June 06, 2014

Sociological Advice for Graduates

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

"Social theory is a basic survival skill.”

This quote comes from the first sentence of Charles Lemert’s book, Social Theory: The Multicultural, Global, and Classic Readings. My guess is that in the thousands of commencement speeches that are given at this time of year, few, if any, invoke sociological theory as a guiding light for recent grads. Nevertheless, Lemert is correct: sociological theory does provide sound advice for those about to embark on the next chapter of their lives. Here, then, are four sociologically-inspired guiding principles to pass along to your favorite graduates:

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June 03, 2014

Smoking and Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

People with higher levels of education are less likely to smoke cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009 just 5.6 percent of those 25 and older with graduate degrees smoked—compared with nearly half (49 percent) of those with GEDs. More education correlates with less cigarette smoking across the educational spectrum: 25.1 percent for high school graduates, 23.3 percent of who attended college but earned no degree, and just 11.1 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees smoked.

Why such a consistent difference?

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May 30, 2014

Clap along Sociologists, Get Happy!

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about happiness lately. I’m not just talking about listening to the worldwide hit “Happy” by Pharrell Williams—which I hear playing somewhere at least once a week. What I’m alluding to are the books, articles, and commentaries on how we can be happier in our daily lives. It seems as if every year another book comes out and every week an article circulates around social media advising us on what we can do to achieve a higher state of contentment.

What I find particularly intriguing about much of the work that is being done on happiness is that most of it is not carried out by sociologists. Instead, happiness studies are dominated by journalists, psychologists, and economists. Consider, for example, some of the best-selling books of the past few years.  Stumbling on Happiness was written by Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology, whereas The Geography of Bliss and The Happiness Project were both written by journalists (Eric Weiner and Gretchen Rubin, respectively).  

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May 27, 2014

What Can Improv Teach Us About Gender?

Peter_rydzewskiBy Peter Rydzewski

Incoming sociology Ph.D student, University of Maryland

The idea that social interactions are thought of as “performances” is a common theme throughout sociology. It speaks to the ways in which human behavior is “acted out” under an umbrella of shared norms, roles, expectations and assumptions, meaning that individual expressions are, in reality, more subject to group agreements than personal vitality.

I’ve spent the past 15 or so weeks in an improvisational theatre class. My sociological and observational instincts set in immediately after the first class session because, indeed, it was the perfect example of a real, physical stage on which social acting could take place. Erving Goffman famously describes this as the “front stage.” In my observations, this is where other students constantly looked and judged, hoping to understand our movements as part of a scene with an overall message or continuing storyline. And because the situations were fictional and the settings were imagined, the performers had to use voice and bodily comportment to express something that everyone could implicitly comprehend.  This goal was often accomplished with performances of gender.

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May 23, 2014

Costumes: Special Occasions as Performance

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Recently, I received a package on my desk. It was a black gown with a decorative, brightly colored velvet hood and an oddly-shaped hat. There was no note, no explanation, but I knew what it was for.

In any other context, the arrival of an unusual outfit would be strange, maybe even disconcerting; it is not something I would personally have chosen to wear, as it is bulky and way too warm to wear in the late spring. I am expected to wear this outfit for our university’s commencement ceremonies, just as others on our faculty and around the country are.

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May 20, 2014

Drafts and Objectification

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

“With the first pick of the 2014 draft, Nick selects Ashley from AP Physics…”

Like many of my fellow beleaguered Buffalo Bills fans, I spent last weekend tracking the 79th annual NFL Player Selection Meeting—the draft—hoping that my team will finally find the pieces needed to string together its first playoff season in 14 years. There was another draft, however, making a lot of news in California.

In Orange County a different kind of selection meeting was happening. Senior boys from Corona del Mar High School gathered at an undisclosed location and in ceremonial garb for an annual ritual. The boys were “drafting” girls to be their prom dates. Although many of the boys claim there is no money involved others say that boys exchange cash to “trade up” to a better position in the draft to select the girl they want to go to prom with. One year a kid paid $140 to draft the girl he wanted to bring to the prom.

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May 15, 2014

Graduation, Social Structure, and Anomie

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are about to graduate from college, or know someone who is, you may be feeling many things: excited, overwhelmed, stressed, proud, and uncertain, especially if you are not sure what you are going to do next.

For many soon-to-be graduates, this will be the end of a sixteen-year (or longer) journey. Participating in educational institutions all those years shapes the kinds of choices and goals that we make, whether we are conscious of it or not. Did you participate in extracurricular activities to boost your odds of admission to the university of your choice? Volunteer in order to qualify for a particular scholarship, as part of a service learning course, or because your fraternity or sorority encourages you to do so?

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May 12, 2014

Putting Your Sociological Imagination to Work

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Once you develop your sociological imagination, what can you do with it?

If you do not take more classes in sociology or get an actual sociology degree, you can still make use of your sociological education. What is this sociological imagination we keep mentioning on this blog? Based on C. Wright Mills’ book by the same name, it is the ability to see the world both as an individual living a unique life but also to see the larger social dynamics that shape our experiences, opportunities, and social realities.

When you take even one sociology class, you start to develop this amazing ability to see the connection between personal troubles and public issues, between individuals’ lived experiences and society’s structural constraints. This skill is useful for any major, any occupational goal, and even in everyday life.

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May 08, 2014

Gender in Home Kitchens and Restaurants

SjwBy Stacy J. Williams

Sociology Ph.D. Candidate, UC San Diego

American women still do most of the cooking in the home. In 2012, the American Time Use Survey found that women spent over 5 hours per week preparing food, while men spent only about 2 hours per week cooking. However, women are only a small proportion of head chefs in restaurants. A 2014 Bloomberg study of major restaurant groups noted that women were 6% of executive chefs. Other studies put women at 5 to 15% of executive chefs.

Why is there such a stark gendered division between home and professional kitchens? Since women spend more than twice as much time in home kitchens than men do, it seems strange that there are so few women in professional kitchens. Many social forces, ranging from the organization of professional kitchens to cultural ideas about women and cooking, can help explain the phenomenon.

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May 05, 2014

Good Crowds

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

College campuses can and should be places for open dialogue and communication. Those conversations can be powerful and affirming for some, and they have the potential for being hurtful or even dangerous for others. Rarely do you get the opportunity to have a campus-wide conversation about an important issue.

When UMass basketball player (and sociology major!) Derrick Gordon became the first Division I athlete to come out as gay on April 9th, he drew an outpouring of support from thousands of people on my campus and from around the world.

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