Author Archives: Nathan Palmer
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.
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. 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. Here’s what she found:
Sociology Leader’s Top 5 Learning Goals for Introductory Sociology:
- Show the relevance and reality of structural factors in social life
- Place an issue in a larger context (identify systemic elements; identify stakeholders; list unintended consequences).
- Identify and offer explanations for social inequality
In this essay, Nathan Palmer shows us how the past influences the present.
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 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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
In this essay Nathan Palmer uses gentrification to illustrate how simple individual choices can lead to collective issues.
Gentrification is what happens when the middle-class starts buying houses in poor neighborhoods. The neighborhood quickly flips from being predominately poor to being predominating non-poor and like a snapped towel a wave of change pushes the long-time locals out of their homes (Glass 1964; Hackworth and Smith 2001; Smith 1996). Disproportionately the people losing their long-time homes are people of color and the ones getting their dream homes or turning a profit from flipping the neighborhood are white (Freeman 2006).
The homes in poor neighborhoods are cheap and thus attractive for people with low paying careers (e.g. artists) and for real estate developers trying to buy up land in anticipation of a future booming housing market (Zukin 1989). Over time as middle-class individuals and families move into a historically poor neighborhood, their presence changes the housing market. The values of the properties begins to rise and more people want to move into the area. The shift in the housing market can be dramatic, especially if other social factors are present like tax breaks or financial incentives from the local government to encourage growth or a company moving it’s operations into the area (and with it a lot of new jobs).
Rising property values generate desperately needed money for local services, but it also raises the cost of living in the area. Long-time locals watch their monthly rent climb or they are evicted after their landlord’s sell their property for “redevelopment.”
Highland Park, a neighborhood just outside downtown Los Angeles, is gentrifying at warp speed. “According to RealtyTrac, home values have soared about 200 percent from March 2000 to 2014.” Marketplace, a national public radio program, sent their Wealth & Poverty team to Highland Park to report on the human experience of gentrification and in the piece below, the people who gentrified it.