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.
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.
From day one in my statistics course, I tell my students that data are everywhere. Even though the word makes it sound like data is everywhere, the word data is plural thus they are everywhere.
Facebook helped me make the point recently when they posted a note and shared information gleaned from posting patterns (empirical data!) during the week that the Supreme Court heard arguments on marriage equality.
Recently, gay marriage and gay rights have been at the forefront of the nation’s attention. As the Supreme Court heard two historic arguments on same-sex marriage, the top story in print, on the airwaves, and over the Internet has revolved around these issues.
My interest in such matters started much earlier, specifically in January 1991. At the time, my brother and I were driving back to New York from Washington, D.C. after attending a rally protesting the Gulf War. We spent the whole weekend together talking about things both serious and frivolous. It wasn’t until we were about two exits away from our hometown when my brother woke me up from a nap saying that he had something to tell me. I thought he was going to say that he got pulled over for a speeding ticket. Instead, he told me he was gay.
You are likely familiar with the Steubenville, Ohio case where two teenaged boys were recently convicted of raping a young woman.
There have been some great sociological analyses about it. Sarah Sobieraj wrote an OpEd on the ”digital residue” of the case highlighting how social media drew the story out into the light of day, Evan Stewart wrote at The Society Pages on our male-dominated society, the UK’s Guardian discusses the town’s economic woes, and Lisa Wade wrote about the media’s response to the verdict.
Six-year old Emily Parker was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. At her funeral her father, Robbie Parker, offered his love and support to the family of the shooter.
In 2012, nineteen-year old Conor McBride shot and killed Ann Grosmaire, his girlfriend of three years. When it came time for the District Attorney to recommend punishment, Ann’s parents advocated for a reduced sentence so that Conor would not have to spend his entire life in jail.
In 2006, Charles Roberts killed five Amish girls at the West Nickel Mines School in Lancaster, Pennsylviania. Soon after the shooting, the parents of the deceased girls raised money to assist the gunman’s wife and children and they consoled his father during the gunman’s funeral.
On January 11, armed assailants entered a Nordstrom Rack store in the Los Angeles area just after closing time. The police were called and surrounded the building, and the assailants held 14 people hostage for about two hours.
Despite the heavy police presence—a SWAT team was at the scene—the assailants escaped. Police later arrested five people, three suspects and two accused as accessories for allegedly aiding the suspects.
This was a shocking event for both the victims and members of the community. The store is located in an upscale shopping area with a state-of-the-art Cineplex and many shops and restaurants in an area with a relatively low crime rate.
Much has been said about the Sandy Hook murders and other mass shootings in the United States. Some blame media or the accessibility of weapons, others cite gender, and others our medical infrastructure or even the killer’s parents.
What makes people do such horrible things? If there were a simple answer or one source of such behavior, we would have figured that out by now and made a simple solution!
Seeking answers is a natural part of healing after a terrible event such as this. However, seeking such answers through speculation can add to our misery since it may lead us to institute solutions that are not really solving the problems.
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