Sociology Focus
Nathan Palmer
Author: Nathan Palmer

Author Archives: Nathan Palmer

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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Let’s Watch: Prison State

We’re number 1. We’re number 1. We’re number 1. In the United States we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. In fact, “The United States has about five percent of the world’s population and houses around 25 percent of its prisoners.” After reading a sobering statistic like that, the sociological question you should be asking is… why? In this post Nathan Palmer will answer this question and introduce you to the film Prison State by Frontline.

The United States imprisons more of it’s people than any other country in the world. Does this mean that Americans have the lowest moral character of any country in the world? That is, are we just crummy people making crummy choices? Well, lets play that one out. First, take a look at the chart below that shows the U.S. incarceration rate over time.

Chart of Incarceration Rate by Time

What happened around 1980? Did we all lose our minds? Can we blame the hockey stick like growth to lots of individuals making poor choices? Probably not.

Around that time period our federal drug policies changed and we declared “War on Drugs”. In 1986 the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was signed into law and everything changed. Before this law the maximum sentence for possession of any narcotic was 1 year in jail. After this law, the death penalty was authorized for some drug offenses. The “War on Drugs” brought with it far more severe punishments for drug users and dealers.

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“You Would Look So Much Prettier If You Smiled”

While emotions feel deeply personal, they are often governed by social rules. That is, we are often told to hide our true emotions and use our face, tone of voice, and words to perform emotions we aren’t actually feeling. In this piece Nathan Palmer connects these emotional performances to how we socially construct gender.

The people who watch and care for my 6 year old daughter only pretend to love her. That may be too harsh. I’m sure that some of her teachers and the adults at her after school program do genuinely have love for her (I mean, how could they not, she’s the sweetest little girl in the world). But it stands to reason that some of the adults who educate and care for my child don’t have a particular affinity for my little girl (and that’s okay, FYI).

However, all the adults in her world act as if they love her. That is, they perform the emotions of love, nurturing, and caring even if that is not how they feel inside. Much like a stripper, a restaurant server, or a nurse, childcare workers act like they care about you because you pay them to.

The Social Rules Governing Emotion

While emotions are often experienced as visceral (i.e., deeply personal and originating from inside the body), emotions are actually governed by social rules. For instance, if you feel like laughing at a funeral, you best hide those emotions behind a reverent somber exterior. A funeral is just one of the many social situations that have clearly prescribed emotional expectations. You are supposed to be happy at a surprise birthday party. You are expected to be concerned and/or crying while in the emergency room waiting area.

As we talked about above, sometimes the presentation of emotion is a part of our job. The sociologist Arlie Hochschild (1979) coined the term Emotional Labor to describe how manufacturing displays of emotion are a part of many careers. For instance, sometimes before I teach class I am feeling exhausted, stressed, and anxious, but no matter what, as soon as class starts I perform as a teacher who is calm, excited to talk about the class material, and emotionally available for my students.

Your gender can also play a big role in the emotional labor people expect you to perform. Stereotypical masculinity is defined as being rugged, independent, strong, aggressive, and dominating while stereotypical femininity is defined as being passive, submissive, being a supporter, and being dependent upon others. With these stereotypes both men and women are told what emotions they are expected to display.

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Is The NCAA Exploiting Student-Athletes?

On March 27th the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University football players can unionize and negotiate for better working conditions. This is only the latest development in a long legal battle that hinges on one question: is the NCAA exploiting student-athletes? In this post, Nathan Palmer offers us a sociological angle on the exploitation question.

Student Athlete

“I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving,” said Shabazz Napier. Napier said this moments after winning the Men’s Basketball National Championship when a reporter asked for his opinion on the recent federal ruling that the Northwestern Men’s football team can unionize to negotiate for better working conditions. Right now college athletes, coaches, administrators, and the NCAA are scrambling to figure out what will happen if student-athletes become university employees and unionize. As the debate over student-athlete unionization rages onward, this gives us an opportunity to examine what it means to exploit workers

Who is Benefitting From This?

One of the most powerful questions we can ask as a sociologist is, “who is benefitting from this?” This is the question a conflict theorist always asks. Conflict theory argues that the world is in constant competition to secure scarce resources. With this in mind, let us take a look who’s benefitting from the current NCAA arrangement.

Let’s be clear about one thing from the jump, a lot of people are making a lot of money off of college athletics. Last year the NCAA reported net assets of $627 million dollars (with a $61 million surplus). The athletic programs at 5 schools (Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, Florida, and Tennessee) raked in over $100,000,000 in total revenue. If you think about all of the ticket sales, branded clothing, TV broadcasting rights, advertising partnerships, corporate sponsorships, etc. there is a lot of money being made and none of it goes to the college athletes as direct monetary compensation.

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The Presentation of #SELFIE

Currently #SELFIE by the Chainsmokers is the number 20 song on the Billboard Hot 100. That’s right, the phenomenon of the selfie has grown so much that a song about the act is popular. In this post Nathan Palmer explores the selfie phenomenon and connects it to the sociological concepts of impression management and the presentation of self.

Everybody’s doing it. Ellen broke Twitter records with her Oscar selfie. This reporter made news by barely missing a baseball to the head while she was posing for a selfie. Heck, even the president has made news taking selfies during Nelson Mandela’s funeral. It’s official, the selfie is a thing[1].

Let’s analyze a selfie like a sociologist. First, note that people often take selfies in locations that are noteworthy. It’s often a way to say, “hey everybody, look where I visited”. Second, before you take a selfie you make sure your hair/clothes look good and then you make a face or “give a look” to the camera. For instance, consider the ridiculous trend of taking selfies with a “duck face”. Both of these facts tells us that the selfie is a manufactured presentation of self.

 

The Presentation of Self

While the selfie is new, the manufactured presentation of self is not. In 1959 sociologist Erving Goffman published The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Goffman argues that as we move through the world each of us engages in what he calls impression management. In other words, each of us tries to present ourselves as we want those around us to see us. So when I walk into the classroom I am trying to present myself as a professor in the hopes that my students will believe that I am a competent professor.

If Goffman were alive today, he would likely argue that all of social media is designed around the presentation of self. Everyone who uses social media like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. posts images and updates that show only one side of ourselves. Very few people tweet pics of themselves first thing in the morning or doing anything that is not particularly flattering. In my experience, Facebook has become a place to brag about your accomplishments, post photos of your vacations, and/or post images of all the fun/cool things you’ve been doing.

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Where Research & Drugs Collide

You have to learn how to get high off drugs, that was the big idea in sociologist Howard Becker’s research we talked about last week. If you read that post, I bet you thought we had tapped out all of our collective knowledge about the connections between drugs and sociology, but you would be oh so wrong there my friend. In this piece Nathan Palmer revisits Becker’s work on the social construction of drugs and uses it to illustrate the fundamentals of research questions.

As we briefly discussed last week, Howard Becker argues that drug users often define potentially negative aspects of drug use as either no big deal or as a positive. For instance, drinking alcohol makes it hard to stay balanced, speak clearly, and think. However, we call that getting drunk and we often define these potentially negative drug effects as “fun!” By redefining potential negatives as positive, drug users make drug use seem more attractive. They also make their continued use of the drug seem rational. How about an example?

“The harder you cough, the higher you get.” This idea is not uncommon among the users of marijuana (if you don’t believe me google it yourself). However, if you stop and think about it, does this make any sense? What if someone told you, “the harder you swallow, the drunker you get.” Would you believe them? Probably not. That’s because the mechanical functions of our bodies (i.e. coughing/swallowing) do not produce the high of drug use. THC (which is the narcotic in marijuana) and alcohol in your bloodstream is what alters your physiological chemistry (aka gets you high). But let’s test this idea using the basics of the scientific method.

First we need a research question. Our question could be something like, does coughing increase your high? Inside our research question there are two variables that we want to evaluate. Our first variable is coughing and our second is the sensation of being high. Coughing here is what we call an independent variable (IV) and the high is the dependent variable (DV). A dependent variable is “dependent” so to speak because it depends on the presence of the independent variable to change.

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