243 posts categorized "Theory"

August 08, 2022

The End of Ending Relationships

Cornelia Mayr PhotoBy Cornelia Mayr

Department of Sociology, University of Klagenfurt, Austria

My colleague and I recently spoke about our experience with death. He asked me whether I have ever seen a dead person in real life. My answer was yes and so did he. Our experiences with death led us to talk about the opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one for the last time.

How often do we say goodbye, see you, so long, ciao, adieu, adios, sayonara, auf Wiedersehen, to our family members, friends, or acquaintance--mostly with the taken-for-granted assumption that we will meet another time? In fact, the German word auf Wiedersehen literally means until we see each other again. But what if we won’t be able to see this person again or do not want to? Do we always part our ways harmoniously? If you had known that you will never see a person close to you again, how would you have said goodbye?

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July 18, 2022

Death and Emotional Labor

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Since the pandemic started in 2020, I have “attended” three funerals online, two for elderly relatives who had cancer and one for the elderly father of a friend who had Alzheimer’s disease. Being thousands of miles away, the online option saved me the time and expense of making last-minute travel arrangements. I appreciated the privacy of watching the funerals alone, as I can get emotionally overwhelmed by other people appearing emotionally overwhelmed.

Of course, this is part of what the funeral ritual is for: to comfort the bereaved, and to be in a place where one can openly express sadness. In most social settings, there are unwritten rules that encourage us to stifle any impulse to weep uncontrollably. Typically, we try and hold back sobs and tears whenever possible. At a funeral such rules are loosened, but they still exist. This reflects Erving Goffman’s notion that we work to “regulate… face-to-face interaction” in his book Behavior in Public Places (p. 8).

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June 20, 2022

What Can Comedy Teach us about Sociology?

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

While preparing for take-off on a recent flight, a man in the row in front of me made a “joke” to his teenaged kids. After an announcement to take your seat and fasten your seatbelts, he said rather loudly, “Yeah, like seatbelts are really going to make a difference in a plane crash!”

He eagerly looked for a positive reaction to his comment. His kids didn’t appear to laugh, and those of us in the surrounding rows seemed to share a moment of nervous discomfort. Isn’t it an unwritten rule that you don’t mention plane crashes—even in jest—on an airplane?

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May 23, 2022

More Verstehen: What it’s Like to be a Juvenile Offender Sentenced to LWOP

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the central guiding principles that I follow as a sociologist (and a human) is Max Weber’s notion of verstehen, which is German for understanding. Weber encourages us to apply the tools of sociology to do our best to understand experiences that might be different from our own.

It’s probably safe to presume that most people reading this post have not had the experience of shooting someone in the face at the age of thirteen during a robbery, then being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) at fourteen and spending 26 years in prison; 18 of them in solitary confinement.

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February 07, 2022

Greetings

Cornelia Mayr PhotoBy Cornelia Mayr

Department of Sociology, University of Klagenfurt, Austria

Human connection starts with a friendly smile and a warm hello. How does it feel to greet someone and not have the greeting returned?

I regularly visit the local ladies’ gym, and often have contact with mothers and grandmothers. One granny occasionally brings her five-year-old grandchild with her, a young girl who does not greet nor react to warm greetings. You might presume that the child is too shy to greet a stranger. Can you really be too shy to greet? Is it a must to greet people when we do not feel that we want to do so? The social greeting etiquette made me think of the meaning of this common ritual in everyday interactions.

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January 03, 2022

Civil Inattention: Behind the Mask in the COVID Era

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

The pandemic has clearly impacted the way people interact in public. First, we often wear masks, a practice very unusual in the U.S. before 2020. We might give people a wide berth when encountering them on public sidewalks, walking in the street sometimes to avoid passing too closely. (The chorus of The Police’s 1980 hit song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” has a whole new meaning now.)

And sometimes, we just ignore each other.

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December 22, 2021

Rituals, Rites, and Habits

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

What distinguishes a ritual from a habit? This is a question that I return to at the end of each calendar year as many seasonal traditions play out privately and publicly. How is a ritual more than just a shared habit?

If a habit is an individual behavior that results in some sort of reward, a ritual is a shared pattern of behaviors; we might think of habits as residing within the realm of psychology and rituals within sociology. Both habits and rituals can be meaningful to those who perform them and bring a range of rewards, or they might be automatic and something we don’t give much thought to either way.

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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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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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