How do you spend the two days of the year that we honor the challenging and important job that parents do? Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are celebrated in the U.S. in May and June, respectively. Both days generate many family interactions, restaurant orders, greeting card sales, and phone calls.
On the surface, these days appear to be equivalent and equally valued holidays that are meant to honor those who generate and raise children. However, the history and current practices highlight some differences in what mothers and fathers mean to our society.
I recently purchased a home in Los Angeles, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to afford. When prices started skyrocketing in the mid-2000s, like many other people I chose not to buy and saved my money instead. I was glad I did, despite some acquaintances insisting that prices would only get higher. In 2005, the median price of a single family home in Los Angeles was about $529,000; by 2008 the median price fell to $340,000. (The median is the point at which half of all homes cost less, and half cost more).
After watching prices and interest rates fall, I began looking in earnest. I got very excited to see I could actually afford to buy in a neighborhood where I would like to live. I began by looking online, and found many places that fit my criteria: in my price range, a reasonable commute to work, nearby places to walk or hike, and safe enough for me to take a walk alone. In fact, there were so many places that I got picky, at first only wanting to see places that had been decorated to my taste. If I didn’t like the flooring or the kitchen countertops, I passed. Most of the listings were short sales, meaning the homeowner owed more on their mortgage than they could expect to sell for. Banks will often agree to accept less money in order to avoid the more expensive and time consuming foreclosure process.
In the sciences, we use theory and methods to empirically assess “reality”. While we can often play with data to explore the relationships between our concepts(our variables), it is important to frame what we’re doing with good theory.
An interesting graph has made its rounds through social media lately. It shows a strong relationship between Internet Explorer market share and murders in the U.S.
Recently, when the Canadian Government arrested men suspected of planning a terrorist attack, Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned the media not to “commit sociology” by asking for their motives. (It’s a reference to a W.H. Auden poem.) Best not to think too much, apparently, about the world around you.
In my Foundations of Social Theory class, we began the semester with the broad, big worldviews that many people often use unreflexively and to their own detriment: horoscopes, homeopathy, numerology, dousing, conspiracy theories, and the like. I hope you are equipped for the task of making sense of the world you’ll find around you: to “commit sociology.”
Maybe you ascribe to one of those all-encompassing meta-theories: the astral alignments determining behaviors and the gods working in mysterious ways. What have you learned about sociology that will explain your everyday challenges? An engineering class may help your colleagues get jobs but it won’t help them understand the dynamics of the world they live in. The same could be said about journalism, food studies, and management classes. How could I not try to convince you that sociology, and theory, will?
Since the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, the nation has been trying to figure out how and why someone would do something so horrific. The bombers’ methods and motives are the domain of law enforcement, trying to figure out first who did it, how, and why.
Sociology can be useful to help us to develop hypotheses about why events take place, particularly those events involving large group. Explaining why any particular individual behaves the way they do is harder to understand, and as I write investigators are working diligently to learn more about the suspects to figure out why they would build bombs and hurt innocent people. So it is too soon to specifically use sociological concepts to understand the suspects.
But we can think sociologically about the public’s reaction to the violence.
“It’s always one damn thing after another.” This was a favorite phrase of my advisor in graduate school. He was referring both to the relatively minor irritations of grad school—getting papers rejected, having data troubles, worrying about qualifying exams—as well as the daily annoyances of life—finding a parking ticket on your car, getting into an argument with a friend, having a long wait at the doctor’s office.
I’ve thought of this phrase quite a bit lately as I followed the tragic events in Boston. It wasn’t so much the bombing at the Boston Marathon that brought these words back to me as much as it was the cumulative effect of recent events: Boston, Sandy Hook, Hurricane Sandy, Aurora, Penn State, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and the list could go on.
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