May 15, 2017

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

The social world is always changing. Norms, values, ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions—all of these things shift over time. Even what we know to be “true” is often re-evaluated and amended. For example, people used to think that women and people of color should not be allowed to vote in the United States because they didn’t have the cognitive capacity and were not seen as fully human. Fortunately, those notions are no longer deemed to be true.                  

Even though the impermanence of the social world seems like an obvious and easily understandable point, we don’t always embrace the idea that things are in a constant state of flux. Many of us resist change, especially when it might shake up our taken for granted reality. We would much rather cling to familiar ways of doing things and seek out stability, predictability, and permanence. But like it or not, the only thing that is really permanent is impermanence.

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May 08, 2017

A Day in the Life of One Sociologist

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the best questions to ask if you are thinking about a future career is how someone in that career spends their day. One of our readers recently posted an “Ask a Sociologist” question about what a typical day is like for sociologists.

There is no one-size-fits all answer to this question, since there are a number of different ways that sociologists spend their time, which varies based on the specific kind of position one holds. Many sociologists work in academic settings or for organizations where they primarily conduct research (such as a government agency, a "think tank" or in private industries).

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May 01, 2017

Habermas is on Twitter

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Have you ever argued with a stranger on Twitter? I recently published a Washington Post op-ed based on my research of the corporate consolidation of music festivals, and was drawn into a Twitter argument with an employee of the second largest corporate entertainment conglomerate in the world. (We ended up agreeing!)

The conversation made me reconsider how technology shapes and informs our discourse. A sociologist who is rarely taught in undergraduate courses, Jürgen Habermas, can help us understand this. (His theories are complex, and his books are not really geared toward American students’ tastes.)

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April 24, 2017

Latin History for Morons: Ethnic Studies, Student Achievement, and Eurocentrism

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

During spring break, my husband and I went to see John Leguizamo’s latest one-man show “Latin History for Morons” at the Public Theater in New York City. Performing as a slightly disheveled, professorial version of himself, Leguizamo tells the story of his efforts to educate his young son on the importance, contributions, and legacies of Latin@s/x, only to find that his own knowledge is lacking. He attributes his limited knowledge to a Eurocentric education and cultural industry that consistently glorifies whiteness and Euro-American history. This perception that Europe and Anglo histories and cultures are superior to others is a form of ethnocentrism. If we only view the world and others around us through our own cultural lens, then we miss the complexities, contributions, beauty, and struggles of groups that are all around us.

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April 17, 2017

Learning Sociology through Collaboration

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If sociology teaches us that we learn about our social world, others, and ourselves through social interaction, it stands to reason that a great way to learn about sociology is through interacting with others.

On the most basic level, interactive learning takes the form of class discussions. Many courses require students to conduct research, often through observation, interviews, or surveys, and this is also a good way to learn some of the tools of sociology.

But collaborative learning is more than just talking and conducting research. Collaborative learning involves problem solving with others, where students brainstorm, come up with research questions, seek answers, or work on large projects together.

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April 10, 2017

Neoliberalism: A Concept Every Sociologist Should Understand

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I have a confession: When I teach sociology I am often guilty of ignoring one of the most important concepts that every sociologist should understand. In fact, one of the main reasons for writing this post is to remind myself that I need to be more attentive to explaining this concept and discussing how it pervades our thoughts and actions. As you can tell from the title of this post, the concept to which I am referring is neoliberalism.

I know I am not the only sociology instructor who is guilty of leaving this important concept out of my curriculum. Over the years, the journal Teaching Sociology has published the results of a number of surveys that explore what topics sociology instructors deem to be most significant. In all of these cases, whether it is a study of the sociological core, of what students should understand after taking introduction to sociology, of which concepts, topics, and skills are most important, or even if there is a foundation of agreed on sociological knowledge, the concept of neoliberalism is usually left off the list.

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April 03, 2017

Get Out and Du Bois: Sociology at the Cinema

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

If you haven’t had a chance to see Jordan Peele’s thinky-horror blockbuster, Get Out, you should. It’s the story of a young black photographer named Chris and his new girlfriend, Rose. Things start getting really uncomfortable when they visit her white, suburban liberal family. And then things get really crazy.

Get Out pays homage to many of the usual tropes of the horror genre that kept me on the edge of my seat, but it’s the biting social commentary that kept my sociological imagination on high alert. It is a fun film, but it’s also an unflinching allegory for race in America that doesn’t let the white liberals in the audience off easily. You should not read any further until you see it, so go ahead. I’ll wait…

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March 27, 2017

Signs of Gender

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

You might be seeing new restroom signs popping up in public or private spaces. Single-person bathrooms are getting a makeover in many places with the gender specific labels replaced with gender “neutral” labels. Thus, anyone who has to go, can just go, without concern about using the “right” room.

Here’s a photo I took the other day of a room newly re-labeled. This is a very inclusive sign, as it says “all gender” and even has the accessibility icon:

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March 22, 2017

Don’t Ask an “Expert:” Read the Research

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I regularly get emails from high school students that I have never met, typically asking for help for an assignment where they are supposed to interview an “expert” about a topic of their choosing. The emails often contain a long list of questions that I cannot respond to due to time constraints.

I realize that these students have no control over the assignments that their teachers give them—although I have sometimes wondered if the emailed questions are meant to avoid actually doing some reading—and I can easily gripe about how those of us from the twentieth century never had this option, short of writing a letter if we could somehow find an address.

But the more I think about these kinds of emails, the more I think about the problems with assignment itself. Asking an “expert” is a poor way to learn about social science, which is based on examination of empirical evidence, not from the pronouncements of experts. Unless the students are taking a journalism class, interviewing someone seems like a missed opportunity to learn more about research.

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March 17, 2017

Love and Sociological Theory

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Earlier this term, I used Larson and Tsitsos’s (2013) “Speed Dating and the Presentation of Self” activity to get students to think about impression management and impression formation. The activity requires that half of the class stay seated, while others are tasked with switching seats/partners every three minutes. During each segment, students talk about anything they want. The activity enables students to practice analysis, participant-observation, and symbolic interactionism.

Partway through the activity, I modified the exercise and, after they switched partners, asked students to stare at the person across from them for one minute before talking. After about 30 seconds of nervous laughter and glances around the room, the students settled into staring. We then proceeded to finish the exercise without additional modifications.

Upon completion, and during our discussion component of the activity, several students mentioned that although staring at another classmate was “weird” and “made them uncomfortable,” it also created a connection between some of the participants. Students said that they felt closer and more trusting of the person they stared at. This trust enabled them to engage in deeper conversation and to feel an instant friendship with their staring partner.

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