275 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

December 02, 2016

Safety Pins and Being an Ally

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

In the week following the 2016 presidential election there have been over 700 cases of hateful harassment and intimidation--more than in the aftermath of 9/11. The debate on college campuses and among people involved in social movements has been heated over how social justice-oriented folks can support people in marginalized communities who feel acutely vulnerable in this moment.

Can you be white and support Black Lives Matter? Can you be cis-gender and straight while also supporting LGBTQ causes? An initial answer is likely “Sure!” although such a response is more probably followed with a “but…”

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November 23, 2016

Meaning Drift: The Season of “Giving”

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Sociology teaches us to think critically about how we ascribe meaning to all aspects of social life, particularly how reality is socially constructed. The holiday season is a great example of how we ascribe meaning to events, and how our actions reinforce and reproduce these meanings.

Take the idea that the end of the year is a season of giving. In reality, this has come to mean a season of shopping and consumption. True, much of what we buy is presumably to give to others, but whether we give away what we buy is secondary to the act of buying itself. (Are you really going to buy that special someone on your list a new refrigerator or washing machine? Probably not, but all sorts of goods are marketed as holiday specials.) Retailers begin holiday-themed advertising in late October, hoping to create excitement for year-end shopping, which has become tied into the meaning of the holiday season.

The practice tells us more about our current economic and social context, where consumer spending accounts for a large proportion of economic growth, than it does about a shared past. Retailers look to “Black Friday” spending as important economic indicators, which the public regularly hears about as a barometer on our national economic health.

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November 14, 2016

Institutional Discrimination: An Inadequate Concept

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

This post is based on a sociological riddle: How is it possible that we live in a country full of racism and sexism, and yet very few people are willing to admit that they are racist or sexist? In other words, how can racism and sexism be so pervasive in a country devoid of racists and sexists?

This sociological riddle has been gnawing on my mind for many years. And my preoccupation with it has gotten much worse with the election of Donald Trump. Trump ran on a campaign of open and unabashed racism, sexism, and xenophobia, among other forms of intolerance. He was even endorsed by white nationalist groups like the Klu Klux Klan. And yet, during his campaign and after his victory many of his supporters denied that they harbored racist or sexist sentiments. Donald Trump himself even proclaimed on many occasions that “I am the least racist person” and “there’s nobody that has more respect for women than I do.”

It is certainly troubling that the president-elect of the United States is now the poster child for a society of racist and sexist deniers; however, the deeper problem is that if no one is willing to admit to holding these views then the possibility of ever ridding ourselves of these forms of oppression is remote to nil. And to make matters worse, the situation is unintentionally exacerbated by the one answer that is often given to this sociological riddle: institutional discrimination.

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November 04, 2016

Immigrants and Voting

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Recently naturalized immigrants have the ability influence voting outcomes in several key states, including Florida, Nevada, Virginia, and Arizona. The researchers at the University of Southern California Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) released a report, titled Rock the (Naturalized) Vote II, which builds upon findings that CSII published in 2012. In that report, researchers highlighted the link between populations that had a high recently-naturalized population and voting trends.

For instance, in the 2012 Presidential election, Obama won with 71% of the Latin@/x vote, and 73% of the Asian vote. At that time, roughly 25% of all Latin@s/x and 66% of all Asians were naturalized citizens. Part of this support came with the passage of the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Undocumented individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children can apply for DACA. This allows a two-year, renewable, protection from deportation, and grants work authorization. Over the last four years, 728,000 undocumented immigrants have been awarded DACA status. According to a report by Migration Policy Institute, although DACA does not provide an avenue for citizenship, it has improved employment, earnings, educational attainment, and social integration. Although immigrants with DACA are ineligible to vote (as they do not have citizenship), this population, particularly among Latin@s/x, is linked through social and political networks to peers who can vote.

How might a high recently-naturalized population influence the presidential election in 2016?

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October 31, 2016

The Sociology of Calling Other People Stupid

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Accusations of people acting stupidly or being stupid have been common in the news lately. Donald Trump has been called “too stupid” for U. S. voters and his supporters are often accused of stupidity for believing things that are “demonstrably wrong or idiotic.” Hillary Clinton has been called the “stupidest person” for setting up a private e-mail address and using it for work. And Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that if protesters like Colin Kaepernick “want to be stupid” then that’s their decision (she later expressed regret for this comment).

These are just some of the high profile examples of people using the term “stupidity” to evaluate the decisions and actions of others. In the course of our everyday lives, most of us probably hear the words stupid and stupidity multiple times a day. We invoke these terms not only to define people and their actions, but also to describe situations that we find frustrating or annoying: that stupid ATM machine ate my card; this stupid cell-phone battery doesn’t even last a whole day; or our school has the stupidest dress-code policy.

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October 10, 2016

Debates and Pierre Bourdieu

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

It’s the height of the presidential election and perhaps you are as caught up in it as I am-- to the point of distraction. I’m reading newspapers more than usual, and constantly scan headlines for new bits of news. I’ll watch the talking heads debate. It’s a reasonable guess that you were, like me, one of the record-breaking 84 million people who watched Hillary and Donald debate on September 26th.

It is a good time, however, to take a step back and think about what we are really seeing, and think about how it might relate to the sociological classroom.

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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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