380 posts categorized "Social Problems, Politics, and Social Change"

December 11, 2017

Who Benefits from Automation?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

We recently had new hardwood floors installed in our house. Upon seeing them, a neighbor said, “I bet you’re a slave to these floors now,” meaning that we work hard to keep them looking clean and shiny. “You’ve got to get a Roomba! It’s a lifesaver!”

I checked into the automated floor-cleaning robots, and found they ranged in price from about $200 to $1,000. This seemed a bit pricey when my broom cost less than $10, and frankly, I don’t really mind sweeping the floor. It’s a good way to clear my mind and get some exercise while accomplishing a household chore.

But I get that some people might want to buy a device that over time will cost a lot less than hiring someone to come clean up. Automation creates opportunities to save money and reduce the number of unwanted tasks we do at home and also has revolutionized our workforce.

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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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October 02, 2017

Good Bones and Good Policy

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As I blogged about several years ago, I have a weakness for programs on HGTV. I enjoy watching people house hunt and remodel, even with the knowledge that most of these shows are likely staged. At their core, they are programs about consumption, and advertisers hope their shows inspire viewers like me to want to buy home-related products. For me, and I suspect many other viewers, part of the pleasure of watching is vicarious consumption, watching other people make decisions and choices and perhaps getting ideas for my own purchases.

I recently binged-watched the first season of a new (to me) HGTV show, Good Bones. The show features a mother/daughter-run renovation team who buy mostly abandoned houses from the city, fix them up, and sell them.

What caught my interest in this show was that the stars’ company, Two Chicks and a Hammer, targets homes in their own neighborhood and a nearby neighborhood near downtown Indianapolis, with the goal of revitalizing the once struggling community. “I don’t want to build crappy homes for my neighbors, I just don’t,” says Karen E. Laine, the mother of the duo, during each show’s opening.

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September 25, 2017

A Strangeness in My Mind: Rural Poverty and Isolation

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

I generally spend my spring break visiting friends in Oklahoma, reading novels, playing board games, and taking a much-needed break from teaching and research. This past March, in an attempt to read something entertaining, I picked up a translation of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind.

The story chronicles the life of Mevlut as he migrates between his rural village of Anatolia to the city of Istanbul for work. We read about his school-age games and schemes to make money, his tireless work with his father as a street vendor selling yogurt and boza (a slightly alcoholic Turkish drink), his conscription into the army, and, in a comically sad twist, his elopement to the seemingly wrong woman.

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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 31, 2017

Thirteen Sociological Things about 13 Reasons Why

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I watched the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, this summer.

The story, based on a young adult novel, centers on the suicide of a high schooler named Hannah Baker. The premise is that Clay Jensen is given a set of seven old fashioned audio tapes, with Hannah telling the story of one reason for why she committed suicide on each side of tape. Throughout the series, viewers get two perspectives: in one we learn about the months leading up to Hannah’s suicide, and a second narrative in the present day, with the Clay dealing with the aftermath.

The following post contains some spoilers and uses sociological tools to understand the show’s meaning. This post should definitely not be read as a resource on suicide.

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