April 04, 2016

Sociology for the Masses!

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

"ESCHEW OBFUSCATION"

This was a bumper sticker I remember seeing when I was in college. At the time, I only had a fuzzy idea of what these two words meant. After a little research, I realized that the phrase was a playfully pretentious way to encourage people to stop using big words that nobody understands. I'm sure many students wish they had a rubber stamp with these words so they could imprint them on some of the texts they must read. I felt that way when I was a student and sometimes I still feel that way. In fact, I often think that this slogan should be a rallying cry for sociologists everywhere.

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March 31, 2016

Policing, Solidarity, and Conflict

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Many news stories have noted that violent crime rates have risen in some cities, and some are blaming the so-called "Ferguson Effect." What does this mean?

The Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) Chief Charlie Beck wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times discussing the relationship between communities and their police departments. He mentions the "Ferguson Effect" yet redefines it when looking at Los Angeles and its crime related statistics.

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March 28, 2016

Understanding the Ideological Underpinnings of Capitalist Reproduction with Batman, Robin, Donald Trump, and Karl Marx

Howell_ABy Aaron J. Howell, Assistant Professor of Sociology, SUNY-Farmingdale

In some introductory sociology classes and in any classical sociological theory course, students grapple with the ways in which capitalist society reproduces itself. This was an especially pertinent social and political question outside of the classroom during the early industrial revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when the relationship between capital and labor animated political conflict.

A variety of scholars observing the emerging capitalist economic system wondered how a system introducing private property, and the inequities that inevitably derive from private control of resources, could survive.

These scholars spanned the political spectrum from philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was concerned with the ways that privatization might undermine the "general will" to Sir Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism, who feared that individualism and cronyism might go unchecked, to Karl Marx, a political radical, who argued that the capitalist system was inherently inhumane due to its alienating conditions.

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March 25, 2016

Spatial Inequity and Access to Abortion

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Abortion and women's access to abortion are often contested issues within the United States. A recent poll by Pew Research found that 51% of Americans think that abortions should be legal in all or most cases. Yet, 49% of Americans polled think having an abortion is morally wrong. How does this difference in legality and morality impact legal decisions?

Have you heard about the Texas abortion regulations case? In 2013, the Texas solicitor general passed an omnibus abortion bill (HB2) that places additional restrictions on abortion providers. Regulations include requiring doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles from the clinic where they perform abortions, and requiring abortion clinics to be retrofitted to comply with building regulations that would make them ambulatory surgical centers.

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March 21, 2016

Does College Alienate Low Income Students?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I teach at a pricey research university. Friends and family—some of whom are alumni— occasionally ask me how much it costs to attend these days. I usually tell them that I don't know; it's easy to forget about the price of tuition when you're not paying it.

So when the Los Angeles Times recently reported that a tuition increase will push the bill for students at my university to over $50,000 for the first time next fall, costing an estimated $70,000 including housing, food, books, and other expenses, I was surprised. A majority of the student body receives some form of financial aid, so not every student must come up with a whopping $280,000 to pay for their degree. When was an undergraduate (at a different expensive private university), I had a scholarship that covered half of my tuition. Coming up with half of the current tuition sounds like an impossible task for most families.

But what about students who do manage to attend a university through financial aid, work study, and scholarships?

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March 16, 2016

Masculinity So Fragile

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Recently Will Smith's son, Jaden Smith, 17, became the face of the upcoming Louis Vuitton women's wear campaign. In the ads Jaden wears a black skirt and a fringed mesh top (you can see the photo here). This has sparked a mixture of cheers, jeers, and vitriol. Is it surprising that a gender-fluid image for a Spring 2016 fashion catalogue causes controversy? Why? Why would men—and it's mostly men—be so upset?

Here's something a little counter intuitive: masculinity, rather than being cast as the epitome of strength and power, is actually quite fragile. An undergraduate sociology student at UC Berkeley, Anthony J. Williams, added to the #masculinitysofragile hashtag to document the delicate yet heavily policed border between masculinity and femininity, and his contributions sparked an international trend. (Kudos!) This idea has been percolating in social media recently, and there are some solid sociological ideas to back all this up.

So, why the backlash?

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March 09, 2016

Social Networks, Interlocking Directorates, and the Power Elite

Christopher andrewsBy Christopher Andrews

Assistant Professor of Sociology, Drew University

Social network analysis involves studying social structures through the use of networks and graphs, allowing sociologists to visualize and measure properties of the ties that connect individuals, groups, or organizations. Rooted in the formal sociology of Georg Simmel (e.g., dyads vs. triads), anthropology (e.g., kinship diagrams), social psychology (e.g., group dynamics), and mathematical sociology, social network analysis has been used to study friendship and acquaintance networks, terrorist organizations, criminal drug markets, disease transmission, and sexual relationships, just to name a few examples.

How does it work?

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March 04, 2016

Our Subcultures: Making the Familiar Strange

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Are you part of a subculture, or a group that is a subset of the larger culture that has distinct values, norms, and practices? Chances are good you are and might not even be aware of it, because we become adept at switching between different groups and behaving accordingly, similar to what linguists call "code switching."

Sometimes the norms, values, and practices of a subculture become very apparent when we are new to a group; some people have a difficult time adjusting to a new group, sometimes experiencing culture shock when moving to a new region, attending college far from home, or even beginning a new job in an unfamiliar field.

Author Wednesday Martin describes the process of acclimating to a new subculture in her memoir, The Primates of Park Avenue, about her move from Manhattan's West Village to the Upper East Side, a journey of just a few miles but what she describes as inhabited by a significantly different subculture.

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March 01, 2016

How We Know: Opinions and Assumptions vs. Empirical Reality

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you heard people say that they know what causes something or they know why some thing happened? We all do this; it's one of the ways, we make sense of the world around us. We generalize about what we see, based on our experience and on previous knowledge that we remember.

Generalizing is how we understand what we encounter. When we see something new, we evaluate what it might be based on how it looks and how people might be using it.

My favorite example of this is a podium or lectern. When you first saw one, did you know what it was? Did you know how it was used? If it was in an empty room, perhaps not, although you might notice the angled top, how it was placed in the room relative to other things like chairs or desks. If someone uses it, then you have more information to figure that out.

We generalize about people when we encounter them; we often make many assumptions about them, based on their appearance that may or may not convey in accurate information about them. We also do this when encountering new situations.

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February 26, 2016

Popular Culture, Race, and Representation

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Zahira Kelly, who writes an advice column for The New Inquiry and for the blog Bad Dominicana, was recently on my campus to talk about the lack of Afro-Latin@/x representations within American and Latin American culture, history, and popular media. In her candid conversation, Zahira spoke honestly about her frustrations with systemic racism and heterosexism, and she mentioned the hate mail that she receives because she speaks openly about her experiences as a Black Latina.

While Kelly's talk highlighted the personal ways that racial erasure in popular media affects her on an individual level, it also showcased the lack of representations of a variety of people of color within our popular American consciousness. This negation of difference among and between communities of color both homogenizes these complex lived experiences and reinforces a simplistic understanding of race and culture that relies heavily on skin color and privileges whiteness.

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