204 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

July 18, 2014

Collective Memory and the Danger of Forgetting

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few years ago I wrote about the importance of collective memories following the centennial coverage of the sinking of the Titanic. Collective memories are societal-level memories, shared by regularly told stories, and are often events we might have intimate knowledge of even if we weren’t born when they occurred.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the 20th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s “slow speed chase” and subsequent arrest. Why are these events part of our collective memories?

Continue reading "Collective Memory and the Danger of Forgetting" »

July 07, 2014

Hotels and Stratification

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Hotels are a great way to think about social stratification. There’s the obvious: some hotels are incredibly expensive and affordable only to a select few. In the board game Monopoly, those with hotels on their properties are often the wealthiest players. And hotels have hierarchical ratings, from one to five stars delineating their quality and likely the corresponding wealth of their visitors. But there are other ways in which hotels can teach us about economic inequality as well.

Continue reading "Hotels and Stratification" »

June 20, 2014

Work, Autonomy and Health

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s tempting to argue that summer break is the best time to be a college professor. We can work on other projects, have time to read and indulge in hobbies, and it’s easy to schedule a vacation when you have several months off.

Of course there are many challenges to this career too. Just as with any profession, there are pressures associated with deadlines, one’s workload, and as in any situation, you might encounter difficult people. And for all too many adjunct professors, summer break doesn’t exist. If it does, it means months without pay, as they typically get paid by the class, and they are often poorly paid as well. They seldom have time to work on research, to write and publish, or even to read if they are teaching multiple classes to get by.

For those with full-time employment, one thing that sets being a professor apart is the degree of autonomy that often comes with the position. This means having flexibility to make at least some choices about your work.

Continue reading "Work, Autonomy and Health" »

June 03, 2014

Smoking and Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

People with higher levels of education are less likely to smoke cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009 just 5.6 percent of those 25 and older with graduate degrees smoked—compared with nearly half (49 percent) of those with GEDs. More education correlates with less cigarette smoking across the educational spectrum: 25.1 percent for high school graduates, 23.3 percent of who attended college but earned no degree, and just 11.1 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees smoked.

Why such a consistent difference?

Continue reading "Smoking and Education" »

May 23, 2014

Costumes: Special Occasions as Performance

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Recently, I received a package on my desk. It was a black gown with a decorative, brightly colored velvet hood and an oddly-shaped hat. There was no note, no explanation, but I knew what it was for.

In any other context, the arrival of an unusual outfit would be strange, maybe even disconcerting; it is not something I would personally have chosen to wear, as it is bulky and way too warm to wear in the late spring. I am expected to wear this outfit for our university’s commencement ceremonies, just as others on our faculty and around the country are.

Continue reading "Costumes: Special Occasions as Performance" »

May 15, 2014

Graduation, Social Structure, and Anomie

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are about to graduate from college, or know someone who is, you may be feeling many things: excited, overwhelmed, stressed, proud, and uncertain, especially if you are not sure what you are going to do next.

For many soon-to-be graduates, this will be the end of a sixteen-year (or longer) journey. Participating in educational institutions all those years shapes the kinds of choices and goals that we make, whether we are conscious of it or not. Did you participate in extracurricular activities to boost your odds of admission to the university of your choice? Volunteer in order to qualify for a particular scholarship, as part of a service learning course, or because your fraternity or sorority encourages you to do so?

Continue reading "Graduation, Social Structure, and Anomie" »

April 21, 2014

Alcohol and the Social Construction of Social Problems

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What do we know about the problems associated with alcohol, and how do we know it?

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind is that alcohol is a mainly problem of teens and college students. How do we know this? For one, we are taught at early ages about the dangers of teen drinking. Many universities include alcohol safety awareness as part of orientation programs. And we frequently hear stories in the news about young people who drink and drive or otherwise cause problems while drinking. Researchers study the incidence of teen drinking, often funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies. Then the results of these studies are reported in the news, helping us focus on teens as problem drinkers.

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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.

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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" »

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