Sociology Focus

If You Could Quit Your Job, Would You?

As the saying goes, time is money, so let’s get to it. In this piece Nathan Palmer introduces us to a magical genie with something to offer you.

Walking along the beach one bright morning you trip over a hidden piece of driftwood. On all fours, a bright metallic spark of light escapes from the sand below searing your eyes. Like a blinded archeologist you clench your eyelids together while sweeping away the warm sticky yellow grains until your hand settles on something hot and smooth.
         ”Are you done rubbing my lamp or should I come back later?” You whip your head around. A lumpy blue cloud with arms and a smiling face stands above you.
         ”My god you’re… you’re a…”
         ”I’m a genie, yes. Now how about you stand up and let’s talk about what I can do for you.”
         ”Do I get three wishes?”
         ”Nope. Not that kind of genie. Get up. Brush yourself off and get ready to listen carefully.” Rising to your feet you subtly grab a a piece of you hip and pinch down hard. You don’t wake up. This is happening.
         ”As the saying goes kid, time is money.” Genie says arms folded. He starts in while you brush yourself clean. “I have been to the future and I know how you will live your life and how it will come to an end- well for our purposes here, the more important point is that I know *when* it will end.”
         ”Wait, how I die?” Genie raises his hand.
         ”Can’t give you that. Plus, knowing your fate only imprisons the rest of your life; just ask Oedipus and Cronus. What I offer you is the opposite of that. I want to give you… freedom.”
         ”I am prepared to give you all of the money you will earn over the rest of your life. Take this offer and you’ll never have to sell another hour of your life to your employer. I will return ten more times over the remainder of your life each time with 1/10 of the money you are set to earn over the remainder of your career.”
         ”Accept my offer and you are free to do anything you like with your time on Earth. Keep working if you like. Volunteer, travel, paint, or binge watch Netflix, it’s up to you. You would finally be truly free to do what you want. However in return, every time you see me, before I give you your money, I’m going to painlessly remove one of your fingers.”
         ”So, do we have a deal?”

Would You Take The Deal?

What would you do? Think deeply about why you chose your answer. Write on a piece of paper or say aloud the reasoning behind your choice.

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Is Fall a Social Construction?

#PSL #4Life, y’all! Apparently, Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte has its (her? his?) own twitter account, complete with over 93,000 followers. What IS it about the pumpkin spice latte that creates such a frenzy? How does a beverage featuring a member of the squash family signal fall scarves and thick sweaters to us? In this post, Ami Stearns risks being socially ostracized for suggesting that the pumpkin spice latte creates an imagined community of fall-loving consumers who are primed to start spending money during the coming holiday season by making itself a scarce, once-a-year, valued commodity. Drink up!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Sign

I recently moved to the deep, deep south. If fall has started here, I only have two indications. One, it’s slightly less incredibly hot than it was a few weeks ago. Two, pumpkin spice ads (for lattes, puddings, cakes, cookies, and cheesecakes) are everywhere. In a place where the leaves aren’t changing and nobody is cuddling up in their chunky knit scarves in front of fireplaces, I can at least count on Starbucks to alert me to the change of seasons.

During the fall, Starbucks estimates that its famous eleven year-old beverage receives about 3,000 tweets daily. Estimates put sales at 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes (PSLs) since the drink’s inception. Starbucks, of course, does not have a monopoly on pumpkin this time of year, but it certainly has kickstarted a pumpkin craze that is absolutely everywhere (one popular meme features a Game of Throne character and the words, “Brace yourselves. Everything pumpkin flavored is coming”). Believe it or not, there is now even a PSL controversy . Spoiler alert: apparently there is no pumpkin in a pumpkin spice latte- who knew? Continue reading

Janay Rice, The Cycle of Abuse, & Obstacles for Victims

The disturbing video of NFL player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée during a dispute in an elevator has been seen by many and resulted in a great deal of discussion.  Ray Rice’s contract was terminated on Monday and he was suspended indefinitely from the NFL. His wife Janay Rice recently released a statement that led to more debate and confusion in the public. She stated “THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get…Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is!” How do sociologists explain violence in relationships and the occurrence of victims staying with an abusive partner? In this post, Mediha Din describes the concept of the Cycle of Abuse and social barriers that make it difficult for victims to leave abusive relationships.

Ray Rice

Many people were surprised to find that one month after the assault in the elevator in Atlantic City, Janay Rice married the man that hit her. Many people also wonder the same thing about someone they know- how can he or she stay with that person?

Before analyzing abusive and unhealthy relationships, it is important to note that we cannot make assumptions about the relationship between Ray and Janay Rice, we can only use the public attention regarding this case as a starting point for discussing abuse. We must also remember that victims of abuse can be male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, married, dating, or “hooking up”, adults, teenagers, or tweens, rich or poor, educated or dropouts, and of any cultural, religious, or racial backgrounds.

In 1979, psychologist Lenore E. Walker developed the social theory of the Cycle of Abuse (also known as the Cycle of Violence), describing patterns that are often seen in unhealthy relationships. The cycle consists of three stages. Tension Building, Abuse, and Honeymoon.

Tension Building: During this stage, the victim feels things could blow up at any moment. The victim may feel that he/she is walking on eggshells, anticipating an explosion. Anything might set the abuser off, such as not returning a text or phone call immediately. The abuser may start a fight for no apparent reason.

Explosion. During this stage there is an outburst that includes some form of abuse. It can be intense emotional, verbal, sexual, or physical abuse, or a combination. This can include hitting, slamming someone against a wall, screaming, yelling, or humiliating. The abuse is not always physical and it does not always leave a mark. Spitting on someone is an example of abuse that is emotionally damaging but won’t leave a bruise.

Honeymoon: In this stage the abuser often apologizes profusely. They may say “I love you”, promise that it will never happen again, and buy the victims gifts. During this stage the abuser also often tries to shift the blame away from them self. They might blame their stressful job, alcohol, drugs, family stress, and very often- the victim, for the outburst of abuse. Continue reading

Who’s To Blame For The Celebrity Phone Hacking?

Last week approximately 100 celebrities had their phones hacked and nude photos of them stolen and posted online. The reactions by some were, “what are these celebrities doing taking nude pics in the first place?” In this post Nathan Palmer argues that we can better understand reactions like these by understanding the Just World Hypothesis and the phenomenon called victim blaming.

Jennifer Lawrence

People are saying the craziest things about the nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and dozens of other celebrities posted online last week. If you somehow missed it, last week approximately 100 celebrities had their phones hacked and stolen sexual images of them were posted online. And let’s just be clear from the jump, this was a crime not a scandal or a leak. The celebrities are well within their rights to take any photos of themselves and share them with anyone they choose. So now to the shockingly unintelligent things people were saying.

Comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted just after the news broke, “Celebrities make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from the computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” The New York Times tech columnist Nick Bilton echoed this sentiment when he tweeted, “Put together a list of tips for celebs after latest leaks: 1. Don’t take nude selfies 2. Don’t take nude selfies 3. Don’t take nude selfies” These two were not alone. Just go back and read the comments section under any of the news stories about the hack; every third comment chastises the celebrities for being foolish enough to take a nude picture of themselves in the first place. Now I’m willing to bet that some of you who are reading this right now are thinking these comments make sense, but let’s take a second and really think about what they are saying.

Comments like these are implying that the celebrities are to blame for having their phones hacked because they took photos of themselves that would be attractive to hackers. By that logic, celebrities should never do anything that they don’t want the public to see. Or as Jay Smooth put it, “is the rule that if you want a right to privacy, just don’t have a private life?” What’s going on here? The answer can be found in two sociological concepts: The Just World Hypothesis and victim blaming.

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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

It Pays to Snitch: The Sociology of Cooperation Part 1

In order for society to operate, we need people to follow the rules, to work together, to cooperate. In this post, Bridget Welch begins a series on how we make (or fail to make) people cooperate. Up for today — the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Nash’s Equilibrium.

It goes a little something like this:

James and Daryl are arrested (separately) for some petty crime which the prosecutor can easily make the case and give them 2 years. During questioning, it becomes evident to the prosecutor that this is the team that robbed a bank a few weeks back. Unfortunately, the prosecutor has no evidence to back this up. So she schemes and tells each, while they are kept in separate rooms and not able to communicate, that:

“You have two choices. You can confess to the crime or remain silent. I have enough to put you both away now for 2 years on this other case. However, if you confess to the bank robbery, I’ll give you 1 year while your partner will get 10. He gets the same offer. If you both confess, you’ll both get 3 years.”

Pretend you’re James:

  • If neither of you confess, you’ll get the two years for the petty crime.
  • If you confess (fink), and Daryl doesn’t, you get 1 year and he gets 10.
  • If Daryl confesses, and you don’t, you get 10 years and he gets 1.
  • If both confess, you both get 3 years.

These options can be shown in what is called a payoff matrix. Obviously, the optimal scenario here is for both of them to deny they had anything to do with the armed robbery. In game theoretic speak, denying is to talk of them both cooperating – that is going along with each other so they both get the lowest possible cost. Confessing, in game theoretic speak, is defecting because, in effect, it is selling out your partner in an attempt to get the lowest sentence for yourself. In determining whether people cooperate or defect, as yourself this: How much would you trust Daryl?

Unless you have a strong trust in Daryl (remember, you can’t talk to him), you will be sitting in your room thinking that Daryl is going to try to get the best outcome he can possibly get. Looking at the payoff matrix, you’ll see the scenario that offers that is for Daryl to confess to the armed robbery. But, if he does that, and you don’t, then you’ll end up with TEN YEARS! Clearly, if he confesses you should also confess. Well, what if Daryl denies? In this case it’s your best interest still to confess because you will end up with one year. Thus, regardless of what Daryl does, your best (most rational choice) is to confess (by the way, this is the same for Daryl!). Continue reading

Orange is the New Black: Motivations for Doing Time

Netflix’s original comedy-drama, “Orange is the New Black,” has taken the internet by storm. This addictive show, based on true events, portrays life in a women’s prison for an upper-class, well-educated, white woman in the Northeast. In this post, Ami Stearns uses the show to illustrate a few different theories of criminality.

Orange is the new Black

If you haven’t checked out “Orange is the New Black” yet, you should. The show premiered on Netflix in 2013 and the much-anticipated second season begins June 6th of this year. OITNB draws from the memoirs of Piper Kerman, a white, upper middle-class woman who spent a year in a women’s prison after being charged with money laundering. Piper’s entrance into the criminal justice system requires her to learn a whole new set of norms: Don’t ask what crime got your cellmates sent to prison, never insult the cook, toilet paper and cigarettes are valuable currency, and maxi-pads can be used for everything from shower shoes to an allergy mask. Set in the fictional Litchfield women’s correctional center, the popular show won a Peabody Award in 2013 and has reportedly already been renewed for a third season.

Nathan Palmer’s recent post on America’s mass incarceration trend centered around the effects that the “War on Drugs” had on the prison population as a whole. Another compelling angle, though, is the skyrocketing percentage of females who are imprisoned. The past three decades have seen an increase of over  800% in women’s incarceration (men’s rates have increased at a little over 400%). Two-thirds of female inmates are in prison for non-violent offenses. Nationally, 67 out of 100,000 women are incarcerated . I live in the state that is number one in the per capita rate of incarcerated women—Oklahoma. My home state incarcerates women at twice the national rate—130 out of every 100,000 Oklahoma women are in prison.

We can examine the plot and characters of “Orange is the New Black” in a number of ways and the show is exciting for that very reason. Issues of race and ethnicity, neo-family structures, social class, gender inequality, and network systems can all be fleshed out by watching OITNB. From another perspective, the show is perfect for helping viewers adopt compassion and see the human side of inmates. These ladies have a story, they have a name, they are not just a number, and the show helps viewers understand the real people we call “felons.” In addition, criminological theory can be illustrated through OITNB. Continue reading