291 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

November 27, 2017

Opioids and the Social Construction of Social Problems

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths due to heroin and synthetic opioid overdoses quadrupled in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015, with a dramatic rise occurring between 2010 and 2015. In 2010 there were just over 3,000 deaths due to heroin overdose, rising to nearly 13,000 in 2015.

The authors attribute this increase to “increased heroin availability combined with high potency and relatively low price,” and note, “the strongest risk factor for heroin use and dependence is misuse of or dependence on prescription opioids.”

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October 30, 2017

Interpreting Numbers in Context

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In the age of big data, one of the most important—and overlooked—skills that training in sociology provides is the ability to interpret numerical data. Being statistically literate is important for so many reasons, not the least being that it ultimately can help you find a job. Even if you aren’t a statistician or data analyst, knowing how to understand numbers can give you a leg up among the math phobic in many professions.

You don’t have to fall in love with equations or mathematical theory to become skilled at interpreting data. The most important thing to keep in mind is that numbers tell a story, and your job as an interpreter of data is to figure out what story they are telling you, and share that story with others.

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October 23, 2017

Cats, Dogs, and #metoo

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

There seems to be an emerging awareness of sexual harassment and sexual assault as more “open secrets” are exposed as some powerful men have recently been fired from their jobs.

The hashtag #metoo has recently been circulating on social media to encourage women to share if they have experienced sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. Alyssa Milano’s tweet suggesting it created this current wave of #metoo’s across the Internet. However, the term was first used by Tarana Burke to support and empower African American women and girls who experienced sexual assault and exploitation. The idea of the current Twitter and Facebook firestorm is to show highlight how many people have dealt with this issue.

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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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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 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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