Sociology Focus

Don’t Rummage Through my Things! Moving & Deviance

How do you behave when visiting someone’s home? Do you go through their medicine cabinet? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath describes how all the moving-related house guests (i.e. movers, realtors, inspectors, etc.) behave differently from other types of house guests clarifying the boundaries between normative and deviant house guest behavior.

Happy Family Moving

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m moving.

By selling our home, I’ve come to realize just how guests in one’s home are supposed to behave. When you sell your home you are forced to open it up to a bunch of strangers (i.e. realtors, movers, inspectors, etc). For lack of a better term, I’ll call all these folks moving-related guests. What I’ve learned through this whole process is that moving-related guests’ behave differently than regular house guests. By observing moving-related guests behavior we can see clear boundaries that separate normative (i.e. follows the rules) and deviant (i.e. breaks the rules) house guest behavior.

First, non-moving related guests in your home should not open cabinets and closets in your home.

This move requires us to hire movers. I’ve never hired movers for an interstate move. I’ve hired movers for a cross-town move before, but never for anything this big. And yes, we know we could save a lot of money if we did it ourself. We’ve moved ourselves (and with the help of friends and family) about five times (excluding moving dorms and undergraduate furnished apartments). We have a lot of experience moving ourselves, which is why I know to pack books in small boxes and try to only pack stuff from one room in one box. Fortunately, with upward mobility (as my new job does pay more money) comes a moving allowance from my new employer enabling us to better afford hiring professionals to do the heavy lifting.

The first step in hiring professional movers is to call them up and give them an inventory of all of your possessions. Then, if you find the moving cost estimate reasonable, schedule a time for them to come do an in-person estimate for a more precise estimate. Unlike potential homebuyers, movers go through your stuff in your presence. They open your cabinets and closets right in front of you! They do not behave like normal visitors to your home! Having the movers come in for estimates gave me a glimpse of what other strangers are doing in my house when considering whether to buy our home or not.

Now, of course, visitors to your home might snoop in your medicine cabinet, clean while you sleep, or open a coat closet to hang up their coat, but rarely do they open random cabinets and closets. They open things intentionally (i.e., the coat closet) or without your knowledge (i.e., the  medicine cabinet).

Overnight house guests have slightly different expectations. I have been the overnight house guest to two different people within the last six weeks. In the first scenario, the person is a new colleague of mine who invited me to stay in her home while I house hunted. While I was told to just help myself to food (and dig into the cabinets for correct dishes), I felt like I was violating the norm of not going through another person’s cabinets. In the second scenario, I stayed with my sister. Family is different. Further, I was there to help her with her newborn twins. Because she is both close family and the purpose of my visit was to help, I had no choice but to get into cabinets and even dresser drawers (to put away clean clothing). In neither of these scenarios was I snooping, but I certainly felt like I was approaching the line between normative and deviant house guest behavior. I took care to clean up after myself and did my best to not disturb the placement of any items in cabinets or closets. I made it appear as though I had never been there.

Second, moving-related house visitors should make it appear as though they have never been there.

Of course, one expects a kitchen full of dirty dishes after a dinner party. I also expect my daughter’s room to look messier after she has had a friend visit. But when strangers visit your home, you expect your home to appear exactly as you left it. Most of our house visitors have done this, but I’ve walked into our bedrooms and seen closet doors not completely shut. Occasionally a light is left on in a room where it is normally turned off. The visit that stands out, however, is the one where all of my daughter’s Lego people had been disassembled. I spent a half hour reassembling 30 Lego people (on this day we also had three showings, one mover coming to give an estimate, and a property manager checking the place out to potentially rent it). We moved all of her assembled Legos to the top shelf of a bookcase so that other children of would-be-homebuyers would have no choice but to leave them alone.

House visitors vary in the standard of leaving a home as they found it. Importantly, the type of guest and the purpose of their visit informs how they are expected to behave in the home they are visiting.

Dig Deeper:

  1. The author writes, “moving-related guests’ behavior clarifies the boundaries between normative and deviant house guest behavior.” Explain the difference between normative and deviant behavior using an example unrelated to house guests.
  2. What norms of house guest behavior should the following people conform to when visiting your home (or dorm room): your closest family member or friend, an acquaintance, someone you are dating, and a repair person?
  3. How do our expectations of house guest behaviors change depending on the house guest’s age? For example, are there different standards for young children, teenagers, and adults? Give an example.
  4. Visit someone’s home (with their permission). You could visit your family, a friend’s dorm room, or even use a work-related experience if your job requires you to visit people’s homes (i.e., delivery person). Immediately after ending the visit, make notes regarding your own behavior during the visit. In what ways did your behavior conform or deviate from typical house guests norms?

Nukes Dropped on North Carolina in 1961

At this very minute nuclear missiles around the world are armed and ready to launch, but are you worried about it? In this post Nathan Palmer uses the threat of nuclear annihilation to discuss how we socially negotiate what is and what is not a social problem.

Nuclear Blast

I’m not kidding. This is not a hoax. Nuclear bombs rained down on Goldsboro, North Carolina and because of a fluke mishap the bombs didn’t detonate. Stop for a moment and let that fully sink in. A recently declassified reviled that in 1961 a B–52 bomber broke apart in midair and two “virtually armed” multi-megaton nuclear bombs crashed down to earth. Had the bombs detonated the devastation would have been significantly bigger than that wrought by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII.

As horrifying as this revelation is, it’s just the tip of the ice berg. The United States has over 5,000 nuclear weapons and many of them are armed and ready to fire from nuclear silos in the middle of the country. These silos, which were built over 50 years ago, are in varying states of disrepair. In one Wyoming silo the blast door, meant to keep out terrorists or any other intruder, can not be shut and is being propped open with a crow bar. The computer system that launches the missiles was created decades ago and is operated using a 8 inch floppy disks[1].

In May we learned that a missile silo recently failed a “hostile takeover” drill and that, “at least two launch officers from the 341st Missile Wing are currently being investigated for alleged illegal drug use/possession.” While I could go on, I’ll stop with this last story. In 2007 the air force accidentally flew a plane across the country with 6 nuclear bombs on board and then when it landed, the nukes sat on the runway unprotected for 10 hours.

Given that these are, “the deadliest objects know to mankind,” as John Oliver recently put it, why aren’t we freaking out more about this? To answer this question, we first need to talk about how we as a society socially construct social problems.

The Social Construction of Social Problems.

“We’re often afraid of the ‘wrong’ things,” that was one of the central lessons my Social Problems professor drilled into us. What he meant was, the things that pose the greatest threat to our lives and money are often not the things that receive the most news coverage, political outrage, or public concern. This is because social problems compete with one another for our attention, concern, and money.

The Social Problems Process is the term sociologist Joel Best uses to describe how a situation becomes a social problem. First, someone makes the claim that a situation is problematic or troubling (e.g. “drunk driving is wrong!”). Then these claims receive media coverage and/or they are shared by word of mouth. When enough people are sufficiently convinced that this situation is troubling, policy makers (i.e. politicians/law makers) are called on to “do something” about it. New laws, then, may be enacted to deal with the social problem. Almost always these new laws create conditions that some people dislike and they may claim that the new has created a new social problem (e.g. many claim Affirmative Action creates “reverse racism”). Even after a condition has successfully become a social problem, those concerned must continue to persuade the world that the issue is deserving of sustained public attention, concern, and money or another competing social problem may take it away from them.

In the 1950s the threat of nuclear annihilation was on the top of many people’s minds in the United States. We spent billions upon billions of dollars on creating missiles to destroy our enemies and attempt to prevent their missiles from destroying us. But after sixty years and the end of the Cold War with Russia, today people don’t really think about it that often. Today we are afraid of unconventional militaries who swear allegiance to no nation state and use military tactics that we find despicable (i.e. terrorism).

But make no mistake, nuclear missiles present a clear and present danger to your life and the life of everyone on earth. We can objectively say that the killing power of a nuclear missile is greater than any other weapon known to humanity. If we selected social problems based on the objective threat they posed to us, nuclear annihilation would constantly be at the top of our public concern meter. However, it’s not because we social problems are created through a social process.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Pick any social problem that you are well informed about. Who is a claimsmaker for this social problem (i.e. a person who claims the situation is a problem) and what is their argument for it being a social problem.
  2. Think back on the history of the country you live in. What social issue used to be considered a social problem, but today is no longer. What does this tell you about the social problems process?
  3. This summer there has been a lot of news stories and public concern around leaving children in hot cars. It’s reported that on average 38 children die in hot cars every year. Read this short article use it’s evidence to make an argument that our concern for child automotive deaths is socially constructed.
  4. Our awareness and fear of diseases is also socially constructed. For instance, take a look at the statistics comparing breast cancer to prostate cancer. Despite similar numbers of people being diagnosed with and dying from each disease, breast cancer receives far more attention and research funding. Explain in your own words how this illustrates the idea that social problems are socially constructed.

  1. Just as a frame of reference, when formatted these disks hold approximatly 175 kilobits of informaiton. A 1 gigabyte thumb drive holds a million kilobytes.  ↩

Is It Really A “Small World”?

“It’s a small world” is something we say all the time, but is it really? In this post Nathan Palmer discusses how he lost his GoPro in a river, then against all odds got it back, and learned that it isn’t a small world, but it is a highly connected one.

My name is Nathan Palmer and I love making videos. Mostly videos of my wife and little daughter. She’s getting a lot bigger these days and so are our adventures. So I recently purchased a GoPro camera to keep up with her.

Our first big family adventure with the camera was tubing down the Chattahoochee river. I set off for a lazy day of floating with my wife and daughter. It was perfect. Well, that is until Lilly fell into the river. I dived for Lilly- catching her by the arm. After she was safe in her tube I went to sit back down in mine. My tube flipped up and hit my camera dead on, knocking it into the water. Lilly was safe and that’s all that matters, but my camera and all the memories it held were lost forever or so I thought.

My GoPro camera scratched the bottom of the river for about a week. Until it found a final resting place between some big rocks. And that’s the end of the story or at least thats where the story ends most of the time. But not this time.

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Becoming Empathetic through Sociology

Learning sociology helps us to further develop our ability to empathize. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how learning about gangs beyond statistics can help us to develop our own sense of empathy.

One skill that students of sociology should develop and refine through their training is the ability to empathize.

What is empathy? There are two types of empathy: affective empathy and cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy most closely aligns with the sociological imagination. Cognitive empathy “refers to our ability to identify and understand other peoples’ emotions.” The sociological imaganation tasks us with understanding the perspective of other people. Doing this can enable us to understand why people make choices very different from our own.

I assign the book Gang Leader for a Day in my Sociology of Deviant Behavior course. I have three main reasons for assigning this particular book, which I won’t bore you with, but the reason pertinent to this posting has to do with empathy.

Most of my students pick up the book with a strong negative reaction to gangs. They can’t imagine why anyone would choose to join a gang. For most of my students, joining a gang was never an option. There was no gang in their community. They have never met a gang member. To be sure, this does not mean no gang presence existed in their communities, it means they were isolated from gang life. Moreover, while they have lived in communities with limited opportunities, opportunities still exist. For them, joining a gang was never a decision they had to make.

By the time they finish reading the book, they tend to still have negative reactions towards gangs, but most students are also much more empathetic to the reasons why people join gangs. They begin the semester with the attitude that people just have to be strong and refuse to cave to the pressures of joining a gang. That if a person just works hard enough and stays out of trouble, he or she can escape a gang-controlled community. After reading the book, they still may harbor some of this sentiment but they also understand that exercising one’s agency to resist gang involvement is a lot more complicated. Further, some of their assumptions about why people join gangs (e.g., lack of education) are challenged when they learn that some gang members do hold bachelor’s degrees. Continue reading

For Sale: One Clean and Decluttered Home

Have you ever bought or sold a home? What might this process teach us about impression managmenet? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how selling a home offers insight to Erving Goffman’s concept of impression management by describing the ways in which she made her home cleaner and less cluttered in order to sell it.

People Buying Home

I’m moving to another state.

This move involves both securing housing in a community roughly a 3.5 hour drive from our current home, but also selling the house in which we currently live.

I’ve never sold a home while still living in it. Since April 1, our home hasn’t really been our home despite us continuing to live here.

To begin, our house is cleaner than it has ever been. It’s not that our house was ever super dirty or unclean, but that we had to make a point to clean the house before going on vacation. I always take out the trash and wash dishes before leaving for vacation, but I never make a point to sweep the floors or pick up my daughter’s toys. While selling a home, your vacation preparation must include extra cleaning. You never know, there might be a showing and you want to make sure potential homebuyers leave your home with a good impression. No one wants to move into a disorganized, clutter-filled, dirty home even if that is exactly what they will do with it once they buy it and move into it.  Continue reading

C’s Earn Degrees, But Skills Pay Bills

If you graduate from college with a degree, does it matter how hard you worked or how much you learned? I mean, you have a degree, right? So, you should be able to get an entry level job with most companies, right? In this post, Nathan Palmer shares some recent research that can help us answer these questions.

“As long as you graduate you’ll find a good job.” I heard this a lot when I was an undergraduate. Usually from a friend of mine who was focused more on partying and less on his/her schoolwork. “After we graduate no one will ever care what your GPA is or how seriously you took your homework. All that matters is you graduate.”

That’s a bold hypothesis about how our social world works. But is it accurate?

One study that might help us answer this question was done by a team of researchers led by Richard Arum. They used a test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) to measure a students ability to write well, critically think, analytically reason, and problem solve. They found that students CLA scores were connected to successfully transitioning after graduation.

Unemployment by CLA Score

For instance, when we compare the top CLA performers to the bottom, we find that low performers were three times more likely to be unemployed. Continue reading

Is Facebook Experimenting On You?

Facebook is messing with your emotions! Let me explain, last week Facebook published the results of a study where they tried to manipulate peoples’ Facebook Wall in an attempt to provoke either a negative or positive emotional response. In this article, Nathan Palmer discusses this study, questions its ethical standing, and explores the fundamentals of research ethics.

Facebook Logo

Facebook is manipulating your emotions. That was the gist of the news stories that broke this week after Facebook published a study on emotional contagion. As Dr. Jenny Davis said in her excellent summary of the study,

  • The data scientists at Facebook set out to learn if text-based, nonverbal/non-face-to-face interactions had similar effects. They asked: Do emotions remain contagious within digitally mediated settings? They worked to answer this question experimentally by manipulating the emotional tenor of users’ News Feeds, and recording the results.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in fact, Facebook has conducted hundreds of experiments on it’s 1.3 billion users with almost no limitations.

For a study about emotions, it sure has created firestorm of emotions itself. The fiercest outrage is coming from those who believe that the study was unethical. Let’s take a second and explore the claims that this study was unethical. To do that we will first need to review how ethical research is conducted and what the basic rules are for ethical research[1].

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Do Sociologists Hate America?

I Believe That We Will Win! USA! USA! USA! With World Cup fever spreading across this country like wildfire and the 4th of July on Friday, it’s never been easier to feel patriotic. In this post, Nathan Palmer asks us to think about what it means to be a patriot and answers the strangely common question, “do sociologists hate America?”

Man I could watch that video all day long. The best part about watching the world cup at a bar is that (nearly) everyone is rooting for the same team. It’s us versus them and the “we’re all in this together” mindset can be intoxicating (not to mention the beers). On Friday we will celebrate the 4th of July and hopefully on Tuesday another World Cup win. If ever there was a week to feel patriotic and united, this is it.

Are Sociologists Patriots?

Having your patriotism questioned in public is one of the strangest things about being a sociology professor. I had only been teaching for a few months when I was floored by a student’s question. It was the first time I had heard the question, but it wouldn’t be the last. “You know what Professor Palmer? If you hate the United States so damn much, why don’t you just leave?” The words punched me in the gut. “What? I, um. That’s ridiculous,” I stammered.

I wanted to tell my class I love my country. I’ve never lived anywhere else. It has its problems, for sure, but this is the place where nearly all of the people I know and love live. The United States is my home and I am an American through and through. But instead of saying all of that I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and then moved on.

“Why do sociologists hate the United States?” I’ve fielded some variation of that question almost every year that I’ve taught. And now that I am experienced teacher I can understand why. Sociology as a discipline focuses a lot of attention on the inequalities and injustices of society. It’s easy to mistake being critical for hate and when we feel defensive it’s very easy to blow things out of proportion. From here it’s easy to feel that sociology as a discipline is unpatriotic, but this begs the question, what is patriotism in the first place?

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A Field Guide to the Male Bathroom

The male bathroom is a funny place. For those of you who’ve never been inside one, there are a set of unspoken rules that every man who enters is expected to follow. What’s strange is that despite the fact that breaking these rules can have consequences, no one ever teaches men the rules in any kind of formal way. In this post, Nathan Palmer fills this gap by teaching you the men’s room rules and exploring what these rules might be telling us about our culture.

There are rules people, RULES! That’s what I hear in my head whenever I am standing in front of a urinal and another man starts using the urinal next to me. I’m sorry, forgive me. I should have warned you that in this post we are going to talk about some real stuff. Today we are going to explore the unwritten, unspoken, but near universally known rules of using the male restroom. I am an expert in this area with a lifetime of experience. By following my simple 4 step plan I can guarantee that you will never again know the bitter sting of an “away game” bathroom snafu.

The Unspoken Mandatory Rules of the Men’s Restroom

  1. No talking!
  2. No eye contact.
  3. Eyes on the prize. At the urinal never let your gaze drift over to your neighbor.
  4. Maintain the buffer! Never use the urinal next to another man.

These are not my rules nor am I the only educator training the men of the world. For instance, the informative video below was created by my brother in the struggle Overman.

But, Seriously Though…

What are men so damn uptight about in the bathroom? Why is going pee so fraught with anxiety and danger? I’ve done some informal polling of the women in my life and it turns out there isn’t any high drama in the land without urinals. So what gives? As I’ll show you the male restroom is where the fragility of masculinity and homophobia collide.

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Who Does The Work of Parenting?

Fathers Day is a day to celebrate the contributions that fathers make to all of our lives. One of the main contributions any parent makes is performing the labor it takes to have a clean house, have children who are clean/dressed, and all of the other housework tasks it takes to “produce the family” everyday. In this post Nathan Palmer explores the research on how heterosexual couples divvy up these tasks and invites dads everywhere to reflect on gender inequality.

It’s Fathers Day! So before I do anything else, I want to wish a happy Fathers Day to all of my fellow dads out there.

This got me thinking about the work of parenting. Because make no mistake, parenting is WORK. You have to feed your kids, wash’em, learn’em, drive them everywhere under the sun, and don’t get me started on all of the gross things I’ve done in the name of parenting. Now factor in all of the indirect parental work: grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning the house, etc. It’s A LOT of work.

Sociologists have long been interested in the work of parenting and specifically how that labor is divided up between parents. And the research is clear: women do more housework than men. For instance, one study compared time use journals of men and women from 1976 to those from 2005. These researchers found that while the gender inequality had decreased, women still performed more hours of housework than their male counterparts Stafford 2008. This finding holds true even if both men and women work outside the home (Stohs 2000).

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