106 posts categorized "Crime and Deviance"

April 21, 2014

Alcohol and the Social Construction of Social Problems

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What do we know about the problems associated with alcohol, and how do we know it?

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind is that alcohol is a mainly problem of teens and college students. How do we know this? For one, we are taught at early ages about the dangers of teen drinking. Many universities include alcohol safety awareness as part of orientation programs. And we frequently hear stories in the news about young people who drink and drive or otherwise cause problems while drinking. Researchers study the incidence of teen drinking, often funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies. Then the results of these studies are reported in the news, helping us focus on teens as problem drinkers.

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March 18, 2014

Stop and Frisk Through a Sociological Lens

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you live in or near New York, no doubt you have heard of a policing policy called “stop and frisk.” For those unfamiliar with the practice, stop and frisk involves police officers questioning and searching pedestrians for weapons if they deem them to be suspicious. This is different from an arrest, and there need not be a crime under investigation to justify a stop and frisk.  Instead, the idea is that this practice could stop a crime before it even happens.

In 2013, a judge ruled that stop and frisk was unconstitutional, as it was mainly used to stop—and many would argue harass—people of color on a daily basis. When Mayor Bill DiBlasio took office in 2014, he vowed that the police would discontinue the practice.

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February 06, 2014

“Affluenza,” Privilege and Justice

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Last year, Ethan Couch, 16, drove drunk and killed four people and severely injured two others in Texas. The case made national news when during the sentencing face his legal team claimed that he “suffered” from “affluenza”. In other words, the teen got everything he wanted and did not learn that his actions had consequences because his parents were lenient. The judge allowed him to go to a treatment facility, funded by his parents to the tune of $450,000 a year, instead of prison.

Affluenza is not a new term—when I was in high school in the 1980s my school district sent pamphlets to parents warning them of the dangers of giving kids too much—and it is not actually a psychiatric diagnosis.

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November 25, 2013

Race Education at Your Front Door

WinklewagnerFULL By Rachelle Winkle-Wagner
University of Wisconsin - Madison 
Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis

After a devastating report about racial stratification in Madison, Wisconsin, the city in which I live, I am thinking a lot about social stratification and the way in which we keep reenacting it. In the report in Madison, the findings maintained that although the city is outwardly progressive, with a major university and many self-proclaimed White liberals, it way may also be one of the “racist cities in America” in terms of racial stratification; over three-quarters of the city’s Black population live in poverty, and there are persistent racial disparities in educational outcomes.

As a White scholar of race in education, I am particularly interested in the “education” that people are getting about race, not just in our formal brick-and-mortar institutions, but in everyday life.  Recently, a woman in a suburb of Detroit, Renisha McBride, had a car accident in the middle of the night. Unarmed, and needing help, she knocked on a door of a suburban White homeowner, and she was shot in the head. Since then, the homeowner has made a claim that the shooting was “justified” because he feared for his safety. While the homeowner is facing murder and manslaughter charges, his case is likely to rest on whether he was “reasonable” to shoot an unarmed Black woman in the face.  

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November 18, 2013

The Sociology of Harassment

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Last year I wrote about pranks and I have received several phone calls over the last two weeks from sports radio folks wanting me to talk about the alarming story coming out of the Miami Dolphins football team. These talk radio guys seem to want to know: “Isn’t a prank just a prank?” The answer has to do with power, institutions, masculinity in sports and, in this case, race.

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November 11, 2013

The Dangerous Dynamic of Gender

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you noticed the demographics of the people who tend to perpetrate mass shootings in public spaces? I’ve noticed they tend to be young, male, from middle class backgrounds, and socially isolated. These are not trivial factors.

Gender is key to this pattern. The age, class, and lack of social networks link with gender to create a situation in which the person sees the public shooting as a viable option to express their frustration. More maturity (which hopefully comes with age) and social support may allow frustrated people alternative outlets. Middle class resources bring the possibility of purchasing sometimes costly weapons and ammunition that are kept in one’s home. Most of these crimes utilize legal weapons that are part of the lifestyle of the perpetrator’s family and culture.

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September 27, 2013

Constructing Deviance: A-Rod, Drugs, and Cheating

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

“Is Calling Cheating Cheating, Cheating?” This was the title of a paper I wrote back in graduate school for a class on the sociology of deviance. This playful (or confusing) use of words was my attempt at getting at the uncertainty that sometimes surrounds actions that we deem improper. The point I was trying to make with this title is that it seems wrong to call some acts of inappropriate behavior inappropriate. A particular act might be referred to as cheating but upon closer inspection we may realize that it’s not entirely accurate to label this act as wrong.

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June 28, 2013

Rachel Jeantel, Handwriting, and No Child Left Behind

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Her name isn’t as well known as Trayvon Martin’s, and her side-story is less sensational. And yet, Rachel Jeantel’s short time on the witness stand in the George Zimmerman trial—and the media’s response to it—says a lot about our contemporary society. As the last person to speak with 17-year-old Trayvon moments before George Zimmerman killed him, Rachel has been caught up in one of the most-watched trials of the last few years.

Rachel has been ridiculed on blogs and snickered at in the media for her time on the witness stand. She had testy exchanges with Zimmerman’s defense attorney Don West, some ”unpolished” responses to questions (i.e., responding to the hypothesis that Martin initiated contact with Zimmerman as “real retarded”), and at one point needing to speak up so the jury could hear her. It remains to be seen whether or not pointing out these attributes are attempts to undermine her credibility as a witness.

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May 16, 2013

The Myth of the Self-Made Person

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

What do the alleged Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have in common with Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling, Jimi Hendrix, and Ben Franklin?

Bomb suspectOprahBf

The answer: All of these individuals are said to have become who they are by their own individual means.

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April 29, 2013

Thinking Sociologically about the Boston Tragedy

SternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Since the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, the nation has been trying to figure out how and why someone would do something so horrific. The bombers’ methods and motives are the domain of law enforcement, trying to figure out first who did it, how, and why.

Sociology can be useful to help us to develop hypotheses about why events take place, particularly those events involving large group. Explaining why any particular individual behaves the way they do is harder to understand, and as I write investigators are working diligently to learn more about the suspects to figure out why they would build bombs and hurt innocent people. So it is too soon to specifically use sociological concepts to understand the suspects.

But we can think sociologically about the public’s reaction to the violence.

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