286 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

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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July 10, 2017

Why Do Perceptions of Police Vary?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A recent study published by the Pew Research Center found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that people’s views on police performance vary based on race. Blacks were four times more likely to tell researchers that they have no confidence in police in their communities than whites were. Where does this vast disparity come from? Why does this matter?

Differing views on policing is a great example of how one’s social location—our history, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and nationality, among other factors—shapes the way that we view the world. Social location is related to our literal location too, and how our experiences in that location impact our perceptions.

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May 15, 2017

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

The social world is always changing. Norms, values, ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions—all of these things shift over time. Even what we know to be “true” is often re-evaluated and amended. For example, people used to think that women and people of color should not be allowed to vote in the United States because they didn’t have the cognitive capacity and were not seen as fully human. Fortunately, those notions are no longer deemed to be true.                  

Even though the impermanence of the social world seems like an obvious and easily understandable point, we don’t always embrace the idea that things are in a constant state of flux. Many of us resist change, especially when it might shake up our taken for granted reality. We would much rather cling to familiar ways of doing things and seek out stability, predictability, and permanence. But like it or not, the only thing that is really permanent is impermanence.

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April 10, 2017

Neoliberalism: A Concept Every Sociologist Should Understand

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I have a confession: When I teach sociology I am often guilty of ignoring one of the most important concepts that every sociologist should understand. In fact, one of the main reasons for writing this post is to remind myself that I need to be more attentive to explaining this concept and discussing how it pervades our thoughts and actions. As you can tell from the title of this post, the concept to which I am referring is neoliberalism.

I know I am not the only sociology instructor who is guilty of leaving this important concept out of my curriculum. Over the years, the journal Teaching Sociology has published the results of a number of surveys that explore what topics sociology instructors deem to be most significant. In all of these cases, whether it is a study of the sociological core, of what students should understand after taking introduction to sociology, of which concepts, topics, and skills are most important, or even if there is a foundation of agreed on sociological knowledge, the concept of neoliberalism is usually left off the list.

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March 27, 2017

Signs of Gender

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

You might be seeing new restroom signs popping up in public or private spaces. Single-person bathrooms are getting a makeover in many places with the gender specific labels replaced with gender “neutral” labels. Thus, anyone who has to go, can just go, without concern about using the “right” room.

Here’s a photo I took the other day of a room newly re-labeled. This is a very inclusive sign, as it says “all gender” and even has the accessibility icon:

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March 06, 2017

The Uses of Outrage

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

There is a hard-right provocateur who has made a name for himself as being willing to say just about anything to get attention, whom I’ll refer to by his initials: M.Y.. He does his best to poke and jab at convention, offend and even hurt those he disagrees with, all while claiming that what he says is protected as free speech. He attacks the left with particular relish, since being shut down by them reveals a certain hypocrisy, in his mind: the left and universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech, yet, M.Y.’s speech at University of California, Berkeley sparked a riot and his talk was canceled over the ensuing brouhaha. (Here’s a riveting account of the event from a journalist who was traveling with this person and his entourage.)

How can we explain outrage in a sociological way?

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February 20, 2017

Can Teachers Speak the Truth about Donald Trump?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Consider this statement: Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America, is a racist, sexist, xenophobic bigot who constantly tells lies and makes wildly misleading claims.

I offer this statement not as an accusation against the President but as an assertion. It is not based on what Trump’s advisors call “alternative facts” but is based on actual verifiable facts. And it is not the subjective opinion of a left-leaning professor but is an objective truth that can be unequivocally demonstrated and proven.

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January 16, 2017

Sociology, Science, and Fake News

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Little gets me more riled up than the proliferation of fake news in an age where we can get quality information with ease. It just gets my goat.

My nearly perfect mother-in-law forwarded an email to me recently. Just looking at it caused trepidation. It was forwarded multiple times as evidenced by the four vertical lines along the left side of the email. The big font text was bright blue and red with a lot of CAPITAL AND BOLDED AND UNDERLINED LETTERS. These are markers for concern. It cites the reputable Mayo Clinic, and a Dr. Virend Somers. It starts with a provocative title “MAYO CLINIC - DRINKING WATER.” Then it follows: “A cardiologist determined that heart attacks can be triggered by dehydration. Good Thing To Know. From The Mayo Clinic. How many folks do you know…” It ends with a plea: “Do forward this message. It may save lives! "Life is a one time gift" (Let's forward and hope this will help save some!!!)”

A quick Google search took me to the Mayo Clinic’s website which, unsurprisingly to me, issued a statement discounting the circulated email, noting that it was “inaccurate and potentially harmful.”

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January 12, 2017

Cyber Crime

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

We’ve been hearing a lot about “cyber” crime lately. Are cyber crimes increasing? What is the impact of cyber crime on society?

If we have a phone, most of us get those annoying phone calls, most of which are hang-ups, but some of which inform us that the IRS wants our money or there’s a deal that we “must” take advantage of. Individuals have the freedom to react to calls like these as we prefer, but this personal nuisance is certainly part of a societal issue.

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December 21, 2016

Sanctuary Policies and States Rights

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

With the election of Donald Trump, some faculty and students on college and university campuses are particularly worried about what a Trump presidency will mean for the safety of undocumented students. Trump has vowed to reverse President Obama’s executive orders (including DACA), “end sanctuary cities,” and restrict federal funding to locales that do not comply with federal immigration agents. This is particularly troubling for young people with DACA-status (see my previous post for an explanation of DACA here). Given growing concerns over undocumented students’ safety, several colleges and universities have proclaimed themselves sanctuary campuses.

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