Sociology Focus

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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Doing Gender: A Sociologist Visits Sephora

What does make-up have to do with professional womahood? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath visits Sephora and learns that her ability to do professional womanhood is questionable.

A few weeks ago, I had reason to step up my professional look. I was comfortable with my professional clothing, but decided that maybe I should consider my make-up choices. Where to start? I don’t regularly read fashion magazines and my make-up routine has always been rather basic, so I do not have a lot of knowledge regarding buying and using make-up.

I decided to go the mall. Specifically, I went to Sephora. For those of you who don’t know, Sephora is a store at major shopping malls, which sells makeup, haircare, and facial care products. There are numerous employees in the store so that a customer can get assistance in making their purchases. I chose to shop here because I knew that the employees were presumably knowledgable about the makeup they were selling. Had I gone to a big box store, I would have been on my own. Due to my lack of knowledge from fashion magazines, I needed help! Otherwise, I might still be wondering the aisles of Target. Another advantage was that they used a machine to match my skin tone to products in the store (also a handy way to sell more product!). I didn’t have to fear an orange face! Continue reading

Do You Have To Learn To Become a Stoner?

Do you have to learn how to get high or is it pretty self-explanatory? Would it surprise you if you could learn something about sociology by studying stoners? In this post Nathan Palmer discusses the sociologist Howard Becker’s work on the social process of becoming a marijuana user.

Man Smoking

Why do people like alcohol? I mean if you stop and think about it, alcohol is just the worst. Almost every one who drinks has experienced the pain of a mean morning hangover (at least once). Also, the experience of being drunk… why is that enjoyable? When drunk you slur your words, it’s hard to think straight, you’re liable to say or do something that will offend the people around you, and you can’t legally drive a car. Why does any of that sound like a good way to spend a Friday night?

To a sociologist, the reason people drink alcohol is that they have been socially taught to. That is, we like alcohol because we’ve been taught to overlook the negative side effects or we have redefined them as positive. If that’s confusing, don’t worry. Let’s talk about another drug people abuse (marijuana) and how the sociologist Howard Becker argues we socially construct getting high and being a stoner.

Becoming a Marijuana User

In 1953 Becker set out to answer what appears to be a simple question: how does a person become a marijuana user[1]. After interviewing fifty marijuana users Becker (1953: 235) concluded that

  • “An individual will be able to use marihuana for pleasure only when he (1) learns to smoke it in a way that will produce real effects; (2) learns to recognize the effects and connect them with drug use; and (3) learns to enjoy the sensations he perceives. This proposition based on an analysis of fifty interviews with marihuana users, calls into question theories which ascribe behavior to antecedent predispositions and suggests the utility of explaining behavior in terms of the emergence of motives and dispositions in the course of experience.”

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Is Cameron Diaz A Sociologist? Part 2

The well-known actress recently published a New York Times best-seller that may make you see her as a sociologist. The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body might not sound like the title of a sociological text, however the connections Diaz makes between societal influences and the health of Americans have sociological theories written all over them.  In this post, Mediha Din analyzes health through three major sociological perspectives, with the help of Cameron Diaz’s recent publication.

Cameron Diaz

Believe it or not, the actress Cameron Diaz just might be a sociologist. She seems to be using her sociological imagination (see part 1 of this series for more on that) and her work can also be seen as incorporating the three theory paradigm of sociology. This paradigm is made up of structural functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interaction.

These three perspectives in sociology are like three different sets of glasses. Each pair offers a different lens to look at the world through. Imagine looking towards a beach through binoculars, then a telescope, and then a magnifying glass. Each tool provides a different perspective. The three major perspectives in sociology do the same. Analyzing any aspect of society through all three perspectives can help deepen our understanding.

Cameron Diaz describes human health in her book from different angles, or perspectives. One angle she explores is how foods have been labeled in American society over the years. Each few years a new food group seems to be labeled as the enemy and a new diet trend is born. When fat was evil, large food companies brought to the market low-fat and non-fat milk, cheese, and even cookies were concocted. The sugar-free trend led to the omnipresent use of artificial sweeteners, and the low-carb craze brought about lettuce wrapped hamburgers. Gluten-free pasta, bread, and organic everything overflow from supermarket shelves. Even Oreo cookies have a package marketed as “made with organic flour and sugar!

Symbolic interactionism is a theoretical perspective in society that focuses on labels. A symbolic interactionist sees society as the product of everyday interactions of individuals. This point of view emphasizes that:

  • We attach meaning and labels to everything
  • Reality is how we define it
  • Group influence impacts individual beliefs and actions

How a food group is labeled can have a powerful effect on health and eating trends. Diaz also discusses how major corporations can impact our health choices. “It was also just a century ago that technology allowed companies to begin to mass-manufacture foods. Continue reading

How Time is a Social Construct

What time is it? Social Construction time. Sociologists are always trying to get people to see how everything in our world is a social construct. Okay, not everything’s a social construct, but almost everything. In this piece Nathan Palmer shows us how even something as basic as time is a social construct.

Sociologists are always pointing out how nearly everything is a social construct. It can be tricky to precisely define a social construction, but I’ll give it my best. A social construction is something that a group of people create and maintain. It may help if we take a step back and talk a little about symbolic interaction.

Symbolic interactionsts argue that we use symbols that have shared meaning to communicate with one another and create reality. That might sound complex, but it’s really not. For instance, think about language. The noises we make with our mouths are symbols that communicate ideas. The only reason language works is that you and I understand English (or put another way, language works because we know the shared meaning each word in the English language is trying to communicate). As a society we work very hard to document/maintain our language (the Oxford Dictionary says hi) and pass our language on to the next generation (all of your English teachers also say hi).

Okay, so it might be easy to see how language is a social construction, but what about time? Is time a social construction? Not too long ago I would have said no, but it looks like I’d have been wrong. But don’t take my word for it. Dr. Demetrios Matsakis, Chief Scientist for USNO’s Time Services, is the man who makes time. Dr. Matsakis maintains the atomic clocks at the U.S. Naval Observatory that broadcasts the time that you see on your cell phone. He is the official keeper of time for most of the world and in his own words, “I don’t know exactly what time is, but I can tell [people] exactly what a second is.” Wait, Mr. Time doesn’t know what time is? Let’s watch the video below and see more about how time is made.

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Is Cameron Diaz A Sociologist?

The well-known actress recently published a New York Times best-seller that may make you see her as one. The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body might not sound like the title of a sociological text, however the connections Diaz makes between societal influences and the health of Americans have the sociological imagination written all over them.  In this post, Mediha Din explores the use of the sociological imagination to understand health, with the help of Cameron Diaz’s recent publication.

It’s not too surprising that a book written by a Hollywood star on health and nutrition may find itself as number three on the New York Times Best Seller list. Many Americans are eager to learn the “secrets of the stars” when it comes to weight loss or health. However, Diaz’s book is not a diet guide or how-to on weight loss. It is an in-depth explanation of human health that makes strong connections between trends in our society and the health of our citizens.

The sociological imagination is a key concept in sociology (this post by Kimberly Kiesewetter describes the sociological imagination in detail.) Using your sociological imagination means being able to see the connections between the larger society and individual actions, events, or beliefs. Cameron Diaz’s book is filled with these connections. She discusses changes in American society based on technology. She cites scientific health studies examining how we were once a highly physically active society, but are now a “society that loves to sit”. Most American workers before the 1960’s had jobs involving manual labor such as farming and building. Most house work also required physical exertion such as washing dishes by hand or vacuuming with a heavy Hoover. Cooking required long bouts of standing to chop vegetables and watch the pots on the stove.

Today, modern conveniences have dramatically decreased our physical exertion. Many jobs require sitting at a desk and working on the computer for 8 hours a day or more. Microwaves, dishwashers, washing machines, frozen meals, and pre-chopped veggies have dramatically changed housework.  Affordable cars and televisions have also contributed to more and more sitting. The implications of less activity and more sitting on our health are devastating. Long-term sitting is associated with higher risks of heart disease, high-blood pressure, and diabetes, according to a study in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Continue reading

How Many Facebook Friends does a Person Need?

Most of us recognize that we can’t possibly know 1,200 people well enough to truly be friends with that many people, yet we all know someone (and maybe even are that person), who seems to friend everyone on Facebook. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how having numerous social network connections might be beneficial. 


“Can you believe she has 1,200 Facebook friends?”

“I know. How can she possibly know that many people?”

“I only friend people I know in real life. I have no time to keep up with people I barely talked to in high school or only met briefly at a party.”

“I’m with you. I’m perfectly content with my 163 Facebook friends. I only want to be Facebook friends with people I know well in real life.”

Have you ever had a conversation like the one above? Are you someone who seems to friend everyone on Facebook or are you more selective with your Facebook friend requests?

It is usually pretty easy to understand the motives of a person who is fairly selective about who they accept friend requests from on Facebook. It is often more difficult to understand the person who appears to friend everyone.

A sociologist is interested in both types of Facebook users. In this post, I will explain how having hundreds or even thousands of Facebook friends might be advantageous.

The main reason why a person tends to be critical of the Facebook user with numerous friends is that this Facebook user is elevating friend status to relatively weak social ties rather than reserving the word friend for people they really do consider to be friend. Facebook is using the word friend to really mean tie. These ties may be to people the person does not know very well. They might have never even met the person outside of the Internet. Continue reading

Social Control and the Hunger Games (Part 2)

In part two of this series, Sarah Michele Ford continues to look at the ways in which social control plays out in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, focusing on the second half of Catching Fire and the third book in the series, Mockingjay. The second half of the trilogy allows us to compare the types of social control that are used in multiple socio-political contexts. As with the previous post, SPOILER ALERT!

At the end of our previous examination of social control in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy , Katniss Everdeen had just learned that she would be going back into the arena for the third “quarter quell” – the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hunger Games. As in the previous year, she is joined in the arena by Peeta, but this time the stakes are higher. Katniss knows that she’s the symbol of the resistance and knows that her performance during the Victory Tour has failed to quell that resistance. She knows that President Snow feels more than ever that the Games are a necessary display of social control and that he also will be planning to eliminate her as a symbol of the rebellion, hopefully quashing it altogether.

As with the previous Games, though, things don’t quite go according to Snow’s plan. As it turns out, the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, has been involved in the resistance movement and the Games end when Katniss and several of the other tributes are broken out of the arena. After the breakout, they are whisked away to District 13, which the Capitol had supposedly destroyed during the previous rebellion. It had long been rumored, though, that the population of Thirteen had simply been driven underground, which turns out to be true.

Upon learning that she has been rescued by Thirteen, Katniss asks why they rescued her but not all of the other tributes (including Peeta). Heavensbee tells her, “We had to save you because you’re the mockingjay, Katniss… While you live, the revolution lives” (Catching Fire, p. 386). Shortly after her arrival in Thirteen, Katniss insists on visiting her old home in Twelve, which the Capitol had bombed into oblivion immediately after the escape from the arena. While there, she discovers what she knows to be a message from President Snow – a white rose in her bedroom in Victor’s Village. He knows she’s alive; knows that she’s in District Thirteen, and continues to threaten her even once she’s out of his direct control. Continue reading

Structure, Agency & Snow, Oh My!

You pop out of bed, turn on your TV to the local news, and look to see if school has been canceled due to snowy weather. Bummer, it looks like your college is going to stay open. You look out the window and see that roads look awful. So what do you do? Stay home or go to campus? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath examines how much agency a student has when deciding whether to attend class on a day of extreme weather.

Car in Ditch on Snowy Day

The roads are yet again covered in ice and snow. While my daughter’s school cancelled classes due to the weather, my college did not. Where I teach is a commuter school and serves a very large geographic area. As an employee, my options were to cancel class and take a personal day or make every effort to hold class and keep my personal day. I like to hold onto personal and sick days until I absolutely need them, so I threw on my snow gear and went to campus.

I had some agency in the matter. Agency is a term sociologist use that describes a person’s ability to affect the world around them and/or get their way. It may be easier for you to think of agency as control or as “free will”. I could have used my agency and easily cancelled class because I have the personal leave I could take. I would even still get paid for the day if I opted to cancel class.

But, what about my students? How much agency did they have in choosing whether to drive to campus or stay home? Let’s consider the factors that would influence their “choice:”

  • The college did not close, as I mentioned above, yet some instructors did cancel classes. If a student had other classes that were cancelled, then perhaps they would be more likely to skip those classes that were not cancelled.
  • What if the teacher grades attendance, participation, or both? This is true of the courses that I teach. For a student to skip today, they would lose these points.
  • As a student paying tuition, to skip class means that your money is to some extent “wasted.”
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Why do People Pose Next to Dead Animals?

One way to “think like a sociologist” is to look at the unremarkable “normal” things of everyday life as if you’ve never seen them before. Put another way, sociology often asks you to look at the familiar as though it were strange. For example, have you ever seen a picture of a hunter standing next to an animal they just killed? While this is a common practice, if we look at it from a critical point of view we can see a whole lot of sociology going on. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath shows us the deeper meaning behind the norms of death pose/hunting success photographs to explore the meaning behind the photographs.

Two years ago I wrote about some of the reasons people deer hunt. Last week, the website Sociological Images shared images of the death poses animals are placed into after a successful hunt. The author, Lisa Wade, posed this question,”Why do they do it?” Wade goes on to say:

  • Maybe it had something to do with the relationship to nature that hunter culture endorses. Instead of a destructive, violent relationship to nature that would be represented by picturing animals in their death poses, these pictures suggest a custodial relationship in which humans take care of or chaperone a nature to which they feel tenderly. That is, they don’t destroy nature with their guns, they tame it.”

Since my initial post on deer hunting, I have conducted research on Christian deer hunters to learn why they hunt. On the surface, it seems that hunting could be understood as not Christian because it involves killing. What I have learned, however, is that the Bible lends support to hunting. Though condoned by the Bible, the Bible does not give an unrestricted hunting licence. My research supports Wade’s interpretation of these hunting photos in that they do reflect a hunting culture that works to take care of nature rather than destroy nature.

Thus far, this interpretation fits nicely within the symbolic interacationist theoretical framework. Recall that symbolic interactionism focuses on how people act based on the meanings people have of the situation, which in turn shapes social interaction. In the case of death pose or hunting success photography, what is the meaning behind this particular style of photo? Continue reading