January 13, 2016

Thinking Sociologically about New State Laws

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Every New Year there is typically a new slate of laws that take effect, based on voter and governmental decision-making. Have you ever taken a look at those laws through a sociological lens? Are we enacting new laws – formalizing social norms – that make sense for the current state of our culture? How do these laws reflect changes in our society?

Every year, the Los Angeles Times publishes a list of these new California state laws. Their website has links to understand more about the story, per their reporting. The bullet points below are pulled from the 2016 list.

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December 29, 2015

If I Could Turn Back Time: Regressive Social Movements

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When you imagine what an activist looks like, what comes to mind? The stereotypical "tree hugger?" A young, idealistic college student? A radical hippie from the 1960s? These are common images we have of activists, but they certainly don't fit all, or even most people involved in social movements.

We often think of social movements as progressive: a push for reform, a call for new ways of looking at an issue, or perhaps an expansion of rights for an oppressed group. But social movements can also be regressive: when people observe a change that has taken place that they feel is harmful, they call for a reversion to what they see as a better past. Rather than the stereotypes of activists mentioned above, activists might better resemble a college student's grandparent.

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December 22, 2015

The Lottery as Gift: Who Wins?

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I was trying to think about a good topic to write about for the holidays. We here at the Everyday Sociology Blog have covered shopping crowds and even a Durkheimian Christmas. Scanning for something commonplace, I was talking with a student who told me that her family always uses lottery tickets as Christmas stocking stuffers, and it got me thinking.

At first, it seems sort of charming: kids waking up Christmas morning for the chance to win money. I remembered, as a kid, scratching off a lottery ticket from an uncle, with a lucky coin. Certainly all those New York State lottery commercials I remember reinforced the whimsy: "Hey, you never know!" and "All you need is a dollar and a dream!" But, thinking about it more—and beyond the idea of the lottery as a form of gambling, and outside of The Hunger Games—the sociology kicked in quickly.

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December 18, 2015

Sociology and Holiday Rituals

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Do you have certain holiday rituals that you look forward to each year, or at least feel compelled to participate in? Sociology provides us with tools for understanding these practices more deeply.

For Emile Durkheim, one of sociology's key nineteenth century thinkers, shared values and beliefs help to form society itself. Emphasizing particular values during end of year holidays like giving, connecting with family and friends through visits, cards, or well wishes serves a very important purpose. He contends that societies are more than just a collective of individuals, but rather people learn to be part of an already-existing society. Holidays aid in this process.

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December 15, 2015

Slacktivists, Hacktivists, and the New Faceless Agents of Social Change

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When you think of social change activists what comes to mind? Do you think of a person with a megaphone shouting slogans to a group of supporters who are holding signs of protest, or do you think of a person lounging in bed with their tablet or smartphone? Most of us probably think of the first scenario, and we probably imagine this scene taking place in a public location such as a park, outside a government building, or on a city street. Some of the classic images we have of activists include the 1963 March on Washington, the Occupy Movements, and the Arab Spring.

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December 11, 2015

A Reflection on Death, Dying, and Illness

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

In a recent conversation with colleagues, we talked about the various ways we describe age. Whether it’s young, old, middle-age, wise, or (im)mature. I realized that I’m somewhere between feeling not really young, but also not quite middle-aged. This conversation, coupled with some recent medical issues that I’ve been contending with, has gotten me thinking about time, death, and my own mortality.

For me, the two scariest parts of dying are 1) the thought of not existing anymore (this has kept me up at night for hours, particularly during bouts of insomnia and high stress) and 2) not knowing how everything turns out. Humans have pondered question 1 forever. What is death? What does it mean to cease existing? Is there an afterlife? Have I fully lived?

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December 08, 2015

Who Gives to Charity?

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

After Thanksgiving, we are encouraged to give of ourselves, our time, and our money. Many people serve food in shelters and food kitchens on Thanksgiving. Many continue to do something charitable into December and sometimes into January. Some actually continue giving or volunteering throughout the year.
However, in November and December there is a huge jump in charitable behaviors.

Who are these people? Why do people do this?

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December 03, 2015

The Sharing Economy Paradox

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

You don’t have to look hard to find invitations to join the “sharing economy:” ads invite us to drive for Uber or Lyft, rent a spare room on Airbnb or sell your wares on eBay. These online services promote easy use for consumers, and a way to make money by working as much or as little as you would like, and on your own schedule.

The “sharing economy” is not exactly new; people have been renting rooms in their homes, selling used items, and providing rides for pay through more localized channels well before the Internet’s existence. In communities with many elderly residents who no longer drive, it is not uncommon for a “younger” retiree to offer rides to neighbors for a small fee, for instance.

Technology has made it easier than ever to sell a variety of services online, made simple by companies like those mentioned above who provide a platform to connect buyers and sellers. No longer are drivers limited to their neighbors or word of mouth in order to make money. With online reviews and user ratings, these platforms provide at least a little information for consumers to make informed decisions about the services they are purchasing.

Critics have questioned whether this is indeed sharing—isn’t sharing something we do without the expectation of being paid? But more centrally, we might ask how the profits from these industries are distributed. Are the companies whose success comes from the service providers sharing the wealth they generate?

A Los Angeles Times columnist decided to find out for himself by becoming an Uber driver. He signed up to become a driver, did some test runs, and took an entire day to drive from 9 am to 5 pm, and then again after 9pm that day to get a sense of how much he might make. After 9 hours on the job he earned $122.64, after Uber’s cut.

He also had to pay for gas, and of course the car insurance and maintenance. As an independent contractor, he had no access to benefits. The app made it easy for people to pay online so he didn’t have to worry about collecting fares. Maybe because of this he didn’t get any tips. While Uber has an estimated value of $50 billion, Lopez estimated that he made just over $12 an hour during his experiment.

While this is just one day—certainly a driver’s income will vary each day—at this rate working 8 hour days, 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year one might earn $24,000 a year before taxes. When you consider the cost of gas, insurance, and the car’s maintenance, and income taxes, an Uber driver would likely have a net income low enough to qualify for food stamps. The “sharing economy” may be a contradiction in terms.

Lawsuits in California, Florida, and Massachusetts have challenged that Uber drivers are employees, not independent contractors, and should be granted the same rights as employees. Aside from benefits many full-time workers enjoy like health care, sick time, vacation time and retirement, these and other lawsuits raise questions about whether workers might be entitled to worker’s compensation or disability pay should they become injured. Driving, of course, is not without its risks.

By contrast, other online services might better fit the term “sharing economy.” For instance, Meetup.com earns revenues from organizers who pay fees to maintain their group on the site. This service promotes a variety of social activities from book clubs to photography groups, networking groups for different industries, political organizing, and an endless list of possibilities for people to join others for activities. While some groups charge nominal fees to participants in order to recoup the cost of the site, most events are free for participants.

While on vacation earlier this year, my husband and I signed up for a Meetup group at our destination in order to enjoy some outdoor activities with people who know the area. The organizer was a retired man who wanted to keep fit and active, and so he regularly scheduled 5-7 activities every week ranging from hikes to canoeing trips to visits to local festivals.

We went on one of his posted activities and enjoyed a hike in an area near our hotel with his group. He told us that he likes meeting new people and sharing his hometown with others. It is a win-win: he gets to exercise, avoid isolation, and feel pride about being able to help people enjoy their visit. He was truly sharing, expecting nothing in return from participants other than our company.

New opportunities to exchange goods and services are changing the economy in many positive ways, and with some drawbacks. Many people love the flexibility of renting a room in their house or getting rides from Lyft. It’s just not always technically sharing.

What other examples of the sharing economy can you think of that might not be truly sharing? Other examples of the sharing economy that embody the spirit of sharing?

November 26, 2015

The Sociology of Everything

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that in the eight years  Everyday Sociology has analyzed a wide range of topics using a sociological perspective. From bumper stickers to babies, marriage to McDonald's, vacations to vaccines, drugs to diapers, and traveling to Twitter, it may seem as if everything relates to sociology.

You don’t even have to read this blog to get a sense of the scope of the discipline. Just look at the course offerings in the sociology department at your local college and you’ll see what I mean. You can take classes on a wide array of themes such as Sociology of Religion, Medical Sociology, Sociology of Violence, Environmental Sociology, Political Sociology, Sociology of Aging, Sociology of Sport, Sociology of Film, Sociology of Death and Dying, Sociology of Sex and Sexualities, and the Sociology of Organized Crime. These are just some of the classes available in my medium-sized department. If we surveyed sociology departments around the world then the list of would be infinitely longer.

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November 23, 2015

The Impact of Place: Field Trips, Parks, and Farms

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

I recently took my Sociology of Urban America and Community Engagements classes to a field trip to Chicago. We visited the Englewood Growing Home Wood Street Farm and went on a 2-hour Toxic Tour of Little Village with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO). As part of this outing, students learned about innovative approaches to community engagement and resident-led development, workforce development, and public-private partnerships. They also learned about the impact of environmental and structural racism on urban communities of color.

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