By 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" »
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" »
As many cities and communities face budget cuts, parks and
other cultural gathering places often seem like unnecessary extravagances. For individuals recover from the economic downturn, going to the theater, a ballet
or opera might also be far too pricey. The
city of Detroit may even auction off its art museum’s treasures in order to
cope with bankruptcy. But the arts and public places for recreation can
redefine communities, socially, culturally and economically.
Continue reading "The Power of Parks and Museums" »
One of the most challenging aspects to learning about social structure is
that it is often difficult to see the ways that social institutions shape our
lives. The federal government
shutdown of 2013 helps make some aspects of social structure visible.
Social structure’s impact is clearest when these structures
change or stop working as they usually do. Take the closure of the nation’s
national parks, which show us that even nature is shaped by social structure. People
who planned vacations around visiting a national park and the businesses
supported by tourists felt the government shutdown’s impact immediately.
Continue reading "Making Social Structure Visible: America's National Parks" »
A title is a way of framing the meaning of a paper, a movie,
a book, a song, a job, and even a person. You might take great pains to come up
with a catchy title for a term paper (or just stick with the tried and true
“Term Paper”). What do human titles represent?
We use titles, information that precedes peoples’ names, in
order to provide meaning about that person. In public forums, titles convey
status and expertise. News programs regularly confer expertise on the people
they interview by including a title, even it is one that is only meaningful for
the story (like “witness,” “neighbor” or “resident”). Our more stable titles
reveal how we create order and meaning of others’ identities on a more regular
Continue reading "What’s in a Title?" »
No matter what your comedic taste, most stand-up comedians
have one thing in common: their jokes are based on observations of human
Their observations sometimes ring true, or at least
entertain others by the conclusions they may draw. Because of the context,
comedians can sometimes push the envelope regarding the rules of polite social
behavior. Of course they may offend some—maybe a lot of people—in the process.
Comedians are interesting to think about sociologically;
what topics do they focus on? What conclusions do they draw?
Continue reading " Comedians and Sociological Questions" »
At the start of the fall semester, my university held a
convocation to formally welcome incoming freshmen and transfer students to the student
body. Students wore ceremonial gowns, and faculty wore the decorative gowns of
their alma maters. Parents of incoming students looked on with pride, and
applauded loudly when their student’s dean formally “presented” them to the
Although most students I observed seemed less than excited
to be at the early morning ceremony, rituals have a purpose. That’s why we have so many.
Continue reading "Ritual and Renewal" »
For the last six months I have been undertaking an informal
experiment: I have no television reception at home.
This is all the more unusual considering I am a sociologist
who studies media and popular culture, and much of my writing focuses on media.
Friends and family have been confused; “I figured you could write your cable
bill off of your income taxes,” said one surprised friend. (For the record, I never have used cable as a
tax write-off, but I guess I could.) Even the lure of a potential tax write-off
has not made me want to pay for TV any more.
Continue reading "Going on a Media Diet" »
If you are like many students who enjoy sociology classes,
you might be considering majoring in sociology. I get many students visiting my
office considering adding sociology as a major who want to know what kind of
job they might get with a major in sociology. The better question might be:
what can’t you do with a major in
As I wrote
about a few years ago, you learn many important critical thinking skills,
research tools, and knowledge about diverse populations when you study
sociology. Very few college majors have set career paths, and it is important
for each student to learn about what kinds of work environments they might
enjoy through internships, volunteer experiences, and on-the-job training when
possible. Very few college majors are specifically geared for job training;
instead, it is up to you to figure out what kind of career path you would like
to start on—keeping in mind that many people have several careers over the
course of a lifetime, some of which bear little relation to their original
Sociology lends itself particularly well to a double major,
or as a skill set to acquire along your chosen career path.
Continue reading "Why Major in Sociology?" »
It’s been a while now since I started graduate school, but I
suspect from current grad students at least one part of the experience remains:
the struggle to prove to yourself and others that you belong in a Ph.D.
One of the ways we prove ourselves is to sound smart, learn
jargon and use it as much as possible in our writing and conversations with
other grad students and professors. In order for grad students to earn good
grades on papers, they must show that they include and clearly understand what
other sociologists have written about and how their research adds to the
discipline. Advanced students strive to have their work published in a handful
of well-regarded sociology
Ironically, writing about our social world for other
sociologists can make our work practically unreadable to anyone else.
Continue reading "The Sociology of Writing Sociologically" »