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January 21, 2019

Online Media Dystopia

Colby (1)By Colby King

Concerned about online misinformation and fake news, I made a few revisions to the syllabi for my Introduction to Sociology courses before the start of the semester this past fall. I created an information literacy assignment based on the ongoing debate about the “marshmallow test.” But, I also made space to discuss Zeynep Tufekci’s research, particularly her analyses of how digital platforms and their algorithms shape how we collect information, share ideas, and interact with each other. Many students responded enthusiastically to these topics. And, while most were not surprised by the various concerning issues that Tufekci raises about digital platforms, many did report that understanding her research was causing them to reconsider the ways in which they engage online.

Zeynep Tufekci is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina in the School of Information and Library Science with an affiliate position in UNC’s Department of Sociology. Her book Twitter and Tear Gas, provides a vivid analysis of the ways in which social media supported social movements including the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, while also describing the challenges created by these same platforms.

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January 14, 2019

Applying Verstehen: Understanding the Transgender Experience

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It is very easy to fear what we don’t understand, and it is also easy to fear people who seem to be different from us. Our language enables this: the previous sentence contains the words “we” and “us,” suggesting that “they” and “them” are another group. As Peter Kaufman wrote two years ago, there is a danger in “othering” people that can mask our similarities.

People who identify as transgender get placed into the “other” category often, largely because many people don’t understand what it means to identify as any gender other than the one assigned at birth. When I came of age in the late twentieth century, I knew of no one who openly expressed gender identity issues—of course, that doesn’t mean no one I knew had these issues, just that they were hidden.

The concept of identifying as transgender was new to me, just as it was for many people. As sociologists, we strive to better understand people from their perspective. Sociologist Max Weber’s concept verstehen calls upon us to use research for the purpose of understanding people we study. This has led me to begin to read the growing body of sociological research on how people who identify as transgender come to this realization.

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January 07, 2019

Getting Excited about Sociological Research Methods

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In our department, Research Methods is a required course that many students put off taking until their junior or even senior year. For several reasons, this class is often viewed as one of those requirements that you just have to get through, rather than as one to eagerly anticipate.

I aim to change that. Here’s why you should be excited to take a research methods course:

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December 31, 2018

Emotional Intelligence and Sociology

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

There is a secret piece of your college education that I think we could talk more about. Despite its importance, I am only now I am realizing that it’s perhaps one of the most important skill sets you need to develop as an undergraduate. It is tucked into the classes and the general requirements, hidden between the lines. It’s called emotional intelligence, and I think it can be a profoundly sociological—not just psychological—phenomenon.

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December 24, 2018

Millennials, Sex, and the Economy: The Sociological Imagination in Action

12_01446By Angelique Harris

Although the exact definition of a millennial may vary, roughly speaking millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996, and are between 22 and 37 years of age in 2018. This is the first generation to come of age after the technology boom, having grown up with the internet and mobile phones. This is also the generation most impacted by the economic downturn. many of them graduated from college and entered the workforce during and immediately after the Great Recession, thus impacting not only their lifestyles and career opportunities, but even career choices and college majors.

While the economy impacts everyone, it has had a particular impact on millennials’ lives. We know so much about the lives and experiences of millennials in part because of their use of social media to document their lives, preferences, and habits and because, as the largest demographic, they are a target audience for market research.

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December 14, 2018

Making Sense of The Senseless: A Sociological Perspective on Mass Shootings

Professional PicBy Lauren Madden

Instructor, Long Beach City College

"You can't make sense of the senseless," said one of the police officers in response to the Borderline shooting on November 7, 2018, in Thousand Oaks, California. This statement really struck me. Shouldn't we at least try? This is what social scientists do; they try to make sense of the seemingly senseless. So how can we make sense of the phenomenon of mass shootings?

One theory, supported by clinical psychologists, is that it is anger, not mental illness, causes violence. "Violence is not a product of mental illness. Nor is violence generally the action of ordinary, stable individuals who suddenly "break” and commit crimes of passion. Violent crimes are committed by violent people, those who do not have the skills to manage their anger," writes Laura Hayes, Slate contributor and psychologist. However, Hayes notes that the mental health community has not found appropriate diagnoses for anger disorders, prevention measures, or a specific framework to help people to comprehend the violence that occurs within their communities.

Sociologists, on the other hand, try to look at the bigger picture, zooming out to study external factors such as the impact of social institutions, cultural norms and values, and patterns in the social environment to explain the "senseless."

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December 10, 2018

The Definition of the Situation: Resisting Discussions of Death

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A family member’s recent illness and passing highlighted a concept within micro sociology: the definition of the situation. This idea posits that situations come with social scripts that shape our behavior within any given context. How we define a situation guides our actions; sometimes our actions might seem strange if others around us define the situation differently. Put simply, people base their behavior on our understanding of events, and we generally ascribe meaning to these events based on our interactions with others.

Although he was 85-years-old and was being treated for lymphoma, a type of cancer, my father-in-law was healthy enough to play tennis this past August when he fell and broke his hip on the court. Our family defined this situation as a sports-related injury, albeit one with more risks due to his age and overall health status. It seemed that medical professionals defined his injury the same way too.

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