September 03, 2014

The Unintended Manhattan Project Experiment

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Moving to a new place is always a challenge…but what about a place that is new to everybody?

During World War II, an interesting—an unintended—sociological experiment took place when a few communities were built from scratch during the top-secret development of the nuclear bomb. People relocated to these restricted areas from all around the country, turning what once were desolate or sparsely populated areas into thriving mini-cities. Scientists, secretaries, technicians, and other workers came, along with their children, wives, and husbands to work on “The Project,” and in the process, create a new, if short-lived community.

How do people create communities where none exists? And why do communities matter?

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August 29, 2014

The Sociology of Time

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

I just finished reading a book called Einstein’s Dreams. Author Alan Lightman, a theoretical physicist, muses over what Einstein’s dreams might have been when pondering different conceptions of time. The stories are informed by theoretical physics and creativity, art and science.

Each chapter is a different "dream" in which time is experienced differently than how we experience time. The setting is the same— the historical period and place where Einstein worked as a patent clerk—but the time differences affect what happens in each dream.

Reading this book made me think about our relationship to time in personal subjective terms, in cultural terms, and in structural terms.

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August 25, 2014

Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, and the Invisibility of Race

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

Fans of the Colbert Report are familiar with Stephen Colbert’s long-running routine about not seeing race (here is one of many examples during his interview with Michelle Alexander).  Pretending to be a conservative talk-show host, Colbert often pretends that he does not see race and that we live in a society where skin color is no longer important. He is especially fond of emphasizing this last point given that we have a Black president in the White House.

Although Colbert is playing this role to get laughs from his audience, the sad irony is that the majority of conservatives and a fair number of whites actually subscribe to this point of view.  The idea that race is no longer important in the United States becomes particularly evident when there are confrontations between Black citizens and white police officers. The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed Black man who was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, offers a prime example.

Continue reading "Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, and the Invisibility of Race" »

August 13, 2014

Siblings and Sociology

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you have siblings, you might feel like you have little in common with them despite growing up in the same family. I have certainly known families where siblings couldn’t have been more different, with diverging value systems, political beliefs, and aspirations.

Then again, some siblings share many similar attributes, educational strengths and even career aspirations. I’ve known brothers who joined the same fraternity during their college years, and siblings who chose to attend the same out-of-state university years apart. I remember years ago my mother and her sister unintentionally bought the same dress to wear to a family event despite living in different cities and shopping at different stores.

What makes siblings different or similar?

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August 05, 2014

Being There: Understanding Sociology through Film

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s summer, and for me that means a chance to watch movies. I tend to prefer classics to the latest releases, and I recently re-watched the 1979 film Being There, starring Peter Sellers. It is filled with sociological (and political) insights about the ways in which our social interactions create meaning.

The film is about a mentally challenged man named Chance who works as a gardener for an elderly man. When the man passes away, Chance is on his own. No provisions are made for his care, so he wanders the streets, hungry and unsure of how to appropriately interact with others. When a group of young men seem menacing, he points his television remote at them, hoping to change the channel.

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July 29, 2014

The Never-Ending Beauty Shift

Peter rydzewskiBy Peter Rydzewski

Sociology Ph.D. student, University of Maryland

The idea that physical characteristics can be socially developed may be difficult to consider at first. According to Raewyn Connell, however, “bodies are both objects of social practice and agents in social practice” (p.67). This means that while most of our appearance is commonly attributed to gene composition and biological parents’ body characteristics, discussions about the power of gender expectations, although sometimes missed, continue to play a large role in the development of the way that we look.

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July 23, 2014

Obedience, Authority, and Domination

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

“Because I said so!”

I’m sure that many of us have either uttered these words or have heard them spoken to us. We hear this phrase expressed in a host of relationships: parent-child, teacher-student, supervisor-employee, and police officer-citizen. Saying this to someone is generally used to get them to obey your authority and do what you are telling them to do with as little resistance as possible.

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July 18, 2014

Collective Memory and the Danger of Forgetting

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few years ago I wrote about the importance of collective memories following the centennial coverage of the sinking of the Titanic. Collective memories are societal-level memories, shared by regularly told stories, and are often events we might have intimate knowledge of even if we weren’t born when they occurred.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the 20th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s “slow speed chase” and subsequent arrest. Why are these events part of our collective memories?

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July 14, 2014

Advertising Co-opts Social Science

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you seen the videos circulating that purport to be stories informed by social science? They are passed on to “enlighten” us about social issues and solutions.

I have a few examples to share with you.

The first is the Dove Evolution video about manipulating images for advertising. That one has been around awhile and does a good job of showing us how images change from the original photographs to what is actually published. (Jean Kilbourne does this well in her video, Still Killing Us Softly.)

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July 11, 2014

So Fresh Saturdays: Public Events and Building Collective Action

Teresa gonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

One of the few reasons I keep a Facebook page is so that I can keep up to date on the various community-building activities within Chicago. These range from hyper-local block club parties and various neighborhood festivals, to citywide events and music concerts held in the downtown Loop area.

In his book, Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, Robert Sampson highlights the importance of community building activities as ways to increase collective efficacy. Put simply, collective efficacy means social cohesion (or connectivity) combined with shared goals and expectations regarding group behaviors.

For Sampson, public activities are particularly relevant in poor communities, where he argues that a history of concentrated poverty leads to a decrease in collective efficacy, and diminishes civic action. He argues, and I agree, that these events, and the increased relationships between neighbors that result from these events, can improve citizen involvement and lead to what Archon Fung terms “empowered participation” or innovative problem-solving and civic action by and amongst low-income residents.

Continue reading "So Fresh Saturdays: Public Events and Building Collective Action" »

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