Sociology Focus

How to Outrun a Dementor: Hyperrealism at Universal Studios

When is the last time you actually felt like you were living inside your favorite movie? At Universal Studios in Orlando, the theme park creates scenes from famous movies and then embeds the customer inside that world with rides that use virtual reality. In this post, Ami Stearns uses Jean Baudrillard’s concept of hyperrealism to explain the odd feeling of existing inside the reality of a world that does not truly exist.

Universal Studios Florida Gate.JPG

I don’t think I’ve been to a theme park since the 1980s, so to say that rides have changed a little is putting it mildly. On a recent trip to Florida for a conference, I took a day off to attend Universal Studios with some friends. I’m not a big fan of roller coasters, standing in line for hours, or crowds, which are just a few of the reasons for my decades-long absence from amusement parks. I didn’t expect the park to be populated by too much other than the usual roller coasters and water rides – honestly I was just hoping for some epic funnel cakes or deep fried-Oreos while I watched others zipping along upside down. However, I was very surprised. Universal Studios has created the ultimate movie experience in the form of rides that put you -yes, YOU- inside the movie. If you love movies, which I do, Universal Studios has the ability to make you feel like you are a character inside the movie. You see the action and feel the action. Your brain thinks you ARE in the middle of a Quidditch match and reacts (dizzyingly) in appropriate ways. The feeling is so real, in fact, that I had to close my eyes several times during rides in order to remind myself it was only a ride and I wasn’t actually swooping around on a broom seven stories high. Continue reading

“What Does My Sociology 101 Teacher Want Me To Learn?”

In this essay, Nathan Palmer discusses what sociologists think intro students should be learning.

“What are we supposed to be learning here anyways?” Likely not a day goes by that a student in an intro to sociology class thinks this to themselves. Every class that tries to introduce students to an entire discipline struggles to find a core message, but intro to sociology especially struggles with this. Sociologists from the start of the discipline (Howard 2010) to today still disagree about what sociology is and what it isn’t (D’Antonio 1983). Even for the best intro teachers, sociology 101 can feel like a bunch of loosely connected bits of information that do not add up to anything substantial[1].

What Sociologists Want Intro Students To Learn

Despite our internal disagreements about defining our discipline, multiple studies have shown that your intro teacher and the rest of us generally agree about what you should be learning[2]. For instance, Caroline Persell (2010) gave over a hundred leaders in sociology a list of 30 learning goals and asked them to rank them from the most important to the least[3]. Here’s what she found:

Sociology Leader’s Top 5 Learning Goals for Introductory Sociology:

  1. Show the relevance and reality of structural factors in social life
  2. Place an issue in a larger context (identify systemic elements; identify stakeholders; list unintended consequences).
  3. Identify and offer explanations for social inequality
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Sociology’s Unanswered Question

In this essay, Nathan Palmer asks how does a person’s social context affect their behavior and finds that sociologists really don’t have a clear answer.

Who you are and where you are affects your experiences, your behavior, and your understanding of the world around you. This is sociology in a nutshell[1].

Sociology is built on the idea that your social context affects your individual choices and perceptions of the world. Social context is the term we use to describe both who you are as an individual and how you relate to everyone else around you. For example, being a wealthy business executive in New York City is a social context that is very different compared to that of an undocumented immigrant working in a sweat shop making dresses outside of Los Angeles. The way people interact with you, the opportunities available to you, and the lessons you take away from those experiences all vary based on your social context.

Now I’m going to let you in on one of sociology’s dirty little secrets; we don’t precisely know how or why social context influences individual behavior. We know that social context affects individuals (mountains of scientific research confirms this), but sociologists do not exactly agree on why (Rubinstein 2001).

Sociology’s Two Teams

To understand why sociologists do not agree on why social context affects individuals, we have to discuss sociology’s two teams. Sociology, especially American sociology, can be split up into two teams on this issue; structural and cultural[2]. Team Structure argues that the way society is organized influences the opportunities an individual has and ultimately what choices appear rational to that individual. Team Culture, on the other hand, argues that our individual behavior is a product of what we think others around us expect of us and more generally how we understand the world around us. This disagreement is nicely summarized by a theorist named Jon Elster (1990 as cited in Rubinstein 2001:7) who suggests that in social science, ”there are really just two basic motivations of human behavior" rationality and social norms.

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The Chapel Hill Murders & Hate Crimes

In this post, Mediha Din explores what a hate crime is, types of hate crimes, and sociological explanations of prejudice.

Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha

Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha

On the evening of February 10th, calls started coming in to police of shots fired in a neighborhood just off of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. When police arrived, Craig Stephen Hicks was arrested for allegedly shooting and killing Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (all of whom were Muslim Americans). Police believe Hicks was angry about an on-going parking dispute. The victims’ family members however, feel that the murders should be investigated as a hate crime. According to CNN, Craig Hicks has a history of parking disputes with neighbors. He also allegedly identified himself on Facebook as an atheist and ridiculed different religions, including Christianity and Islam.

From a sociological point of view, a hate crime is an unlawful act of violence motivated by prejudice or bias. It is a crime that in whole or in part is connected to hatred of a particular group. According to the FBI, a hate crime is “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.” The bias can be based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, or other factors.  If a crime is determined to be a hate crime, the punishment can be more severe. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explains that it can be difficult to prove a hate crime because there is often no evidence of a criminal’s motive or state of mind. Potok also notes that not all states have laws protecting the same groups from hate crimes. Some states for example, do not prosecute a hate crime based on sexual orientation. Continue reading

A Sociologist Goes to the Movies: 50 Shades of Grey

No nipple clamps – no problem. In this post, Bridget Welch reviews THE MOVIE 50 Shades of Grey and is very surprised to find it a lot less offensive (and sexy) than she expected. SPOILER ALERT!

“Well, I’m flummoxed.”

Those are the words I spoke as the credits started to roll after 50 Shades was FINALLY and thankfully over.

To say that my reaction to the flick was a tad different from what I expected is like saying the sex in the film is BDSM — an astronomically huge misrepresentation. The film was neither misogynistic (hatred or prejudice against women) nor was the sex anything kinkier than what most couples try in a luke-warm attempt to spice things up. Instead, one of the core messages of the film is the message of consent.[1] (I’m not going to spend the time on the plot — of what little existed. If you aren’t familiar, read here).

Before talking about how the movie highlights the importance of consent, it is important to know what consent is.

A few key points (for our purposes here) made in this video is that consent needs to be given explicitly prior to a sexual relationship emerging. This is contrary to our sexual scripts which are ideas largely shared in our society about how sex should occur. The term “script” here is used on purpose. We live social life as a play following scripts to perform behavior and make sense of others’ behaviors. Our common (heterosexual) script reads something like this: Continue reading

Posted by Bridget Welch

What We Lost in The Apocalypse

In this essay Nathan Palmer uses The Walking Dead to illustrate social structure and why the idea of losing it terrifies us.

Walking Dead Season 3 Poster

What is it about The Walking Dead that horrifies us? The zombies are a constant disgusting threat, but they’re also slow and fairly easy to deal with in small numbers. The real horror of The Walking Dead is the other human survivors. “Fight the dead. Fear the living,” the tagline for season 3, says it all.

What is it about The Walking Dead that fills it with grief? In show after show we see our favorite characters mourn the loss of their old lives. Obviously they mourn their lost loved ones, but they also mourn something much bigger. They mourn the loss of the “way things used to be” and who they were before the apocalypse.

The horror and the grief of The Walking Dead have the same root source: the catastrophic loss of social structure.

Social Structure: The Routines That Make Society Possible

There is a routine and order to life. Each day is remarkably similar to the day before it. Almost every situation we face throughout the day is similar to one that we’ve faced before and we know from that experience how to handle it.

When you’re hungry, when someone starts a conversation with you, when you need to get yourself across town, when you want to play basketball, when someone sends you a funny Snapchat, or when any other situation arises in your life, you almost always know what to do. There is a routine for solving these problems or handling these interactions. You likely already know that routine, but if not, you are highly skilled at adapting old routines to new situations or learning new routines altogether.

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Your Keyboard is Awful and Here is Why

In this essay, Nathan Palmer shows us how the past influences the present.

The QWERTY Keyboard

Why does your right pinky finger rest on the semicolon key when you type? I’m not sure I even know how to properly use a semicolon and I’m a professional writer. Having the semicolon in the home row[1] of keys is plain stupid, but you wanna know what’s worse? E and J. According to an analysis of the Concise Oxford Dictionary the letter E is by far the most frequently used letter in the English language. So why is E not on the home row? The letter J is the second least used letter in the alphabet and it’s under my right index finger. What gives? Who designed this thing? Believe it or not, the answer to this question can teach you something about sociology.

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The Sociology of Sickle Cell Disease

In this guest post, Dr. April Schueths and Dr. Raymona Lawrence show us how Sickle Cell Disease is affected by how society is structured.

“It feels like knives are stabbing me all over my entire body.” To live with Sickle Cell Disease is to live with immense chronic pain. This quote was taken from our ongoing research on the health care experiences of people living with Sickle Cell Disease (Lawrence et al. 2014). Beyond the pain, to live with Sickle Cell Disease is to live with a disease that many people don’t understand and many doctors don’t know how to properly treat. Sickle Cell Disease shows us how social constructions and social structure profoundly change the experience of living with a chronic disease.

blood tubes in rack

The Social Construction of Sickle Cell Disease

If you’ve heard of Sickle Cell Disease, chances are you’ve also heard the myth that it is a, “black disease.” Sickle Cell Disease affects people of all races. According to the World Health Organization, the Sickle Cell Trait is more common among people whose ancestors came from areas of the globe where malaria is common, such as West and Central African, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. The Sickle Cell Trait provides some protection against malaria which partially explains why it is more common in these geographic regions (for more information about the controversies surrounding Sickle Cell Trait, see Lawrence and Shah 2014).

It is true that African Americans are affected at a higher rate than any other racial ethnic group. Nelson and Hackman (2013) report that 1 in 500 African Americans was affected by Sickle Cell Disease, but that rate dropped to 1 in 3000 for all other racial ethnic groups. All told, Sickle Cell Disease affects approximately 100,000 in the United States and millions more worldwide.

Despite the scientific evidence, many still believe that Sickle Cell Disease is a “black disease” and this misconception affects the quality of care individuals with Sickle Cell receive and the amount of money devoted to Sickle Cell research and advocacy (Smith et al. 2006). Or put in more sociological terms, the way we socially construct Sickle Cell Disease influences the social structures that surround it.

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50 Shades of Bacon … Through a Sociological Lens

These days, bacon is everywhere you look. The current darling of the food world, this once-unheralded third leg of the eggs and toast breakfast plate has achieved unprecedented levels of superstardom. In this post, Ami Stearns examines the bacon craze through a sociological lens.
8 slices of Bacon - BLT.jpg

If you thought this post was going to be about porn, well, you’re only partly correct. (In fact, you can view a bacon porn slideshow here that IS safe for work. You’re welcome.). Bacon is totally hip right now, with everything from fan clubs, twitter accounts, and its very own holiday. Not that bacon doesn’t deserve a fair share of the nation’s attention, but is our bacon need so desperate that we need a pizza wrapped with 3 1/2 feet of bacon? How did this once-humble breakfast item become a Kardashian of the food world?

It could be that bacon is delicious and that’s the end of the story. But many foods are delicious: chocolate, steak, cotton candy…what is it about bacon that is suddenly so in-demand? There are probably more than fifty different sociological lenses we can use to interpret bacon’s current popularity, but I’ll focus on three: gender theory, symbolic interactionism, and Marxism. Continue reading

If Italians Made It up the Social Ladder, Why Can’t Mexicans?

If Italian immigrants started at the bottom of the American social ladder and made it to the top, why can’t Mexican immigrants do the same today? In this essay Nathan Palmer shows us how thinking sociologically and considering social structure can help us answer this question.

“Italian immigrants made a place for themselves in America and worked like hell to climb to the top of the economic ladder, why can’t we ask the same for immigrants today?” On the face of it this is a reasonable question, but is this a fair comparison?

Mass Italian immigration to the United States started after the Civil War, peaked in the 1910s, and then tapered off. Like most immigrants, these Italian men, women, and children established their first foothold into the country at the bottom of the social ladder living in poor neighborhoods with inferior schools and inferior community resources. Italian immigrants faced open bigotry, discrimination, and even mass lynching’s by the hands of their white counterparts. In the face of all this, Italian immigrants fought their way out of poverty and into the mainstream.

Since the 1960s the majority of immigrants to the United States have come from Central America, South America, and Asia[1]. This can be explained in part by the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, which removed multiple barriers that systematically limited Latino and Asian immigration. However, recent Latino and Asian immigrants have struggled to escape poverty and integrate into the mainstream. For example, first and second generation Latino immigrants disproportionately live in poor neighborhoods, are exposed to high rates of crime, and drop out of high school (Haller, Portes, and Lynch 2011).

So what gives? Some would argue that recent Latino and Asian immigrants lack grit or are lazy. This is what is known as an individual explanation because it tries to explain a social problem (i.e. less comparative immigrant success) by relying on individual characteristics (i.e. today’s immigrants are lazy). To be a sociologist is to consider how social structures affect individual lives.

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