hit by two global recessions in the space of two decades, and are especially vulnerable to short-term layoffs because they are disproportionately in precarious, low-income employment. They find themselves jumping from one rental to the next, only to end up back in the family home, hoping to save up money and move out again. Despite returning to what they expect to be familiar ground, such “boomerang children” often feel curiously alienated or out of place in their hometowns.

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April 19, 2021

The Sociology of the Con

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

Now that I’m chair of my department, my colleagues and graduate students occasionally get emails from email addresses that look very close to mine (e.g., “jonwynn@umassbutnotreally.com”) that asks them to “help” me. If they aren’t careful, they’ll write back. One grad student, who is very kind, responded.

The fake Jon Wynn asked her to buy $200 of Amazon Gift cards and send the codes. Walking out of Best Buy (where she bought the cards) something didn’t sit right with her and, thankfully, she called me up. Luckily, we caught it in time. Best Buy didn’t refund the gift cards, as per their policy. So, our department bought them from the grad student, and used them as a prize for undergraduates.

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March 22, 2021

Applying Weber’s Concept of Bureaucracy to the Pandemic

Jessica polingBy Jessica Poling

Like many of the classical theorists of his age, nineteenth-century German social theorist Max Weber sought to define “modernity.” Weber lived in a society experiencing rapid economic, political, and social changes and devoted much of his time to characterizing what defined modern society and how (and why) society had come to look differently than it ever had before. Weber explored many facets of modernity (including religion, social class, and politics), eventually developing one of his most famous concepts, “bureaucracy.”

According to Weber, modern society is in part defined by the introduction of bureaucracies, a new type of organization developed alongside capitalist values in western Europe. Unlike other organizational forms, bureaucracies exhibit a unique set of characteristics that set them apart. First, bureaucracies are defined by a clear-cut chain of command, wherein every member reports to someone of higher status and knows their own role and responsibility within the organization.

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February 22, 2021

Managing Risk and Sociological Theory

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Here’s a situation that you might be familiar with: After months of being careful with a very small "pod" of three families, they decided to take a risk and allow another person into their trusted group.   That person ended up being an asymptomatic carrier of COVID and infected the whole group.  This is a tragic (and real) scenario.

It’s likely that you and your loved ones have had to individually assess risk and have been challenged either by a glut of some information, a confusion of incorrect information, or a deficit of good data. How are you assessing the decision to return to campus? Are colleges right to open up?

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February 15, 2021

Are Dogs People? Dog Valuation, Sacralization, and the Dog Consumer Market

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos, Sociology Doctoral Student, Rutgers University

Long considered “man’s best friend,” dogs have undoubtedly come to occupy a significant role in U.S. society. Their popularity with Americans is striking: an estimated 63.4 million households owned a dog in 2019-2020, which makes up 67% of all households in the U.S.  Dogs are by far the most popular pet in America.

Dog owners are increasingly opting for more affectionate terms for their pets like “companion,” “family member,” or even “person.” And perhaps rightly so. An abundance of research demonstrates that for many owners a dog can serve as an attachment figure– someone who the person turns to for psychological and emotional support. Indeed, the psychological benefits of being in the presence of an animal, and of a dog in particular, have proven to be plentiful: dogs can reduce a person’s anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as increase their self-esteem and playfulness.

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February 08, 2021

Amanda Gorman’s Sociological Imagination

Janis prince innissBy Janis Prince Inniss

The breakout star of the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris inauguration was not Biden or Harris, or even Bernie Sanders! Amanda Gorman takes that title as evidenced by the media swirling around her, her new modeling gig, and the fact that her as yet unpublished books took the top two spots on Amazon’s bestseller list the following day.

At age 22, Gorman is the youngest poet to recite poetry at a United States inauguration and is the nation’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. In the poem she read at the inauguration, “The Hill We Climb,” I heard a sociological perspective. Therefore, I was not surprised when I learned that Gorman was a sociology major at Harvard who graduated cum laude and see how that may have shaped her poetry. My intention here is to highlight some of the sociological aspects of “The Hill We Climb.” Disclaimer: I am not an English literature professor; my intention is not to provide a definitive or literary analysis of the poem, but instead to highlight its sociological connections.

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February 04, 2021

An Inauguration and a Funeral: Rituals and Rites of Passage

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

On January 20, 2021, along with nearly 39 million people across the country, I watched the presidential inauguration. An inauguration is more than just a swearing-in ceremony; it includes a presidential address, followed by events like the “pass in review,” where the first and second couples (and in non-pandemic times, their guests) watch as a series of military processionals pass by to celebrate a new commander-in-chief from the steps of the Capitol building. Along with three former presidents and their spouses, the newly-inaugurated leaders also laid a wreath at Arlington Cemetery at the tomb of the unknown soldier, which included a prayer, the performance of the national anthem, and a military canon salute.

Moments after the ceremony, I attended a funeral for a beloved aunt via Zoom. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, most of my family and I could not travel to be there, and only a small number of family members were allowed to attend the brief graveside service. Along with about 75 others, I watched the rituals on my computer: the prayers, a eulogy, the family members putting dirt in the grave as the coffin is lowered into the ground.

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January 18, 2021

Is Your Professor a Republican?

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

As I write, the 2020 presidential election is (almost) behind us. Perhaps you are wondering, "What’s the political affiliation of my professors?" It is not an unreasonable question. Some faculty are quite forthright about their political leaning. Some might be more discreet.

I suppose I can admit something here, among friends: I am quite liberal. I have toned down expressing political sentiments as I’ve gotten older but also out of a (perhaps unfounded) fear that some video of me might be taken out of context and uploaded on social media. The political leanings of our students at UMass Amherst reflect the state at large, politically, as being about 1/3 Republican, 2/3 Democrat. I say this knowing that tenure and academic freedom allows for great latitude in these matters. Still, people who are not professors might not realize this, but faculty aren’t exactly eager to have a media fiasco on their hands.

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January 08, 2021

Come Together: Applying Durkheim's Ideas to the Capitol Siege

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I am struck by one photo in particular from the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol. It is a picture of members of the House of Representatives sheltering in place in the House chamber. Rep. Susan Wild lies on the floor, mask down, eyes closed, and appears in distress. Her left hand is on her chest; Rep. Jason Crow reaches out and holds her right hand. (You can see this image and the video of them recounting their experience here.) This picture reveals the fear members of Congress felt during these tense moments. Facial expressions range from apprehension to terror, with many members sitting and lying on the floor.

The most striking part of this picture highlights the connectedness between colleagues Wild and Crow. This is a very human image of one person reaching out to comfort another. But it also a very sociological image, one that highlights the interdependence we share (see Todd Schoepflin and Peter Kaufman’s previous posts for excellent discussions of interdependence).

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