259 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

September 26, 2016

Are Social Scientists Anti-Social? How to Test Hypotheses

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A colleague recently posed this question while we chatted after a social event. She thought it was particularly interesting that sociologists, of all people, might not be the most social bunch at a gathering.

Of the small group engaged in this informal discussion, we considered this idea and searched for examples in support. We each agreed that we tended to be more on the introverted side, needing downtime to recharge after having lots of social interactions. I mentioned that one of my favorite activities is taking a walk while listening to a book (listening to books is the primary way I use my smart phone—not for texting, talking, using social media or otherwise interacting with others).

Another colleague agreed and said that he would spend every day reading if he could, and we agreed that we wouldn’t be in academia if we didn’t all like to read, an activity that requires someone to be comfortable withdrawing from social interactions for at least a little while. Others in the conversation thought about their other friends in academia and thought they would probably also be less social.

Continue reading "Are Social Scientists Anti-Social? How to Test Hypotheses" »

September 07, 2016

Politics, Civility and Social Change

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A friend of mine recently announced that she would not log onto Facebook until after the presidential election is over in November, tired of the political rhetoric from her many Facebook friends across the political spectrum. It got me thinking of the old cliché about religion and politics—two things not to be discussed in polite company once upon a time—and how much has changed, particularly since the introduction of new communication technologies. It is a good example of how norms surrounding interactions can shift along with structural changes.

Both religious and political beliefs may be deeply and passionately held, and thus could stir up ill will between people whose beliefs differ. So in many cases people will avoid these topics so as not to offend or alienate others. I remember as a small child hearing a relative at a holiday dinner bringing up politics. Even though I didn’t know who they were talking about, and had no opinion about the subject at the time, I could sense the discomfort in the room and wished it would stop. Only occasionally would I hear my parents discussing political topics with each other, but these discussions were private and kept to the confines of our home, so it wasn’t an uncomfortable experience.

Continue reading "Politics, Civility and Social Change" »

August 29, 2016

Bullying and “Doing” Gender

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the most challenging concepts new students in sociology struggle with is the idea that gender is not just something we are born with, not just something we are socialized into as young children, but something that we actively “perform” throughout our lives. Might a more widespread understanding of how we “do” gender reduce bullying and violence?

Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman’s now classic Gender & Society article, “Doing Gender,” notes that “gender is not a set of traits, nor a variable, nor a role, but the product of social doings of some sort.” Gender is not just something we learn to perform in childhood, but something that we are continually performing, although we might not be aware of this process.

Continue reading "Bullying and “Doing” Gender" »

August 18, 2016

The Logic of Consumption: Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In a recent post, I asked readers to think critically about the logic of consumption. This doesn’t mean that we start thinking about consumption as harmful, or that consumption is either good or bad. Instead, challenging the logic of consumption means that we acknowledge that we tend to view ourselves as consumers in arenas of social life where the consumer model doesn’t neatly fit. In that post, I used the examples of relationships and health as two modes of social life where viewing ourselves primarily as consumers can be problematic.

Education is another example where the logic of consumption fails both students and faculty.

Continue reading "The Logic of Consumption: Education" »

July 21, 2016

The Privilege of a Summer Job

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Summer jobs used to be a rite of passage for teenagers. Economic and social changes make this experience less common today, especially for teens in low-income families, who might need the money most.

My first job was babysitting, as was the case for many girls in the past. Shocking as it may seem today, I was eleven years old the first time I got paid to watch children. Today I suspect that an eleven-year-old would have a babysitter, not be one. It wasn’t just me who babysat; in the sixth grade we could take an American Red Cross child care class after school and be “certified” to babysit. Even today, the class is recommended for kids ages eleven and up, but I doubt many people would hire a pre-teen to babysit. When I was younger, one of my regular babysitters was a friend’s thirteen-year-old big sister. That was normal then, as children tended to be granted more independence and responsibility earlier.

Continue reading "The Privilege of a Summer Job" »

July 01, 2016

Evictions and the Paradox of Poverty

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City offers readers an in-depth and close up look at the struggle people in poverty face to find and maintain housing. Based on ethnography, interviews, and surveys conducted in Milwaukee, Desmond provides the perspectives of both tenants and landlords to give us a very thorough picture of the housing markets open to low-income people. As Peter Kaufman recently blogged, the book provides us with a great lesson in what Kaufman called “compassionate sociology.”

The book also provides several good examples of some of the paradoxes of poverty: things that we may think are causes of poverty are also the effects of poverty, and vice versa.

Continue reading "Evictions and the Paradox of Poverty" »

June 21, 2016

The Logic of Consumption, Your Friends and Your Health

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

We live in a consumption-oriented society. It’s not hard to find examples of ways in which we are encouraged to buy things, not just for survival, but presumably to make us happy. Advertising is predicated on the notion that a new product will help us become more attractive, make our lives easier, and in short, make us feel good.

And sometimes having new things does improve our lives, sometimes in small ways and sometimes dramatically. Driving a newer, more reliable car might ease our worries about car repairs and safety. Replacing any malfunctioning product—say, a computer that you use for work or school—with one that works better is certainly an example positive outcome of consumption.

Consumption isn’t just about buying things and enjoying them; its logic is so pervasive that it shapes how we think about many other aspects of society. For example, if we view ourselves primarily as customers rather than workers, we might be more likely to support policies that claim to make goods cheaper, rather than prioritizing better wages or living conditions, for instance.

Continue reading "The Logic of Consumption, Your Friends and Your Health" »

June 09, 2016

Air Travel, Class, and Relative Deprivation

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Air travel is one of the only places where class distinctions are made starkly apparent: whether you are sitting in first class or in coach (although some airlines also have "business class" or "economy plus") serves as a visible reminder that there are class differences in America.

A study of "air rage" incidents recently made the news, finding that "disruptive passenger incidents" were about four times as likely to happen when there was a first class cabin. When everyone had to walk through the first class cabin to board, the outbursts were especially likely to occur.

Continue reading "Air Travel, Class, and Relative Deprivation" »

May 25, 2016

Suicide Rates: Percentages and Rates, Age and Gender

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report on suicide rates, finding that suicides in the United States had increased by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014. Like most people, I learned of this report after reading upsetting headlines about this increase. My local newspaper, the Los Angeles Times reported that "US Suicides Have Soared Since 1999."

As sociologists, we learn to look at the original data to get the real story beyond the headlines. What do the data tell us? Is it the same story as being told in news reports?

Continue reading "Suicide Rates: Percentages and Rates, Age and Gender" »

May 12, 2016

Goal Displacement: Solar Panels, Congress, and Your Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Telemarketers notoriously violate the Do Not Call list and sometimes call people repeatedly, presumably to sell something. A colleague recently mentioned that she had been called about solar panels, and she told the caller she already had solar panels installed at her home. "No problem, I'll call back later," the telemarketer told her, and proceeded to call back several times that week.

Why would a telemarketer call back even after being told that someone already had solar panels, which is not a product you would need to buy repeatedly? It certainly would make the recipients of these calls angry, and annoying someone is rarely a good way to sell a very expensive product.

Could it be that success for telemarketers isn't judged by how many solar panels they sell, but by how many people they speak to on the phone and how many possible "leads" they get? I've read claims that some telemarketers' calls are made just to see if anyone will pick up the phone; your number is then marked as a possible lead, and even sold to another telemarketing company as a live number. In effect, your answering the phone becomes the product they are selling.

Continue reading "Goal Displacement: Solar Panels, Congress, and Your Education" »

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