197 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

March 28, 2014

The Dark Side of Seeing Only the Bright Side

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As a self-starter, I like self-help books, and have read or listened to number of audio books in the genre. I have listened to many books on discovering one’s passions and creativity, on personal finance, relationships, career building, and those promoting emotional well-being. I can truly say that I have learned a lot from them, and they have taught me how to understand myself and others better.

But even while listening, on occasion I am reminded of the limits of self-help books. For instance, many personal finance books suggest that readers control their spending—stop buying that daily latte, and eventually you will have a million dollars. Well, I don’t drink coffee, and I’m sure there are many people who cannot save or invest for a million dollars even if they don’t either. As a college professor, I am in the economic group that would likely benefit more from this kind of financial advice, say, compared with a low-wage worker who struggles to pay bills each month. Advising someone in these circumstances to skimp on coffee is not going to help them.

Continue reading "The Dark Side of Seeing Only the Bright Side" »

March 18, 2014

Stop and Frisk Through a Sociological Lens

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you live in or near New York, no doubt you have heard of a policing policy called “stop and frisk.” For those unfamiliar with the practice, stop and frisk involves police officers questioning and searching pedestrians for weapons if they deem them to be suspicious. This is different from an arrest, and there need not be a crime under investigation to justify a stop and frisk.  Instead, the idea is that this practice could stop a crime before it even happens.

In 2013, a judge ruled that stop and frisk was unconstitutional, as it was mainly used to stop—and many would argue harass—people of color on a daily basis. When Mayor Bill DiBlasio took office in 2014, he vowed that the police would discontinue the practice.

Continue reading "Stop and Frisk Through a Sociological Lens" »

March 06, 2014

Why My Paper is Late: Excuses and Justifications

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s the middle of the semester now, time for papers and exams. It’s also time to hear many excuses and justifications by some students about why their papers are late, why they can’t take an exam, or why they did not do as well as they could have on the exam.

Part of human interaction involves the explanations we provide about our behavior to one another, often to save face or create a positive impression of ourselves. In a classic 1968 article, sociologists Marvin B. Scott and Stanford Lyman define these explanations as accounts,  “statement(s) made by a social actor to explain unanticipated or untoward behavior.” They note that accounts come in two varieties: excuses and justifications.

Continue reading "Why My Paper is Late: Excuses and Justifications" »

February 24, 2014

Sociology Lessons in Kindergarten

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I happen to know several children who are either in kindergarten or will be soon. Hearing about their experiences and those of their parents made me realize that kindergarten offers many sociology lessons, both inside the classroom and out.

Continue reading "Sociology Lessons in Kindergarten" »

February 06, 2014

“Affluenza,” Privilege and Justice

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Last year, Ethan Couch, 16, drove drunk and killed four people and severely injured two others in Texas. The case made national news when during the sentencing face his legal team claimed that he “suffered” from “affluenza”. In other words, the teen got everything he wanted and did not learn that his actions had consequences because his parents were lenient. The judge allowed him to go to a treatment facility, funded by his parents to the tune of $450,000 a year, instead of prison.

Affluenza is not a new term—when I was in high school in the 1980s my school district sent pamphlets to parents warning them of the dangers of giving kids too much—and it is not actually a psychiatric diagnosis.

Continue reading "“Affluenza,” Privilege and Justice" »

January 17, 2014

The Importance of Knowing Names

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Years ago, I took an evening class with about a dozen other students. It was a seminar style class, meaning we sat around a large conference table and discussed the material with the professor. On the last day of class, we each had to give a presentation. We were instructed to state and spell our name for the instructor before we began—she had not bothered learning our names that semester.

Now maybe she just had a hard time putting faces and names together. But as a student, it felt like she didn’t care about her students or the class enough to take the time to learn a few names. We had even learned each other’s names during that time; why couldn’t she?

Continue reading "The Importance of Knowing Names" »

January 09, 2014

Living Arrangements, Social Structure, and Public Policy

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Do you live alone, with friends, or with family? Your living arrangements can teach us a great deal about social structure.

According to an August 2013 U.S. Census report, nearly one-third of Americans live alone now, a rise from just under one in five in 1970. Just one in five households now include children under eighteen, compared with forty percent in 1970.

These changes reflect more than just personal choices, but social changes. Being able to live alone is primarily a function of prosperity; it generally costs more to sustain a single household. The economic growth that came with industrialization and the rise of women’s wages meant that more people could afford to live on their own. As young adults get married later now than they did decades ago, they are more likely to have some time where they live alone as well. Also, people live longer now and are thus more likely to outlive a spouse and end up living alone at some point in their lives.

Continue reading "Living Arrangements, Social Structure, and Public Policy" »

December 16, 2013

Deadlines and Social Interaction

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

‘Tis the season…for deadlines. If you are a student, this means papers, exams, and assignments come due. For many workers, the holidays and the end of the calendar year can mean sales and billing deadlines, and wrapping up important projects before vacation.

Deadlines also represent a basic social interaction: an agreement between parties of when tasks will be accomplished. Meeting a deadline is about more than just the task itself; it represents the ability to keep a promise, a basic tenet of social life.

Continue reading "Deadlines and Social Interaction" »

December 02, 2013

The Social Construction of Death

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In Philadelphia, an emergency room nurse named Barbara Mancini was arrested for providing her 93-year-old terminally ill father with a lethal dose of morphine. Her father was in hospice care, meaning that no further treatment was possible and death was imminent; the goals of hospice care are to ease pain and provide comfort for the dying patient. He was in kidney failure and apparently in a significant amount of pain.

Prosecutors contend he just wanted pain relief from pain, not death, and so they are charging her with assisted suicide. Her family supports her action and is coping with both their loss and Mancini’s legal troubles.

This case brings up issues about assisted suicide that are frequently asked by ethicists and often appear on state ballots. Recent research from Pew’s Religion and Public Life Project found that a slight majority of Americans favor this practice in some circumstances, a number that has shrunk compared with previous studies in 1990 and 2005.

What do controversies over assisted suicide teach us about the social construction of death?

Continue reading "The Social Construction of Death" »

November 04, 2013

Sociology for Storytellers

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Sociology courses and concepts are not just for people looking to become sociologists. I wrote about the diversity of the sociology major recently, and mentioned that journalists and even novelists can benefit from a degree in sociology. How can storytellers enhance their skills by learning about sociology?

Continue reading "Sociology for Storytellers" »

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