October 15, 2018

The Behavior of Buffalo Bills Fans: A Mini-Ethnography

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

Buffalo Bills fans have a reputation. As seen in this Deadspin video, they are known for wild antics that take place at home games. Last season, in his role as an analyst, former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher acknowledged Bills tailgaters by breaking a table during a CBS pregame show. The so-called Bills Mafia arrives several hours before kickoff for tailgate parties.

I’ve attended many Bills games in my life and have fond memories of partying with my peer group in the parking lots surrounding the stadium. We did most of our tailgate partying in our 20s, and I can recall cracking open the first beer during breakfast. Our partying consisted of drinking, eating chili (our gatherings usually occurred in winter), and playing catch with a football. I have no recollection of people jumping through tables in those days. I decided to conduct a mini ethnography to see if this reputation reflected the experiences of fans, at least in my presence.

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October 08, 2018

Language and Culture

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Have you studied a foreign language? If you have and are in the U.S., you may be in the minority, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. According to the report, about 20 percent of K-12 students in the U.S. were enrolled in a foreign language course in 2017. By contrast, 92 percent of European students were learning a foreign language during this time frame.

Wide disparities exist regarding foreign language study within the U.S. according the report, ranging from 51 percent of New Jersey students to just 9 percent in Arizona, Arkansas, and New Mexico. These disparities largely stem from differing state requirements; just ten states and the District of Columbia have a foreign language requirement for high school graduation.

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October 01, 2018

Clue: A Center of Knowledge, 15 Letters

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

This weekend I carved out a little time to do The New York Times crossword. I love puzzling over the clues, watching a quadrant emerge, and the satisfaction of finishing. As I sipped my coffee, I thought about how social life is a lot like a crossword puzzle.

Here is one clue from the July 28 puzzle: “What you might charge for a ride.” My mind cast about for a five-letter word. It couldn’t be TOKEN or TICKET. But then I remembered that puzzle masters love word play, and realized that “charge” has multiple meanings. The answer was TESLA—the name for Elon Musk’s electric car.

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September 24, 2018

How to Find Reliable Data

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the big challenges students face in writing research papers is finding reliable sources of data. This challenge isn’t exclusive to students: many people might need a refresher course in what constitutes a reliable source.

First, what constitutes data? If you search the word “data” you will likely get many vague generalized definitions. When researchers are talking about data, we mean findings that are the result of empirical observation based on systematic study. Simply put, data are what we get when we do research. In most cases in the social sciences, research papers should include findings from a systematic study, yours or other peoples’.

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September 21, 2018

Meaning Making and Health

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Peter Kaufman’s recent post about his experience with stage IV lung cancer is an important reminder that our bodies—particularly as they appear and function at this moment—and our overall health, are temporary.

And yet we often perceive them to be permanent. Why?

We make sense of our health collectively; even the way in which we define illness is rooted in social interactions. As sociologists Peter Conrad and Kristen K. Barker explain in their article "The Social Construction of Illness," culture plays a role in how we view and respond to a condition, and people experience their condition in a social context.

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September 14, 2018

A Sociology of My Death

Unknown-2By Peter Kaufman

I’m dying. I don’t mean this figuratively—like I’m dying of thirst or dying to visit Hawaii. I mean it quite literally. I have incurable, stage IV lung cancer.

I was diagnosed in June 2017, a few months after my fiftieth birthday. My only symptom was a nagging, dry cough, but by the time the disease was detected the cancer had metastasized throughout my body. Since then I have had numerous treatments and interventions. Some of these worked quite well, allowing me to resume most of my normal activities; others were not as effective, resulting in adverse side effects, extreme discomfort, and, in one instance, a week-long stay in the hospital. My current treatment plan showed great initial promise but now, after just a few weeks, the tumors started growing again.      

For me to have lung cancer—indeed any form of cancer—is the epitome of a tragic irony. I have never smoked or tried illegal drugs, and I’ve never even been drunk. I’ve pursued clean living, good nutrition, and regular exercise in part to avoid the sort of medical misfortune that I am now experiencing. As a kid I played sports all day long. At sixteen I swore off junk food. At eighteen I became a vegetarian. In my twenties I ran marathons and did triathlons, and, in my thirties and forties when my aching knees no longer let me run, I swam or biked most days. About six months before my diagnosis I completed a one-day workout that simulated two-thirds of an Ironman triathlon, swimming 2.4 miles, then biking 120 miles (with 5,000 feet of climbing). A few weeks later I recorded my fastest one-mile swim time ever. I was incredibly healthy . . . until I wasn’t.

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September 10, 2018

Being a Temporary Foreigner

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As C. Wright Mills noted in The Sociological Imagination, one of our tasks as sociologists is to “make the familiar strange.” Traveling to a foreign country—especially one where you barely speak the language—is a great way to undertake Mills’s advice.

Travel highlights how many little things we take for granted while interacting with others. The most obvious barrier is speaking the same language. While we English speakers of the world are uniquely privileged because so many people speak our language, or at least some of our language, not everyone does.

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September 03, 2018

Bridging Divided Values?

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Our national political divide seems to be widening. Our opinions have diverged, and we seem to have developed an ever increasing “us and them” national character. This summer I read four books on the topic, varying in their political and intellectual perspectives.

Sociologists have long been interested in our how our values (moral beliefs) and norms (the rules and expectations by which a group guides the behavior of its members) shape our culture. From Max Weber to Talcott Parsons, we are justifiably curious about how culture bends our beliefs into actions. We have a pretty good sense for how culture serves to push people into groups through accentuating differences. We have less of a handle on how to bring people from different belief systems together.

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August 27, 2018

Shopping Malls and Social Change

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I was a teen in the 1980s, the shopping mall was the center of social life. It was a regular gathering place for people my age; it was one of the few places to go that was free (unless you decided to buy something), parents generally felt like it was safe, and we might see other kids our age there. Remember, there was no email, no Internet, and no social media, so aside from the telephone, hanging out was the only way to socialize.

Malls were also a site of aspirational consumption. While I could occasionally buy clothes, records (on vinyl or cassette), food, or other goods, mostly the mall was the place of imagination of what I would buy if I could. My friends and I could try on clothes to see what styles were flattering for occasions we might someday need an outfit for. This was not just a way to pass the time, but to bond with friends. Memorialized in movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Valley Girl (1983), and Mall Rats (1995) to name a few, malls were center stage for middle-class American teens living in the suburbs.

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August 20, 2018

Social Networks and Diversity in College

Colby (1)By Colby King

With the beginning of another fall semester, I have been thinking about the opportunities college presents to students. If you are a student who is working to make the most of your opportunities on campus, you may very reasonably be focused on earning good grades, or on avoiding accumulating much loan debt. But, I want to underscore a particular opportunity that college presents to students that I hope you do not overlook: the opportunity build a diverse social network.

I have been thinking about these issues because last spring, I was chosen as the recipient of Bridgewater State University’s Honors Outstanding Faculty Award. This was a really nice honor, and as part of the award I was interviewed for the Honors Program student blog, The Paw. In that interview I was asked about what advice I might have for students. I drew on my responses in that interview, and the speech I gave for that award in writing this essay. You can see the whole interview on the blog here.

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