October 30, 2015

Urban Legends: Scary Stories and Halloween

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Year after year, sociologist Joel Best is inundated with calls from reporters during Halloween season. They call for a single reason, to debunk a story that you might have been told was true your whole life. Best has researched the claim that children are regularly poisoned by eating tainted Halloween candy, and found no evidence to support this widespread fear. (Check out his piece in The Society Pages on his experiences talking to reporters this year).

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October 19, 2015

Sociology and Infamy

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The news coverage of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 was one of the events that inspired me to write my first book, It’s Not the Media: The Truth about Pop Culture’s Influence on Children, which was published in 2003. I had purposely decided never to mention the shooters’ names, which my editor didn’t quite understand. “Everyone already knows their names,” she said. The information was out there, she insisted. I would just be providing a historical account of the event.

But I didn’t want their names in my book. I didn’t want to type them, and I didn’t want those individuals to get even a modicum of attention from my readers. The book wasn’t about them anyway, it was about the problem of coming up with simple solutions like blaming popular culture for complex social problems like youth violence.  I stood my ground, and their names do not appear anywhere in the book.

I thought of this upon hearing of the Twitter hashtag #dontsayhisname, a request from many survivors and residents of Roseburg, Oregon, in response to the shooting at Umpqua Community College. Obscurity may be the ultimate form of shunning in the internet age. Sadly, we all-too-often remember the names of perpetrators and forget the names of the victims as time goes by. Perhaps this hashtag will help change that.

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October 12, 2015

Learning Sociological Lessons from Party Crashers

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

I recently had the pleasure of attending a major decade birthday party (40!) at a winery. The party was up a hill in an area separate from the winery’s general tasting/party area. There was a sign at the bottom of the hill that said “Private Party.”

Well into the party, two men came up the hill, looked around, and headed toward the table with the wine bottles. They were engaged in conversation by one of the guests who was not aware that they were not invited. They were both well into their wine drinking and not very logical in their conversational abilities. Some other guests encountered them and let them know that we were aware that they were there and that they were crashing a private party.

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October 08, 2015

Water and the Tragedy of Extra Credit

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

This summer, entering the fourth year of drought conditions in California, ordinary residents followed Governor Jerry Brown’s call to cut their water usage by a quarter. All cities met their water conservation targets. The Los Angeles Times, however, cites a UCLA study finding that wealthier communities actually used more water than usual during the water restriction.

One of the study’s authors notes that “…[t]he problem lies, in part, in the social isolation of the rich, the moral isolation of the rich.” Richer areas consume three times as much as poorer ones. “This disparity,” the report notes, “reflects different land uses, built densities, climates, and the vast differences in wealth.... [T]he top 5% earns over twelve times more than the bottom 20%.” (Here is a great article on golf courses in the desert areas of Southern California.) It is a wonderful portrait of how housing and spatial segregation shapes the perspectives of residents, not unlike Georg Simmel’s seminal "The Metropolis and Mental Life."

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October 05, 2015

The Country with the Most Gender Equality in the World

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I recently visited the most gender equal country in the world. Can you guess what it is? It is known as the land of fire and ice, its economy relies heavily on fish and tourism, and its name is a bit deceiving. The answer is Iceland.

Like most visitors to this country that sits between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, I was not visiting Iceland to get a sociological lesson in gender equality. Instead, I was there to experience the awe-inspiring natural beauty that seems to be right in front of you no matter where you turn. With an abundance of volcanoes, lava fields, glaciers, fjords, waterfalls, beaches, and valleys, Iceland is a nature-lover’s dream.  

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September 25, 2015

To Live and Die in L.A.

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I was a graduate student, I worked as a research assistant on several projects for criminologists. Perhaps the most interesting and challenging project I participated in was a study of homicides in Los Angeles.

This was a comprehensive, multi-faceted study. I was given a great deal of responsibility for collecting data from police homicide files. The senior researchers had gained a court order that enabled us to have access to hundreds of files from 1993 and 1994, peak years in homicides for the city and county. I led the team that went to police and sheriff’s headquarters, reading files along with a team of students that I supervised who would read the files and then use a coding sheet to note key details about the incident. Over the course of the study I personally read hundreds of police murder files.

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September 22, 2015

Because I’m a Sociologist....

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

What happens to you when you study sociology? Do you see the world differently? Do you find yourself  analyzing and interpreting things that you previously took for granted? Do you say things that might have surprised your pre-sociological self? Do people respond to you, or even question you, in ways that they never used to before?  Do you wonder how you could have made it to this point without sociology in your life?

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September 18, 2015

Girl Code and Heteronormativity in STEM Fields

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

I was recently listening to an episode of The TakeAway on NPR; the host was interviewing Shirin Lao-Raz Salemnia on her commitment to fostering an interest in coding among young girls. This got me thinking about my own experiences as a young, female computer technician during my late teens and early twenties.

I began working in information technology when I was 19. I didn’t know many women who were also interested in mainframes, computer networking, hardware technologies, et cetera. In fact, I was both the youngest person and the only woman in my computer engineering courses, and at both of my tech-related jobs. I didn’t really know how to process the explicitly gendered and sexist, and implicitly racist comments and treatment that I received (I once had a VP pat me on the head and say he’d call one of the guys to help him out). At the time, social networking was in its infancy and I didn’t know how to connect with others who had similar interests and/or challenges as me.  

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September 14, 2015

Junk Mail and the Sociological Imagination

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

As you learn more and more about sociology and how to use your sociological imagination, keep an eye out for the many everyday items that cross your path. You can use those items to know more about our society.

For example, the following two-sided laminated flyer came my way a few days ago, thanks to a good friend. She had received it in her mailbox.

One side is bold, red, white, and blue, announcing “College Men” who can move your stuff. They are friendly, use tools and trucks, and “customers prefer us 1 bijillion times more than the other guys.”

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September 10, 2015

Adding and Dropping Classes: Another Lesson in Social Structure and Social Institutions

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Without a doubt, for me the most challenging part of being a college professor takes place during the first three weeks of the semester, part of what is known as the “Add/Drop Period” at my university. I get dozens of emails asking to for a spot in my classes—even when the class is closed—and have to explain to frustrated students why I can’t add them to a class.

These challenges result from the difficulty many people have in understanding social structure and social institutions. On the surface, although seeking admission to a course seems like a transaction between individuals—an individual student seeks a single spot in a course—this process is not as much about individuals as it is about broader institutional forces.

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