September 19, 2016

Social Norms and Social Change

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

As students of sociology, we learn about social norms. Social norms are guidelines for expected behaviors, thus they set out our options for appropriate behavior. Bradley Wright’s blog post nicely describes a number of social norms operating in a college setting.

Not everyone follows the norms (deviance might be defined as not following the norm), challenging the social order. Note that the norms are guidelines for expected behaviors. They are the “should dos” and, sometimes the “must dos” of society. Norms can be loosely held, such as folkways, or tightly held, such as mores and taboos, those that are often built into the legal code.

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September 12, 2016

White Power and White Powerlessness: A New Double Consciousness?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Can someone really feel powerful and powerless at the same time? Is it possible that some white people feel compelled to assert the dominance of their race because they fear that whiteness is becoming less dominant? Are the recent expressions of white superiority actually connected with the growing fear of white inferiority?

The themes of white power and white powerlessness are gaining newfound scrutiny these days as social scientists and journalists are trying to make sense of the rise of Donald Trump and his supporters. While some see Trump and his followers predominantly through a racial lens as white supremacists, nativists, and racists, others argue that the underlying origins of this right-wing extremism stem from feelings of social and economic marginalization.

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September 07, 2016

Politics, Civility and Social Change

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A friend of mine recently announced that she would not log onto Facebook until after the presidential election is over in November, tired of the political rhetoric from her many Facebook friends across the political spectrum. It got me thinking of the old cliché about religion and politics—two things not to be discussed in polite company once upon a time—and how much has changed, particularly since the introduction of new communication technologies. It is a good example of how norms surrounding interactions can shift along with structural changes.

Both religious and political beliefs may be deeply and passionately held, and thus could stir up ill will between people whose beliefs differ. So in many cases people will avoid these topics so as not to offend or alienate others. I remember as a small child hearing a relative at a holiday dinner bringing up politics. Even though I didn’t know who they were talking about, and had no opinion about the subject at the time, I could sense the discomfort in the room and wished it would stop. Only occasionally would I hear my parents discussing political topics with each other, but these discussions were private and kept to the confines of our home, so it wasn’t an uncomfortable experience.

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September 02, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and our Collective Ignorance of Social and Political Activism

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the national anthem, he joined a relatively small group of professional athletes who have used their stature to bring attention to a pressing social issue. Employing language that was reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s protest against the Vietnam War, Kaepernick explained that he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Kaepernick went on to explain that his protest was in response to the persistent racism and brutality that black people experience—whether it be from the police or from the inactions of the government:

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August 29, 2016

Bullying and “Doing” Gender

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the most challenging concepts new students in sociology struggle with is the idea that gender is not just something we are born with, not just something we are socialized into as young children, but something that we actively “perform” throughout our lives. Might a more widespread understanding of how we “do” gender reduce bullying and violence?

Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman’s now classic Gender & Society article, “Doing Gender,” notes that “gender is not a set of traits, nor a variable, nor a role, but the product of social doings of some sort.” Gender is not just something we learn to perform in childhood, but something that we are continually performing, although we might not be aware of this process.

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August 18, 2016

The Logic of Consumption: Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In a recent post, I asked readers to think critically about the logic of consumption. This doesn’t mean that we start thinking about consumption as harmful, or that consumption is either good or bad. Instead, challenging the logic of consumption means that we acknowledge that we tend to view ourselves as consumers in arenas of social life where the consumer model doesn’t neatly fit. In that post, I used the examples of relationships and health as two modes of social life where viewing ourselves primarily as consumers can be problematic.

Education is another example where the logic of consumption fails both students and faculty.

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August 15, 2016

“Who You Gonna Call?” Movies and Representation

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

The summer blockbuster season, as with any year, includes everything from large-scale action films like Captain America: Civil War, to family-friendly flicks, such as Finding Dory, Secret Life of Pets, and The BFG.

Although I’m not a big moviegoer, I went to see the Ghostbusters remake of the 1984 classic during its opening weekend.   I enjoyed watching the original movie and the subsequent cartoon series as a child, but I didn’t really identify with any of the characters.   Given the controversy over the reboot of the film--particularly the critiques regarding the presence of redundant and reductive racial stereotypes--I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I was also excited to see a movie with four female leads.  

Recent studies show that there is a persistent underrepresentation of speaking female characters (let alone protagonists) within the movie industry. The numbers are even lower for women of color and for members of the queer community. As I noted in a previous post, “Popular Culture, Race, and Representation,” these limited representations showcase the ways that our society devalues and undervalues nonwhite and female stories and experiences. A lack of representation also means a lack of role models and a missed opportunity to represent other voices and experiences.  

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August 11, 2016

Pokémoning While Black

Angie harris WynnBy Angelique Harris and Jonathan Wynn

Harris is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Marquette University

Have you been swept up in the Pokémon Go phenomenon? For those of you who haven’t: Pokémon Go is a virtual reality game that uses real places and a cellphone’s GPS, and the goal of the (mostly) free game is to search for and collect different Pokémon characters: Doduos, Tentacools, Onixes, Smeargles, Drowzees, and over a hundred others. (We have absolutely no idea what these names actually mean.)

We didn’t know it was coming, but all the sudden people were out on the streets with their phones, pointing to street corners and talking with strangers.

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August 09, 2016

Amazon’s Workplace Culture

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

In a previous post, I described my tour of an Amazon Fulfillment Center. I was impressed with the level of efficiency I saw there; it is important to understand how efficiency is supported by the company culture and social norms. I can only speak to what I saw on my short visit, but so much was apparent!

Once inside the warehouse, along the main walkway, there are posters reminding workers of the leadership principles, or "articles of faith" that serve as guideposts to workplace expectations behavior. Customer Obsession, Ownership, Learn And Be Curious, Hire And Develop The Best, Insist On The Highest Standards are just a few. These social norms are taken seriously; not only are they posted all over the place, but our tour leader mentioned that they are reinforced often through performance reviews and standing meetings.

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August 04, 2016

Us vs. Them: The Dangerous Discourse of Difference

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I thought I was going to write this post about Brexit and the growing anti-immigration sentiment around the world. I was planning to draw a parallel between the recent referendum in Britain to leave the European Union with some of the isolationist sentiments we hear from Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump about building a wall to keep out Mexicans and barring all Muslims from entering the United States. For further context, I was going to discuss the growing nationalist surge that is enveloping much of Europe. That was my initial plan.

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