Sociology Focus

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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“All we have is us!” Changing Lives with Football & Social Capital

In this essay Nathan Palmer discusses how the The River Rouge high school football team has developed social capital to achieve both on the field and in the classroom.

Just south of Detroit, in a neighborhood struggling with poverty and crime is a shining example of what we can accomplish when we work together. Head coach Corey Parker has The River Rouge Panther high school football team focused on a vision and committed to each another.

How are the Panthers defying the odds? Why are these young men achieving academically when roughly a third of their peers won’t even graduate? How did coach Parker change the culture of the football team? Social capital.

How Social Capital Transforms Lives

Why do some schools do better than others? That was the simple question that sociologist James Coleman wanted to answer. The intuitive answer to this question was, money. It would make sense that schools with fewer resources would have lower educational outcomes (e.g. low grades, graduation rates, and college enrollment rates). However, in 1966 Coleman published a study which suggested that the amount of money a school had to spend on it’s students had only a modest impact on student outcomes (e.g. graduation rates, GPA, etc.)[1]. So if not money, what else could explain school success? Coleman believed that differences in school performance were due to differences in social capital.

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What is a Peer Reviewed Article?

I have a paper due tomorrow and my professor wants us to use peer reviewed sources! Ack! I don’t know what that means? Relax. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath is going to explain the peer review process and give you tips on locating peer reviewed sources. 

Once upon a time, I was an undergraduate. I don’t recall writing any research papers as a freshman, but had friends who did. I distinctly remember a panicked friend who had been asked to write such a paper. The students were told they needed to use “peer-reviewed” references. He had no idea what that meant. I had no idea what that meant or where one might go to find such a thing. In hindsight, asking the professor or going to the library and asking a librarian are obvious people to ask for clarification (this was the era before we googled everything).

Faculty forget that most students do not come to college knowing what peer review means. We request students to use peer-reviewed references, but give little indication of what this actually means or where one finds them.

What does peer review mean?

The peer review process is in place to help ensure the credibility of an article. So, let’s walk through an example. I conduct a research project. Part of my job and the scientific process is that I share these results. The gold standard for sharing these results is in a peer-reviewed publication. I write up my results in a format deemed suitable for my desired journal. I submit my manuscript and I wait. The editor of the journal sends my manuscript to two or three experts in the field. These are experts on the topic in my manuscript. They are well-suited to vet my manuscript because they know the topic intimately. They should be able to make the determination if I am making a unique and worthwhile contribution to the field because they know nearly everything there is to know about the field. Continue reading

The Man Who Walked Away From Society & Lost Himself

In this post Nathan Palmer discusses how a man isolated in the woods for 27 years lost himself and how the self is socially constructed through interaction.

In 1986 Christopher Knight walked away from society. He turned over the engine in his white Subaru Brat and drove to the forests of central Maine without a plan, a map, or even basic camping gear. He told no one where he was going and did everything he could to cover his tracks. He was 20 years old.

Knight eventually found a concealed spot on the forest floor to set up camp near the shores of North Pond. He slept in a nylon tent and never once lit a fire, fearing it would give away his location. He tried surviving on road kill and what he could forage, but it wasn’t enough. Knight burglarized near by homes, cabins, and businesses for all his food, clothing, and camping gear needs. He estimates that he victimized about 40 properties a year. When the food ran out or when the wet windy brutally cold Maine winters brought him inches from death, he meditated.

It all came to end in 2013 when Knight was captured while burglarizing the Pine Tree summer camp, near the shoreline of North Pond. The man who had been willing to freeze to death to stay outside of society would be forced back into it. In the 27 years he spent in the forest, he had only once come across another human. It was a hiker. He said, “hi.”

When asked by a reporter how living in solitude affected him, Knight said something profoundly sociological.

  • “I did examine myself,” he said. “Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant…”[1]

How could Knight lose his identity to solitude? If the self is something that can be lost, then by inference the self is something we have to acquire in the first place. Where do we get our sense of self from?

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How my Whiteness Unlocked Doors

Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that involves racial discrimination in housing under the Fair Housing Act. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath describes how whiteness offered her certain advantages when apartment hunting and asks whether racial discrimination needs to be intentional in order to have a negative impact on a community.

White family buying home

When I moved from a large Southern city to a mid-size Midwestern factory town (which I’ll call Soybean City), I thought finding a place to rent would be a breeze. I was spoiled by the well-maintained rentals I could easily find in the large Southern city I was moving away from. They were affordable. They were clean. They came with amenities, such as tennis courts, swimming pools, and even a place to garden.

I had moved many times before, but this move was to be different. I would have my baby with me as I searched and I had only two days to find a place. Prior to coming to Soybean City, I called property managers to explain my needs, timeframe, and to schedule showings. On one of these calls, the landlord expressed relief that they were finally getting rid of their current tenant because he was black. Interesting. This landlord assumed from the phone call that I wasn’t black. So I scratched that overtly racist landlord off my list and kept looking.

A few days later, I traveled to Soybean City. I was quickly frustrated. Continue reading

“Visiting Disneyland Causes Measles”… Um, No

Visiting Disneyland causes measles. Huh? Something doesn’t quite add up…. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath illustrates how visiting Disneyland has recently become correlated with contracting measles and uncovers the true culprit behind outbreak.

One hundred cases of measles have been reported in the United States in 2015.  News reports vary and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) data is a few days old, but anywhere from one-half to a majority of these cases are linked to the outbreak at Disneyland. Therefore, going to Disneyland causes measles.

You’re thinking, “no it doesn’t.”

But, these people would not have contracted measles if they had not visited Disneyland (or came into contact with someone who went to Disneyland). Therefore, Disneyland causes measles.

Ridiculous, right?

Visiting Disneyland does not cause measles. Visiting Disneyland in the past couple of weeks, however, is correlated with risk of contracting measles. Always remember, correlation does not equal causation.

A correlation means that a relationship exists between two or more variables. When you hear the word correlation think “co-” meaning shared and “-relation” meaning relationship. In this scenario, contracting measles and visiting Disneyland are correlated with one another. Further, January and 2015 are also correlated with contracting measles. What this means is that a person who visited Disneyland in January of 2015 is at a higher risk of contracting measles than someone who did not visit Disneyland during this time period. Continue reading

The Terrorist Attack on Charlie Hebdo and Social Integration

On January 7th brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi murdered 12 writers and cartoonists at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. In this post Nathan Palmer uses social integration theories to better understand this terrorist attack.

Candle Vigil for Victims of Charlie Hebdo Attack

Dressed in body armor and holding fully automatic rifles, brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi forced their way through the heavy metal doors of the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine. They opened fire in the lobby and moved with militaristic precision to the newsroom where an editorial meeting was under way. Survivors reported that they methodically killed nearly everyone in the room firing single shots into their victims execution style. After killing 12 they fled the building reportedly shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad. We have killed Charlie Hebdo!”

“What kind of person could do something this awful?” was my initial reaction. In my anger and disbelief, my first questions were about Chérif and Saïd Kouachi as individuals. However, with time my sociological mind produced a different question.

“What social conditions would a person have to be in to be willing to commit such a heinous act?” I am not asking who is responsible for the attack; the Kouachi brothers and their associates are responsible for their actions. Terrorism cannot be justified by sociology, but it can be better understood and perhaps we can discover something about ourselves and our society in the process.[1]

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#BlackLivesMatter & Theories of Crime

If you look hard enough, or get good at it, sociological theory can be found in the everyday. In this post, Ami Stearns explains how audience and panel members at a public forum about crime used language reflecting criminological theory to address issues between the police and the African-American community.

Woman Holding Black Lives Matter Sign

One of the hazards of being a professional sociologist is you can’t stop seeing social theory everywhere you go. For example, I recently attended a #BlackLivesMatter public forum and heard criminology theories in almost everything the panelists and forum attendees said. The forum was a response to the police shooting deaths of unarmed African-American men and the protests that followed in Ferguson and other cities. The discussion quickly turned into a debate on how to best address crime in the African-American community and thereby avoiding conflicts with the police altogether.[1]

By far, the most common theme running through all of the comments were built on a criminological theory called Social Control. This theory, as postulated by Gottfredson and Hirschi in the 1960s, places the responsibility for socially acceptable behavior on parents, teachers, and other authoritative figures. According to Social Control theory, adherence to social norms begins in infancy and childhood and is reinforced through socialization. Here are some Social Control theory examples from the public forum:

  • A self-described former troublemaker said the children in the community suffered from poor morals and had no respect for authority.
  • A single mother said parents should be able to physically discipline their children again (without getting accused of child endangerment) while another audience member talked at length about parents needing to have better control over their children.
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Sociology is Rarely About You

Sociology classes are often conversations about the scientific data surrounding controversial subjects. It’s really easy for students to feel challenged or even leave class upset. In this essay Nathan Palmer explains how something called the ecological fallacy can lead students to misinterpret sociological data and get their feelings hurt.

Sociology is great because it challenges us to rethink what we know and learn about things we never knew existed. This is also what makes learning sociology upsetting at times. It can be hard to discover that the things “we know are true” aren’t supported by evidence.

You should expect to occasionally leave class frustrated or maybe even a little angry. This is normal, but getting deeply upset is not. In all my years of teaching, I’ve found that most of my angry students made one simple mistake. They took things personally[1].

I Bet You Think This Stat Is About You

Sociology is about the social. Meaning sociologists focus on what happens between people or what happens when lots of individuals do similar things. Sociology is rarely, if ever, focused on a specific individual.

However, that doesn’t stop students from taking things personally. It’s really easy to listen to the findings of a research study about a group you are a part of and think the study and/or your instructor is saying something about you personally.

Incarceration Rate by Race and Ethnicity

For instance, look at the chart above. This shows that African Americans are incarcerated five times more often than whites are, and Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to be incarcerated as whites. Latino or African American students could easily misinterpret this chart and think that it is suggesting that they personally are more criminal or that their entire racial ethnic group was more criminal than whites. Furthermore, white students might read this chart and feel that they are some how less criminal or that whites as a group are superior to people of color. Either interpretation would be inaccurate for at least two reasons. Continue reading