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.

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August 15, 2016

“Who You Gonna Call?” Movies and Representation

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

The summer blockbuster season, as with any year, includes everything from large-scale action films like Captain America: Civil War, to family-friendly flicks, such as Finding Dory, Secret Life of Pets, and The BFG.

Although I’m not a big moviegoer, I went to see the Ghostbusters remake of the 1984 classic during its opening weekend.   I enjoyed watching the original movie and the subsequent cartoon series as a child, but I didn’t really identify with any of the characters.   Given the controversy over the reboot of the film--particularly the critiques regarding the presence of redundant and reductive racial stereotypes--I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I was also excited to see a movie with four female leads.  

Recent studies show that there is a persistent underrepresentation of speaking female characters (let alone protagonists) within the movie industry. The numbers are even lower for women of color and for members of the queer community. As I noted in a previous post, “Popular Culture, Race, and Representation,” these limited representations showcase the ways that our society devalues and undervalues nonwhite and female stories and experiences. A lack of representation also means a lack of role models and a missed opportunity to represent other voices and experiences.  

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August 11, 2016

Pokémoning While Black

Angie harris WynnBy Angelique Harris and Jonathan Wynn

Harris is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Marquette University

Have you been swept up in the Pokémon Go phenomenon? For those of you who haven’t: Pokémon Go is a virtual reality game that uses real places and a cellphone’s GPS, and the goal of the (mostly) free game is to search for and collect different Pokémon characters: Doduos, Tentacools, Onixes, Smeargles, Drowzees, and over a hundred others. (We have absolutely no idea what these names actually mean.)

We didn’t know it was coming, but all the sudden people were out on the streets with their phones, pointing to street corners and talking with strangers.

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August 09, 2016

Amazon’s Workplace Culture

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

In a previous post, I described my tour of an Amazon Fulfillment Center. I was impressed with the level of efficiency I saw there; it is important to understand how efficiency is supported by the company culture and social norms. I can only speak to what I saw on my short visit, but so much was apparent!

Once inside the warehouse, along the main walkway, there are posters reminding workers of the leadership principles, or "articles of faith" that serve as guideposts to workplace expectations behavior. Customer Obsession, Ownership, Learn And Be Curious, Hire And Develop The Best, Insist On The Highest Standards are just a few. These social norms are taken seriously; not only are they posted all over the place, but our tour leader mentioned that they are reinforced often through performance reviews and standing meetings.

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August 04, 2016

Us vs. Them: The Dangerous Discourse of Difference

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I thought I was going to write this post about Brexit and the growing anti-immigration sentiment around the world. I was planning to draw a parallel between the recent referendum in Britain to leave the European Union with some of the isolationist sentiments we hear from Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump about building a wall to keep out Mexicans and barring all Muslims from entering the United States. For further context, I was going to discuss the growing nationalist surge that is enveloping much of Europe. That was my initial plan.

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August 02, 2016

Amazon and Efficiency

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

I recently took a tour of an Amazon Fulfillment Center. It took me two hours to drive there, but I got there on time – you cannot take the tour if you are late. The Center is located in a depressed industrial area, and you see many closed businesses until you turn a corner and see many, many long buildings. Other businesses also have distribution centers in this area, thus they weren’t all owned and staffed by Amazon. Yet.

I signed up for the tour a year and a half ago and received via email with a long list of rules. No hair below the shoulders, no purses or bags, close-toed shoes were required, and no kids under 6. Cellphones were okay to have, but we could not take photos once we entered. One could only reserve a maximum of four spaces at that time. Currently, there are no open dates because they are booked for the next year and a half.

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July 28, 2016

Using Other People’s Things: Collaborative Consumption, Norms, and Implicit Bias

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Over that past few weeks, my mother and eldest brother mentioned that they could not do what I’m doing. You see, this summer I’m spending time in Chicago to finish up data collection for an on-going project. Since I’m only going to be in the city for a few months, I’m renting a furnished condo that belongs to a woman I’ve never met. In fact, I’ve never even spoken to her; all of our communication happens via email. I think she’s traveling for the summer, but I don’t really know. I sit on her couch, watch her television, use her dishes, sleep on her bed, write blog posts using her desk, et cetera. It’s this intimate interaction with a stranger’s space and things that creeps out my family members. They can’t fathom allowing a stranger to use their home while they’re gone; and they can’t imagine how I’m able to stay in a stranger’s house.

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July 26, 2016

Victim Blaming: When We Do It and When We Don’t

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Consider the following stories that were in the news recently:

Story 1: A female college student at Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) was studying abroad in Puerto Rico. After a night out at a bar, she went to the roof of her apartment building with a security guard who was employed by the apartment complex to protect its residents. The guard then raped her. The security guard (a former police officer who was suspended for selling bullets to an undercover agent) was found guilty by a Puerto Rican court and is serving up to twenty years in prison. The young woman is suing WPI because the university leased the apartment building and students were required to live there. Her lawsuit asks the court to consider if WPI adequately screened the security guards to ensure that they were safe and trustworthy.

In court, lawyers from the university’s insurance firm questioned the students’ actions and decisions, and insinuated that she was partly to blame for the rape. They claim she engaged in excessive drinking, risky activities, and bad judgment. In effect, the university is arguing they are not responsible for what happened to her; it was her behaviors that resulted in her being raped. WPI may recognize this woman as a victim of sexual violence, but they are suggesting that she should be blamed for her own victimization.

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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.

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July 19, 2016

Health Institutions as Bureaucracies

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you ever been in the hospital? There’s a good reason sociologists use hospitals as one example of a total institution. One’s experience there can certainly match up nicely with the definition of a total institution.

Sociologist Erving Goffman had a lot to say about total institutions. They are places in which people live and work, cut off from the outside world, and perform routine activities, controlled by the rules of the organization.

We had a baby born into our family recently and I was reminded of the total institution typology when spending time in the hospital. Our family members, the new mom, dad, and their new baby slept in the hospital for a few days following the birth.

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