June 20, 2022

What Can Comedy Teach us about Sociology?

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

While preparing for take-off on a recent flight, a man in the row in front of me made a “joke” to his teenaged kids. After an announcement to take your seat and fasten your seatbelts, he said rather loudly, “Yeah, like seatbelts are really going to make a difference in a plane crash!”

He eagerly looked for a positive reaction to his comment. His kids didn’t appear to laugh, and those of us in the surrounding rows seemed to share a moment of nervous discomfort. Isn’t it an unwritten rule that you don’t mention plane crashes—even in jest—on an airplane?

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June 13, 2022

How Do We Make Society Less Polarized?

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

In our increasingly socially and politically polarized society, it ironically seems that the only thing most Americans can agree on is that our society is, indeed, polarized. Journalists, scholars, and the general public alike have noted the vast and growing rift dividing the country into two camps.

Whether it be relating to politics, public health measures, or what children should be taught in schools, the vast majority of Americans believe they don’t share the same values as those on “the other side.” A recent article in The Atlantic even writes of a “red America” and a “blue America” as two different countries; separate nations that are “unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth.”

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June 06, 2022

Urban Barricades and Reconnecting Segregated Communities

Colby King author photoBy Colby King

When I discuss segregation in my classes, a key element I work to cover with students is the idea that the segregation we see today is the result of policies, preferences, and more to the point, choices that people made. This is a consensus view among urban sociologists, and something my co-authors and I explain in the most recent edition of The New Urban Sociology. Segregation does not just happen, but instead is the result of the accumulation of choices, individual and institutional, that have built inequality into the places we live.

In June of 2020, sociologist Patrick Sharkey published this essay in The Atlantic titled “To Avoid Integration, Americans Built Barricades in Urban Space.” In the piece, Sharkey illuminates this critical idea in detail, explaining how racial segregation has been exacerbated by the construction of literal barricades in urban space. These barricades, as he explains, separate neighborhoods, communities, and social groups, and heighten inequality across cities.

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May 23, 2022

More Verstehen: What it’s Like to be a Juvenile Offender Sentenced to LWOP

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the central guiding principles that I follow as a sociologist (and a human) is Max Weber’s notion of verstehen, which is German for understanding. Weber encourages us to apply the tools of sociology to do our best to understand experiences that might be different from our own.

It’s probably safe to presume that most people reading this post have not had the experience of shooting someone in the face at the age of thirteen during a robbery, then being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) at fourteen and spending 26 years in prison; 18 of them in solitary confinement.

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May 16, 2022

What Sociology Students Should Know about “Think Tanks”

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Have you ever heard the term “think tank” and wondered what it meant? It sounds like a locked glass room filled with smart people who just want to ponder life’s questions. That’s not entirely wrong (except, I assume, for the locked part).

A think tank is typically a nonprofit organization that focuses on a particular set of issues to make policy recommendations. They might study issues like inequalities in the job market, racial inequality, foreign policy, technology, and social change. They may be affiliated with a university, an advocacy group, or another organization, but they might also be stand-alone independents. (Here is a list of some of the major think tanks in the U.S.)

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May 09, 2022

“Dream Big!”: Inequality in Dreams of the Future

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Most children and teenagers are asked this question countless of times by well-meaning parents, teachers, and friends. They are often told that anything is possible, and that they can be absolutely anything they want to be.

Some may dream of becoming the next Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, or just some nebulous kind of “celebrity”; others may dream of becoming a doctor, veterinarian, or zookeeper. “Dream big!” is the mantra espoused by many parents who, often aware of the low likelihood of the outcome, nonetheless feel pressure to encourage their children’s dreams. Parenting guides even tell parents to fight the urge to fact-check or reality-check what their children dream of.

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May 02, 2022

Not My Job: Navigating Bureaucracies

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I was recently cc’d on an email sent by a colleague. It was addressed to another colleague and to someone in our dean’s office and it concerned a student who was upset about a requirement they needed to meet. The sender was angry that, based on information the student shared, a class they had taken would not meet a particular university requirement.

This email was problematic on a number of levels that give us insight into the concept of bureaucracy:

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April 25, 2022

Pandemic Photo Essay

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

If you look through the pictures on your phone, what do they reveal about your experiences during the pandemic? What memories stand out in your pictures? So much has happened in our lives and in society in the past few years. Looking through my pictures helps me process some of what we’ve been through.

I took this first picture on March 17, 2020, at a stop to the liquor store. This sign reminds me that we didn’t know exactly what we were in for, and it was early enough in the pandemic that we could make light of suddenly hard to obtain items such as toilet paper.

Picture1

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April 18, 2022

Work and the Body

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Several years ago, the small company my husband worked for had an employee challenge: get the company’s logo tattooed on a visible part of your body, and the company would donate several hundred dollars to the charity of your choice.

My husband did not take them up on this offer (and his team was soon after acquired by another company anyway), but several of his coworkers did. More than just a charitable impulse, it seemed like a way for these employees to demonstrate their commitment to the small startup. This was a company that expected its workers to be not just good employees, but “heroes” that would be available at any hour to meet its clients’ needs, albeit with little room for growth in terms of career or salary.

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April 06, 2022

Road Trip: Culture Shock and Renting a Car in Italy

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Culture shock is one of the most basic concepts in sociology, involving a feeling of confusion in a new environment that those accustomed to the location likely take for granted. Taking a road trip in a foreign country is a great way to experience culture shock: something at once familiar becomes strange in a place where the language and customs are different from what we are used to. Culture shock one of the most interesting things about travel.

Renting a car in most other countries often means that the instrument panels will look different, especially if the speedometer is based on kilometers per hour rather than miles per hour. While most rental cars in the U.S. have automatic transmission, nearly all European rentals are manual transmission, commonly known as a stick shift. And the one that we rented on our most recent trip didn’t even take gasoline, but instead ran on metano.

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