209 posts categorized "Theory"

April 29, 2019

Connecting the Dots: Linking Theory with Research

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

As I wrote about previously, one of the main things to consider when making sure that your research topic is sociological is its connection with sociological theory. How does your study—or idea for a study—reflect or inform a theoretical perspective within the discipline?

First, let’s remind ourselves about what the difference is between a hypothesis and a theory. A hypothesis is a specific, testable “educated guess” about the relationship between two or more variables, while a theory is a system of ideas, often based on previous studies.

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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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April 01, 2019

Culture, Conflict, and Politics

Author photoBy Jessica Poling

Sociology Ph.D. student, Rutgers University

The 2016 presidential election sparked a nation-wide period of cultural conflict characterized by the working-class’s rising frustrations towards “elites.” President Trump himself has fostered a spirit of anti-intellectualism, at times even celebrating his own lack of intellectualism. These tensions go deeper than just economic class; rather, they are grounded in differences in cultural proclivities.

The differences between the often culturally conservative working-class and the often liberal upper-middle class may therefore be deeper than political affiliations. To understand this particular political moment, we must thus understand the cultural tensions beneath political divisions.

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July 30, 2018

Aging and Identity

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of my elderly neighbors, who I will call John, has a degenerative neurological disorder. It has dramatically affected his speech and his ability to walk. His wife confided in me that he really doesn’t like to see people who knew him “before”—and as residents in their home for 45 years, that means many people in our community haven’t been able to see much of John.

Not only has John been struggling with the effects of this disease, but he has been struggling with his sense of self. It is clear from his wife’s observations that he does not want his current condition to change the way people think of him. John’s wife regularly recounts that he was an avid hiker and loved to ride his bike and go camping before this illness, helping to shape others’ perceptions of John. This, unfortunately, has contributed to his sense of isolation.

As George Herbert Mead teaches us, the way we view our identity and ourselves is rooted in the social context. This means that our sense of self is something we negotiate with how we think others perceive us. It doesn’t mean we simply adopt the sense of identity that others may project onto us. Instead, we might take these perceptions into account, even if that means constructing an identity in opposition to how we think others might see us.

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May 28, 2018

Villains, Victims, and Verstehen

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I studied drama as an undergraduate, and in one class I remember learning about playing villains. No one sees him or herself as a villain, we learned, and the person portraying such a character should figure out their motivation. Does the character feel like they have been wronged and are thus justified in seeking revenge? Do they feel passionate about a cause that the other characters view differently? Every character—and most people—views themselves as good, maybe even heroic sometimes, and this is no different for roles that appear to be obvious villains.

Likewise, social scientists are very interested in learning more about people’s perceptions of the world around them. Max Weber, one of the key thinkers in sociology, noted the importance of verstehen, or understanding the people we study.

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May 21, 2018

Small Worlds, Degrees of Separation, and Social Network Analysis

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

A few weeks ago, I noticed a student in one of my classes was wearing a shirt from a business in the town where I went to high school. I told him that I went to school there and he said that his father did too. I asked him how old his father is and when I found out we are the same age I suddenly remembered his father. It turns out we were classmates.

On the one hand, it’s not too surprising that I have this connection with my former classmate. After all, I teach at a State University of New York (SUNY) college where many of the students who attend happen to come from the area (Long Island) where I grew up. But on the other hand, SUNY is the largest system of higher education in the United States, New York is one of the most populous states, and Long Island has over 7 million people. In addition, my high school was relatively small. Given all of this, the odds of me having the child of a former classmate seem pretty remote.

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May 07, 2018

The Most Important Sociological Lessons

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

As a reader of this blog you must have some idea about the major themes that sociologists study. You also know that sociologists write about a lot of topics. If you were asked to identify the most important lessons that one can learn from sociology what would they be? What themes, concepts, theories, perspectives, ways of thinking, or even skills do you think are the most significant?

I recently posed this question to a group of undergraduate sociology students in their final semester of college. I was curious to find out what these students deemed to be the most important lessons they learned from their many years of studying sociology. I engaged the students in a collective brainstorming and writing exercise to see if they could identify and then explain the five most essential principles of their sociology education.

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April 23, 2018

Intersectionality for Beginners

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Intersectionality is one of those terms that we use a lot in sociology but we don’t always do a good job of explaining. I know I’m guilty of this. Sometimes I’ll be talking with students in class or trying to explain something to someone and I may casually use the words intersectional or intersectionality without stopping to define what these terms mean.

Much like the word structure, intersectionality has become one of those common, go-to concepts that we tend to invoke so frequently in sociology we assume everyone knows what we mean by it. It’s both troubling and ironic that we make these assumptions because these concepts are usually crucial to the point we are trying to make; in fact, sometimes these concepts are the point. If the people we are talking with do not understand these terms then they will certainly not understand what we are trying to say.

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April 16, 2018

Community Building and Women’s Activism

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, affordable housing in urban areas, particularly places like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and increasingly Chicago, is scarce and oftentimes inaccessible. Movements for access to housing have mobilized around expanding or implementing rent controls (for instance, in Chicago through the Lift the Ban coalition), while others have focused on training people how to advocate for policies that support equitable access to housing (such as the Resident Access Project or RAP in Washington State). As is the case with RAP, many housing activists aim to increasing residents’ knowledge and skills through leadership development and empowerment.

As scholars of both social movements and organizational studies have noted, some of the most effective leaders provide skill building, work to build self-confidence among followers, create opportunities for personal development, and understand when to move from a leadership to follower position.

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