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September 26, 2016

Are Social Scientists Anti-Social? How to Test Hypotheses

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A colleague recently posed this question while we chatted after a social event. She thought it was particularly interesting that sociologists, of all people, might not be the most social bunch at a gathering.

Of the small group engaged in this informal discussion, we considered this idea and searched for examples in support. We each agreed that we tended to be more on the introverted side, needing downtime to recharge after having lots of social interactions. I mentioned that one of my favorite activities is taking a walk while listening to a book (listening to books is the primary way I use my smart phone—not for texting, talking, using social media or otherwise interacting with others).

Another colleague agreed and said that he would spend every day reading if he could, and we agreed that we wouldn’t be in academia if we didn’t all like to read, an activity that requires someone to be comfortable withdrawing from social interactions for at least a little while. Others in the conversation thought about their other friends in academia and thought they would probably also be less social.

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September 22, 2016

Making Your Home Among Strangers

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Welcome back to school, y’all!

For the last few years I have introduced our UMass Amherst Common Read book to our Everyday Sociology blog readers, and I thought I should continue the tradition.

This year’s book is Jennine Capó Crucet’s excellent Make Your Home Among Strangers. (See an interview with the author here.) The novel is written almost as if it were specifically crafted to illustrate the issues that all young students might face, but particularly students of color. I highly recommend it. If your parents are at all curious about what college life is like today, you might want to recommend it to them, too!

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September 19, 2016

Social Norms and Social Change

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

As students of sociology, we learn about social norms. Social norms are guidelines for expected behaviors, thus they set out our options for appropriate behavior. Bradley Wright’s blog post nicely describes a number of social norms operating in a college setting.

Not everyone follows the norms (deviance might be defined as not following the norm), challenging the social order. Note that the norms are guidelines for expected behaviors. They are the “should dos” and, sometimes the “must dos” of society. Norms can be loosely held, such as folkways, or tightly held, such as mores and taboos, those that are often built into the legal code.

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September 12, 2016

White Power and White Powerlessness: A New Double Consciousness?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Can someone really feel powerful and powerless at the same time? Is it possible that some white people feel compelled to assert the dominance of their race because they fear that whiteness is becoming less dominant? Are the recent expressions of white superiority actually connected with the growing fear of white inferiority?

The themes of white power and white powerlessness are gaining newfound scrutiny these days as social scientists and journalists are trying to make sense of the rise of Donald Trump and his supporters. While some see Trump and his followers predominantly through a racial lens as white supremacists, nativists, and racists, others argue that the underlying origins of this right-wing extremism stem from feelings of social and economic marginalization.

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September 07, 2016

Politics, Civility and Social Change

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A friend of mine recently announced that she would not log onto Facebook until after the presidential election is over in November, tired of the political rhetoric from her many Facebook friends across the political spectrum. It got me thinking of the old cliché about religion and politics—two things not to be discussed in polite company once upon a time—and how much has changed, particularly since the introduction of new communication technologies. It is a good example of how norms surrounding interactions can shift along with structural changes.

Both religious and political beliefs may be deeply and passionately held, and thus could stir up ill will between people whose beliefs differ. So in many cases people will avoid these topics so as not to offend or alienate others. I remember as a small child hearing a relative at a holiday dinner bringing up politics. Even though I didn’t know who they were talking about, and had no opinion about the subject at the time, I could sense the discomfort in the room and wished it would stop. Only occasionally would I hear my parents discussing political topics with each other, but these discussions were private and kept to the confines of our home, so it wasn’t an uncomfortable experience.

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September 02, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and our Collective Ignorance of Social and Political Activism

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the national anthem, he joined a relatively small group of professional athletes who have used their stature to bring attention to a pressing social issue. Employing language that was reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s protest against the Vietnam War, Kaepernick explained that he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Kaepernick went on to explain that his protest was in response to the persistent racism and brutality that black people experience—whether it be from the police or from the inactions of the government:

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August 29, 2016

Bullying and “Doing” Gender

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the most challenging concepts new students in sociology struggle with is the idea that gender is not just something we are born with, not just something we are socialized into as young children, but something that we actively “perform” throughout our lives. Might a more widespread understanding of how we “do” gender reduce bullying and violence?

Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman’s now classic Gender & Society article, “Doing Gender,” notes that “gender is not a set of traits, nor a variable, nor a role, but the product of social doings of some sort.” Gender is not just something we learn to perform in childhood, but something that we are continually performing, although we might not be aware of this process.

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