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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July 12, 2016

Challenging Confirmation Bias: Ways to Widen Your Perspective

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

It feels like there’s a lot going on. A presidential election and all of the discussion about gun and immigration politics. Supreme Court rulings. Orlando. Black Lives Matter.

There is good reason to raise that rainbow flag or post that Black Lives Matter sign on your lawn. If you are white, straight and cisgender, the persons of color and LGBTQ folks you know might appreciate your signs of support. Someone walking by your house might take comfort in seeing some love.

There are plenty of unconscious reinforcements that support our preexisting thoughts on events, what psychologists call a confirmation bias. Confirmation bias and ethnocentricism (what sociologist William Graham Sumner described as the assessment that one’s own culture and values are superior to others) lock together. These twin forces block, slow, and alter our ability to be good allies for folks who are unlike us.

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July 07, 2016

When Your Wife is Mistaken for Your Caregiver

 Website picBy Brian Brutlag

Assistant Professor of Sociology, Rio Hondo College

I am a huge geek. My particular flavor of geekdom is superheroes. Since I was a kid, I have always looked to superheroes for comfort, solace, and motivation as a part of my reference group. Although superheroes are a part of my personal development, and I try to incorporate them as much as I can in my professional career (my sociological blog focuses on the analysis of comics and culture), I am always reluctant to display my admiration through clothing and other forms of apparel because when I do, someone always treats me like a child or some other reductive equivalent. Why? Because I have a physical disability.

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July 05, 2016

Redevelopment, Rural Places, and Inclusion

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

I study resident and nonprofit staff responses to large-scale urban redevelopment initiatives within low-income urban neighborhoods. As part of this work, I analyze the approaches that municipal governments and urban planning organizations utilize in order to plan and realize development plans. Within the U.S. we refer to these plans as local economic development (LED) initiatives.

LED is an approach to development that places importance on development activities in and by cities, districts, and regions. These plans receive funding from and are often managed by local and national governmental and philanthropic organizations. Local organizations (e.g. community-based organizations and community development corporations) generally work with other organizations (e.g. foundations, mediators, the city, private corporations) that provide resources in the form of cash transfers, strategies, technology, and/or staff, in order to promote local economic development. This can take the form of an affordable housing initiative, the (re)vitalization of a business district, workforce development, or the creation of an industrial corridor.

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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.

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June 28, 2016

Exploitation at Home: Matthew Desmond’s Evicted

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

If you have not yet heard of the sociologist Matthew Desmond, you probably should. In the relatively anonymous world of professional sociology, Desmond is making quite a name for himself, and deservedly so. He has been dubbed sociology’s next great hope, he was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant, and his new national best-selling book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, has been hailed as “astonishing,” “remarkable,” and “monumental.” 

Evicted tells the story of poverty in America from the perspective of eight families who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. Instead of focusing on traditional topics such as jobs, public assistance, the family, and mass incarceration, Desmond shifts our attention to housing so that we may better understand “how deeply [it] is implicated in the creation of poverty.”

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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.

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June 16, 2016

Dancing with Hierarchy

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

I had the opportunity to attend the filming of a television show, a dance competition program on the night of its final competition before a winner was announced. It was quite the event and my sociological imagination worked overtime!

Hierarchy was an obvious element of the proceedings. The audience members were stratified into two main groups. The people who were fortunate enough to get the tickets in advance lined up at one gate, nowhere near a parking lot. The others who had some connection to people working in the industry or on the show lined up at another parking lot, much closer to the designated parking lot. I was in this line, thus I had a good vantage point to notice these differences.

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