217 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

January 27, 2015

Emotional Labor, Status, and Stress

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Virtually no job comes without stress. Whether it’s meeting the expectations and deadlines of coworkers, clients, or supervisors, nearly all work can at times be challenging. Sometimes the work itself isn’t as challenging as managing relationships with the people we work with.

Emotional labor involves managing our emotions to meet our job expectations.  For example, retail clerks are expected to be upbeat and enthusiastic about the merchandise (and in general), even if that is not truly how they feel. Emotional labor is also part of dealing with the personalities of those we work with. This labor is not necessarily always stressful. Asking a coworker about a sick relative may be a way to convey your concern about their family without taking much of an emotional toll. But in other cases emotional labor can be very stressful, and this stress can be minimized or magnified based on one’s status.

Continue reading "Emotional Labor, Status, and Stress" »

January 16, 2015

Art and the Social Construction of Reality

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What is art? This is an unanswerable question, certainly one that I will not attempt to answer in this post.

 A recent visit to our local museum of contemporary art triggered this question, as I passed by exhibits including a plywood box, a drain, scribbles with hand-drawn maps on brown pieces of paper, sock puppets, as well as diary entries that including the creator’s daily weight, body temperature, and her body’s elimination schedule.

For these pieces to be in a museum, someone must have declared them to have artistic merit (with which professional art critics might disagree). Perhaps the creators consider themselves to be artists and set out to create art and are thus regarded by others as artists. How one defines art is not just an individual endeavor, but one that is grounded in our social context.

Continue reading "Art and the Social Construction of Reality" »

January 06, 2015

Smart Phones and Postmodern Theory

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I have been to several concerts within the past year and have noticed that there are always at least a few people who use their phones to take videos during the concert, even if there is an explicit “no photography” rule in effect.

For audience members, these video-takers are very distracting. They are holding up a lighted object, often partly blocking the views of those behind them. From the perspective of the performers, not only can they be distracting, but for those who don’t want unauthorized images or videos of their work posted online, there can be copyright issues to consider.

At a recent show, I saw at least two people taking videos in my immediate vicinity, despite being told that all cell phones must be turned off so they would not interfere with the electrical equipment at the tiny venue (maximum capacity 155). It’s hard not to look at a smart phone while it’s taking a video right in front of you in a darkened room. At this concert, the “videographer” was zooming in and out of the stage, and shaking the phone to add his own effects to the music. It created a blurry, shaking, pulsating light in front of me.

Continue reading "Smart Phones and Postmodern Theory" »

December 08, 2014

(Someone Else’s) Home for the Holidays: The Difficulty of Defining the Situation

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As I recently blogged about, necessity led me to stay at a room in someone’s home I found on a peer-to-peer travel website. I had never done so before, and considered the experience a sort of brief ethnography. Overall, I found the experience strange, and something I’d probably do again only as a last resort. Neither purely guests or customers, the difficulty of defining the situation left us wondering exactly how to act in this new experience.

Continue reading "(Someone Else’s) Home for the Holidays: The Difficulty of Defining the Situation" »

November 24, 2014

(Someone Else’s) Home for the Holidays

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I just booked my first reservation through Airbnb.com, the site where you can reserve a room in a guest house or private home. This wasn’t my first choice; after finding that most reasonably-priced hotel rooms were booked, my husband and I decided to give it a try for a night. We passed on places that had too many negative reviews left by previous guests or if the room seemed unkempt and cluttered based on the posted pictures. The location we selected had many good reviews and is a five minute drive from our destination.

Staying in a stranger’s home may seem like a new Internet-era invention, but taking in boarders for a night or longer pre-dates the twenty-first century. At the turn of the last century, new immigrants often rented a bed in tenement housing with other families until they were able to save enough money for their own apartment and perhaps to bring the rest of their family to the country. Rural families might have taken in passers-by for a night in places where commercial lodging might have been scarce. The Internet definitely makes this process easier, especially when finding a place to stay from out of town.

I am viewing this experience as a kind of sociological experiment: what is it like to stay in a stranger’s home compared with a family member’s or a friend’s? How do strangers interact in private spaces normally reserved for family and friends? Are there advantages to staying with strangers compared with people we know? If houseguests are a major source of stress during the holidays, might houseguests who are strangers be easier to host?

Continue reading "(Someone Else’s) Home for the Holidays" »

November 17, 2014

Aging, Living, and Dying

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As a college professor, my students are almost always the same age—with a few outliers—but I continue to get older, which occasionally becomes more salient. Recently we screened the documentary The Central Park Five in our department, a film focusing on the attack on a jogger in 1989 and the subsequent rush to judgment that led to the wrongful imprisonment of five teen boys. The incident took place when I was a college student living in New York, and before most of the students in attendance were born. When we talked about the film, they were just as interested in hearing more about what it was actually like to be alive in the 1980s, as though I were a visitor from another era.

Admittedly, even I was struck by how old the hairstyles, clothes, and cars appeared in the documentary and I marveled at how quickly time can pass by. While focusing on the day-to-day challenges of everyday life, it’s easy to overlook the passage of big chunks of time until others point it out.

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October 30, 2014

Weddings: Front Stage Performances

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Weddings are big productions. They often take months of planning that includes selecting decorations, invitations, food, music, dresses, tuxedoes, color schemes, seating charts, the wedding party and more. Weddings are a heightened example of what sociologist Erving Goffman called front stage behavior.

Goffman viewed social life as something akin to a performance, where we attempt to manage the impressions we make to others. Weddings are clearly social performances: they involve guests, usually seated in the audience, and people involved in the wedding party play roles as well  (bride, groom, best man, mother of the bride, the person performing the ceremony and so forth). Most involve “costumes” that designate the roles of those involved. Photographers and videographers are often hired to document the event too.

Continue reading "Weddings: Front Stage Performances" »

October 17, 2014

Who is a Low Wage Earner?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The mayor of Los Angeles has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $13.25 an hour in the city, and requested an analysis of the potential impact an increase would have on workers and businesses.  Researchers from UC Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics produced a report and concluded that more than a half a million workers in the city would get a raise (those earning minimum wage and those earning below the proposed minimum wage).

The report provides a demographic profile on these low-wage workers. They comprise 37 percent of those earning wages in the private sector; 39 percent of women and 35 percent of men. The vast majority—83 percent—are persons of color.

Despite the widespread belief that most low-wage workers are teens earning extra spending money while attending school, in Los Angeles few of them are teens; 38 percent of low wage workers are in their twenties, nearly 22 percent are in their thirties, and 37 percent are over forty. The majority work full time, and 36 percent have children.

Continue reading "Who is a Low Wage Earner?" »

October 02, 2014

Social Interaction and Drought Shaming

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

There is currently a severe drought in California, and this summer new rules went into effect to conserve water. For instance, a water feature (like a fountain) must re-circulate the same water. You cannot hose down the sidewalk, nor can you wash your car with a hose that doesn’t have a shutoff nozzle. Your lawn cannot be watered between 9 am and 5 pm (to limit evaporation). A violation of these new rules could result in a $500 ticket.

Authorities can’t possibly police every violation, so they are hoping that the public helps by complying and asking neighbors to comply. In response, a Twitter hashtag #droughtshaming has emerged to embarrass people caught needlessly wasting water. Tweets range from photos of neighbors overwatering their lawns to puddles in parking lots and public fountains. Perhaps the biggest example of drought shaming was the backlash to the recent “ice bucket challenge,” where people challenged others to dump a bucket of ice over their heads and post a video or photo to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Critics argued that this was a waste of water, albeit for a good cause.

Continue reading "Social Interaction and Drought Shaming" »

September 15, 2014

Ebola and the Construction of Fear

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

No doubt you have heard about the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which received heightened attention in the news after three Americans working as missionaries in Liberia contracted the virus. The first two, diagnosed in mid-August, become the topic of debate when they were given an experimental drug and airlifted home to the U.S.

Some wondered why they received the drug, while thousands of those infected in Africa did not (it is currently considered experimental and apparently in very short supply). Others expressed concern that they would spread the disease in the U.S. and should have been treated in Liberia.

Continue reading "Ebola and the Construction of Fear" »

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