Sociology Focus

Panic or Pandemic? Understanding the Ebola Crisis

Heard the word “Ebola” lately? This rare and exotic disease has become a household term in America over the past few weeks. In this post, Ami Stearns suggests that our fear of Ebola might be better understood from studying our fear of outsiders.

PHIL disinfection Ebola outbreak 1995.jpg

I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist, but something must be done about this disease NOW. Deaths due to the highly contagious virus are estimated at anywhere from a low of 3,000 to a high of 49,000 in America. Every economic resource at our disposal should be employed to warn our citizens of this imminent danger. Public service announcements should be tailored to alert everyone about the threat of contagion and the measures that can be taken to stop the terrifying progression of this often-fatal illness. This is no new disease either. If we aren’t very careful, we could see a repeat of 1918-1919, where this epidemic caused the deaths of 20 to 40 million people worldwide. Every media outlet should be covering this potential disaster relentlessly!

What am I talking about? The flu, of course!

Oh, just the flu? Yawn.

The flu has wreaked havoc throughout history, killing more individuals during that 1918-1919 pandemic than were killed during World War I. And yet- it’s the flu. Nothing to get excited about. How then can we explain the utter panic and grim forecasts dogging the Ebola virus? Continue reading

How to Get Ahead In This Economy

What does it mean to “get ahead” economically? In this piece Nathan Palmer tries to answer this question by using the concepts of absolute and relative economic mobility.

“Congratulations!” Your boss says to you as he makes his way toward you. He snaps a envelope in front of you before continuing, “You my friend, just got a raise!” You don’t even try to hide your sense of surprise. Snatching the envelope from his hands you tare into the letter like an animal. “A dollar an hour raise? Wow! Thank you so much,” you tell him.

Elated, you head straight to your co-worker BFF to share the good news. Before you can even open your mouth, she rushes to you grabbing your shoulders, “Did you get a raise too?” You frantically nod yes and then a tandem jumping/squealing momentary freakout ensues. “I can’t believe these tightwads gave us all a three dollar an hour raise,” you hear her say. Emotional whiplash. She senses your change in demeanor. “Wait, you got a three dollar an hour raise like the rest of us, right?” White hot rage engulfs what was profound joy.

Economic Mobility and You

Stacks of Cash

What does it mean to “get ahead” economically? As the scenario above illustrates, the answer to that question can be complicated. You earned a $1 an hour raise, so in one sense you got ahead, but if all of your co-workers got a $3 an hour raise, you also got left behind. What you’ve just experienced is the difference between absolute and relative economic mobility.

Economic mobility is a fancy way of describing how individuals increase or decrease their net worth. When an individual receives a raise or takes on a new higher paying job, this is an increase in absolute economic mobility. That is, absolute economic mobility measures an individual’s financial gains or losses. Relative economic mobility does the same thing, but it also compares an individual’s financial gains or losses to everyone else in that individual’s community.

So you experienced upward absolute economic mobility (with your $1 raise) and downward relative economic mobility (relative to all of your coworkers who received a $3 pay hike).

Continue reading

What Your Fridge Says about Your Social Class?

What does the contents of your refrigerator say about your social class? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how the contents of a fridge might indicate something about one’s social class position. 

Scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day, I saw this image shared by a friend:

Fridges with and without food inside

The intent of the person who created this image is to reinforce the image of the working person as going without while the unemployed person is literally getting fat off the government (as if there are no valid reasons why a person might be unemployed and in need of asssitance). The focus of today’s post, is to disucss how this image illustrates the meaning of social class in America and enables to think about research methods.

If a person believes they are middle class and they really do have an empty fridge because they can not afford the food to fill it, they probably are not actually middle class. See, in America, everybody thinks they are middle class, though that perception is declining. No one should be blamed for their own misperception. I did a quick google image search for “middle class family on TV” and the families from The Middle, The Cosby Show, Modern Family, and Roseanne all showed up. I distinctly remember an episode of Roseanne where their power was cut after not paying their bill. I don’t ever recall money problems on The Cosby Show. Can a family that can’t pay their power bill and a family that can really be in the same social class grouping? Continue reading

If You Could Quit Your Job, Would You?

As the saying goes, time is money, so let’s get to it. In this piece Nathan Palmer introduces us to a magical genie with something to offer you.

Walking along the beach one bright morning you trip over a hidden piece of driftwood. On all fours, a bright metallic spark of light escapes from the sand below searing your eyes. Like a blinded archeologist you clench your eyelids together while sweeping away the warm sticky yellow grains until your hand settles on something hot and smooth.
         ”Are you done rubbing my lamp or should I come back later?” You whip your head around. A lumpy blue cloud with arms and a smiling face stands above you.
         ”My god you’re… you’re a…”
         ”I’m a genie, yes. Now how about you stand up and let’s talk about what I can do for you.”
         ”Do I get three wishes?”
         ”Nope. Not that kind of genie. Get up. Brush yourself off and get ready to listen carefully.” Rising to your feet you subtly grab a a piece of you hip and pinch down hard. You don’t wake up. This is happening.
         ”As the saying goes kid, time is money.” Genie says arms folded. He starts in while you brush yourself clean. “I have been to the future and I know how you will live your life and how it will come to an end- well for our purposes here, the more important point is that I know *when* it will end.”
         ”Wait, how I die?” Genie raises his hand.
         ”Can’t give you that. Plus, knowing your fate only imprisons the rest of your life; just ask Oedipus and Cronus. What I offer you is the opposite of that. I want to give you… freedom.”
         ”I am prepared to give you all of the money you will earn over the rest of your life. Take this offer and you’ll never have to sell another hour of your life to your employer. I will return ten more times over the remainder of your life each time with 1/10 of the money you are set to earn over the remainder of your career.”
         ”Accept my offer and you are free to do anything you like with your time on Earth. Keep working if you like. Volunteer, travel, paint, or binge watch Netflix, it’s up to you. You would finally be truly free to do what you want. However in return, every time you see me, before I give you your money, I’m going to painlessly remove one of your fingers.”
         ”So, do we have a deal?”

Would You Take The Deal?

What would you do? Think deeply about why you chose your answer. Write on a piece of paper or say aloud the reasoning behind your choice.

Continue reading

On Thanking our Feminist Foremothers

Do you know how your life is better because of feminism? If you don’t, Sarah Nell will show you that many of our taken for granted opportunities today are a result of feminist struggles for equality. She will also try to compel you to thank them for what they’ve done for you.

I am a feminist. Lately, I have been thinking about feminists who are much older than I am, and feeling appreciative for the roads they have paved for me.  Gloria Steinem, arguably one of the most prominent and important (white) feminists we have known, turned 80 this year. So would have Audre Lorde, revered Black lesbian feminist poet, if she hadn’t died of cancer in 1992.  There is something about that generation of feminists that is important for us to know. For instance, it is hard sometimes to imagine what it was like when women like Steinem and Lorde were my age; I have grown up taking much for granted. It’s worth noting that I am white and middle-class. I recognize my race and class privilege, and know that these shape my experiences and perspectives.

I was raised in a family with relatively traditional gender values. My dad was the breadwinner and my mom the homemaker. My mom did go to work full-time when I, the youngest child, went to school and I have grown to appreciate the important impact having a working mother had on my own career ambitions. As I got older and developed a feminist- consciousness, I talked to my mom about these things. When I asked why she didn’t pursue a career when she was younger, she would say, “It was just that way back then. You got married and had a family.” She seems to know that her unpaid domestic labor was a valuable contribution to our family economy, but also that she had the potential to be more than this arrangement allowed.  Given the context in which she grew up, it wasn’t a huge leap for her to fall into this pattern. And, for the most part, mom was right. Women had to be willing to withstand the very steep, uphill battle towards a different path, and to believe that it was worth doing. Continue reading

FACT: Teens Who Smoke Pot Destroy Bee Colonies

You read that title right. U.S. teen pot smoking is correlated with the number of honey producing bee colonies. In this piece Nathan Palmer uses this strange statistical fact to help us better understand correlations and causal relationships.

Honey Bee on Flower

Did you know that the rate of divorce Maine correlates nearly perfectly with margarine consumption in the U. S.? It’s true. Furthermore, the more teens arrested for marijuana possession every year in the U.S., the fewer honey producing bee colonies we have. That’s a fact! Most important to us here at SociologyInFocus, research indicates that the rate of sociology PhD’s awarded each year is correlated with the number of rocket ships we send into space each year (but only the noncommercial ones, I mean why would rocket launches designed for commercial purposes have any affect on sociology, ammirite?).[1]

Wait, none of this makes any sense. Fake butter has nothing to do with divorce, pot smoking teens aren’t killing honey bees, and sociology departments aren’t waiting for a space shuttle launch to award a PhD. I can explain everything, but first we need to talk about correlation and causation.

Continue reading

A Sociologist Drives: Research Methods Addition

Sometimes  a sociologist’s mind wanders and she starts thinking about research methods. Here, Bridget Welch discusses a case in which that happened to her and helps you understand some fundamental research methods concepts.

Driving through the beautiful Appalachian mountains in Kentucky, I hit the Bermuda Triangle of radio reception. For miles, all I can get are stations playing gospel — not really up my alley. Then, a dead zone. It’s all static until I finally catch some kicky beats. I nod my head to the tunes for approximate 1.73 seconds, the length of time it takes me to realize — it’s Blurred Lines. A song I boycott for OH SO MANY REASONS. I give up. The radio flips off. Stormageddon (that’s my nickname for my son) has paused in his attempt at world domination and has fallen asleep in his car seat. I got nothing to entertain me and over 500 miles to go. What to do?

I go through the usual. Think about work. Plan things that need to be done. Start calculating how many miles I’ll travel in the next hour, half hour, 20 minutes. [Please tell me I'm not the only one that does that.] When that’s all done I do something we usually try to avoid, pay attention to driving itself. Speeding up and slowing down occurs a lot in the mountains (particularly when you drive an old mom van) and I shortly notice something odd. I’m using my GPS to determine the route. The GPS estimates my speed giving me two sources — the GPS and the classic speedometer. And what I notice is that my van estimates my speed at 4 miles/hour slower than the GPS. I speed up, I slow down… 4 miles off. And I think to myself, “Huh. One — or both — of these is a reliable but not valid measurement of speed.” Really. I really thought almost exactly that. Getting a PhD does things to you. Continue reading

Is Fall a Social Construction?

#PSL #4Life, y’all! Apparently, Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte has its (her? his?) own twitter account, complete with over 93,000 followers. What IS it about the pumpkin spice latte that creates such a frenzy? How does a beverage featuring a member of the squash family signal fall scarves and thick sweaters to us? In this post, Ami Stearns risks being socially ostracized for suggesting that the pumpkin spice latte creates an imagined community of fall-loving consumers who are primed to start spending money during the coming holiday season by making itself a scarce, once-a-year, valued commodity. Drink up!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Sign

I recently moved to the deep, deep south. If fall has started here, I only have two indications. One, it’s slightly less incredibly hot than it was a few weeks ago. Two, pumpkin spice ads (for lattes, puddings, cakes, cookies, and cheesecakes) are everywhere. In a place where the leaves aren’t changing and nobody is cuddling up in their chunky knit scarves in front of fireplaces, I can at least count on Starbucks to alert me to the change of seasons.

During the fall, Starbucks estimates that its famous eleven year-old beverage receives about 3,000 tweets daily. Estimates put sales at 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes (PSLs) since the drink’s inception. Starbucks, of course, does not have a monopoly on pumpkin this time of year, but it certainly has kickstarted a pumpkin craze that is absolutely everywhere (one popular meme features a Game of Throne character and the words, “Brace yourselves. Everything pumpkin flavored is coming”). Believe it or not, there is now even a PSL controversy . Spoiler alert: apparently there is no pumpkin in a pumpkin spice latte- who knew? Continue reading

Beyond Janay Rice: Understanding DV (Trigger Warning)

The Rice domestic violence case brought physical domestic violence (DV) to the spotlight. But there is so much more to DV than what this case highlights. In this post, Bridget Welch interviews Diane Mayfield (the director of a victim’s center in my community) to explore some of what has been missing from the coverage.

Besides writing for this blog and being my professory self, I also volunteer as a hotline advocate for the local center for interpersonal violence (covers sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking). While I had a lot of reactions to the Rice domestic violence (DV) case that are probably different than a lot of people because of that experience, I struggled with what I wanted to focus on for a post discussing the case. I decided that enough people are actually discussing the case online, who needs another voice? Instead, I sat down with Diane Mayfield (director of the Western Illinois Regional Council-Community Action Agency (WIRC-CAA) Victim Services Program where I volunteer) to discuss what we hope the national attention to DV will teach us.

1. Domestic violence is not just physical.

Taking hotline calls and with the research I do on sexual assault, I hear a lot of reports of different types of domestic violence (sexual violence is frequently a component of DV). In one instance I talked to a woman who had been repeatedly raped by her boyfriend (justified by her causing it by “making” him feel jealous) who felt like she couldn’t leave him because he had systematically made her drop all of her friends and even cut her off from her parents. In another situation, I talked to a man whose ex-wife was demanding he do what she wanted or she would not let him see the kids. In another, a woman calls in tears trying to figure out how she could get away from her partner who constantly belittles her and makes her feel bad about herself. But she didn’t know how to because she had given up her job to take care of the kids and now had no money.

Diane points out that when you ask someone “what DV is, they just say it is physical violence.” But, the truth is, physical violence like what occurred in the Rice incident is just part of DV (in fact, for all we know, it’s just part of the abuse Janay faced). The Power & Control Wheel developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota shows all the way that domestic violence can occur — including what we saw in the three examples I used above — using children, shifting blame, verbal assault, economic control, and sexual abuse. In fact, while often people (including court officials like judges and police) take physical DV more seriously, other types — particularly economic (see the purple purse campaign) — make it harder for a victim to leave. And, as Diane points out, her clients often say it’s verbal abuse that is the worst. “Bruises and bones heal. It’s the verbal abuse and mental abuse that sticks. It gets in your head and won’t leave.” Continue reading

Rolling Coal, Environmental Power, & Masculinity

A group of people online are sharing videos and images of their giant trucks billowing thick black smoke into the atmosphere; online this is called “rolling coal”. These scenes are often the backdrop for macho anti-environmentalist messages. In this piece Nathan Palmer uses the concept of environmental power to show us how rolling coal is a social display of status and often masculinity.

There are many ways to be manly. For some super macho dudes, they get their manly on by modifying their truck so that its black filthy exhaust blows out directly into the atmosphere. Maximizing your pollution is just one way to communicate to the world your machismo. If that doesn’t sufficiently communicate your supreme dudeness, then you can always adorn the hitch of your truck with a giant plastic scrotum (or as the kids call them “Truck Nutz”).

This phenomenon is know as “Rolling Coal”. There are hundreds of videos of souped up trucks spewing smoke into the air on YouTube. To those rolling coal, it’s extra cool to eject “Prius repellent” on unsuspecting hybrid drivers, bicyclists, or pedestrians. Other videos bait “hot babes” into a conversation only to eject sooty pollution into their face. An entire online sub-culture exists where people upload pictures of their trucks with messages written on them like, “you can keep your fuel milage, I’ll keep my manhood!” Grace Wyler, who defends the practice says that coal rollers’, “motivations aren’t complicated: It looks cool, and it’s funny to roll coal on babes.”

To an environmental sociologist, rolling coal isn’t all that new or surprising. Continue reading