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September 18, 2017

Getting a Ride: Transportation and Identity

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few months ago while on jury duty, I observed the jury duty selection process for a vehicular manslaughter/hit and run case. I was never called into the jury box, but watched as others answered basic questions from both the prosecutor and defense attorney as they determined who would be part of the jury.

One prospective juror mentioned in the course of questioning that she didn’t have a driver’s license. She looked young—I would guess that she was in her very early twenties—and perhaps she was a student, judging by her clothing and backpack. The prosecutor seemed concerned that she didn’t have a license and asked her several questions about this.

“How did you get here? How do you get around town?” she asked the young woman, who responded that she took the bus.

“Why don’t you have a license? Are you scared of driving?” the prosecutor asked the embarrassed potential juror, who said she couldn’t afford a car and thus did not take the time to get a driver’s license. She was soon dismissed from the jury.

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September 11, 2017

The Nuances of Naming

B Raskoffy Sally Raskoff

The alt-right. White nationalists. White supremacists. Nazis.

Naming groups is part of what we do so that we can know who is who and what they are about. It’s also important to identify who is included as “us” and who is considered “them.”

Knowing your in-groups and out-groups facilitates our social interactions in positive, neutral, and negative ways. Reference groups operate on a less personal scale than in-groups and out-groups, as they are typically large scale and operate on a national or international level.

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September 04, 2017

Football and Foie Gras: How Taste Makes Groups

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Think about how taste works in your life. At some point you have, perhaps quite passionately, argued with a friend about a style or genre of music. Do your tastes define who you are as a person? Your taste in music, your taste clothes, your taste in food?

Taste seems like a very personal thing. It helps you craft your identity, right? It’s who you are. But taste is not a personal matter. It’s a profoundly social one.

What is taste? Let’s say that taste is the trained ability to make judgments on culture.

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August 28, 2017

What is Anomie?

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

A neighbor and I were talking as he was on his daily dog-walk past my home. He was expressing concern about how badly people drive, how rude they are, how no one seems to have any manners anymore, how people are more likely to walk looking down into their phones, even when crossing the street, rather than with their head held high and noticing what’s around them. He continued our conversation discussing events in the news, as it had been a particularly wacky and disturbing week, to put it lightly.

While I don’t usually “talk shop” with my neighbors and acquaintances as they walk their dogs, it seemed that he truly was seeking some solace or at least understanding about the state of things.

I saw my sociological opening and took it.

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August 21, 2017

Read the Syllabus, Van Halen Style

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Welcome back to school! Lots of books, new friends, new classes. It’s a lot to take in.

With all the hubbub, it might slip your mind to read your syllabus carefully. I understand. You’re busy. You might think, “Hey, this class is like all the other ones. I’ll figure it out as I go along.” But, as you should expect, I couldn’t disagree more!

To encourage you to read your syllabus carefully, I would like to tell you an infamous story about a 1980s rock band, Van Halen.

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August 14, 2017

Place, the Sociological Imagination, and Western Pennsylvania

Colby (1)By Colby King

When I first read C. Wright Mills’ “The Promise” as an undergraduate, I remember being struck by his argument that the “first fruit” of the sociological imagination “is the idea that the individual can understand his own experience and gauge his own fate only be locating himself within his period, that he can know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances.” For Mills, understanding a person’s social context, or what he calls the structure of society, is essential for understanding their life chances.

This quote from Mills struck me because, while I was just beginning to understand the concept of the sociological imagination, I already possessed an interest in how social context shapes people’s lives.

I had grown up in rural western Pennsylvania, in between the small university town of Slippery Rock and the county seat of Butler. I was a student in the Slippery Rock school district, while my dad worked at Armco Steel (now AK Steel) in Butler, and I already understood that in many ways this place was a particular social context shaping my perspective and opportunities.

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August 07, 2017

Birth Rates: Who Will Replace Us?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

According to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the birth rate in the United States fell to an all-time low in 2016.

Births to teens also fell to an all-time low, down from 41.5 births per thousand in 2007 to 20.3 in 2016, a 51% decline. Birth rates also fell, albeit more modestly, for women in their 20s. By contrast, births to women in their 30s and 40s grew modestly. However, the birthrate for women 40-44 was 11.3 per thousand, and for women 45-49 it was .9, lower than any age group except 10-14-year-olds. Women 25-34 had the highest birthrates, at about 100 births per thousand.

What does this mean for our population overall?

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