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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….

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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….

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That Coke Ad & What it Means to be American

Social media gives us a great cause. “Boycott Coke!” But the reason for this boycott, not the one that this author would prefer. In this piece, Bridget Welch discusses the legal and social construction of what it means to be American and how Coke, for once, got it right.

“BOYCOTT COKE!” started trending after the Super Bowl. Usually a hashtag I could get  behind. But what was the reason for this call to social media arms?

Is it the realization that Coca-Cola takes all the water from nearby farmers in India and leaves them to struggle with drought-like conditions? How this has been argued to be linked to an increase in suicide rates by Indian farmers? The extremely high rate of pesticides in their soft drinks? Similar situations in Mexico, where locals need to drink Coke because the companies’ practices means the population doesn’t have excess to water? MORE accusations of Coca-Cola hiring paramilitary groups in Columbia and Guatemala to kill workers to block unionization? More countries charging that Coca-Cola is dumping toxic waste? Or was it just that someone finally realized how HORRIBLE the drink is for our bodies?[1] Turns out, not so much.

This boycott, the one that got covered by national news was based on a negative reaction to children singing “America the Beautiful” in several different languages.

Why the negative reaction? Perhaps Michael Patrick Leahy on Breitbart captured it best when he argued that Coca-Cola was providing a different view of America … one that is “no longer a nation ruled by the Constitution and American traditions in which English is the language of government” nor a nation “governed in the Anglo-American tradition of liberty.” His message is that this is a bad thing (seemingly disgusting really) that Coke should be ashamed of. As he concludes, “When the company used such an iconic song, one often sung in churches on the 4th of July that represents the old “E Pluribus Unum” view of how American society is integrated, to push multiculturalism down our throats, it’s no wonder conservatives were outraged.”

Let’s ignore for a minute that the US actually has no official language. And, let’s forget Latin and assume instead of “From Many, One” the motto actually means “For People Like Us, By People Like Us.” And, for goodness sakes, let’s ignore the fact that when he says “Anglo-American tradition” he is really talking about White European male traditions forged at the cost of the genocide of indigenous peoples and slavery (and other horrific acts). Instead, let’s look at where he’s right….

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Let’s Watch: American Promise

We are going to try something new here at SociologyInFocus. Instead of reading about a social issue we are going to learn about the issues of social location and life chances by watching the documentary American Promise. This documentary follows two African American boys from kindergarten through high school and over the 13 years we watch them grow and see the challenges they face.

What would happen if you placed a 5 year old child into one of the most prestigious private schools in the country? How would his or her life change? Would they be fast tracked to a life of professional success and material wealth? What if that child was an African American male? Would that change their outcomes?

In the recent documentary American Promise we get to answer these questions by watching two little 5 year old African American boys, Idris and Seun, enroll at The Dalton School in New York City. We follow them and their families as they go through all 13 years of K–12 education. We get to see their first hand experiences of opportunity, discrimination, and struggle.

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Operationalizing Homicide

Are all homicides the same? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains why it is important to understand how variables are operationalized in order to understand how not all homicides are the same when it comes to reporting them. 

Homicide Scene

One step in the research process is operationalizing your variables. Operationalization means defining what your variables actual mean and what they are actually measuring.

While operationalization is critical to a research project, a consumer of research also needs to understand its importance. How variables are defined limits how research results can be interpreted.

Let’s look a bit closer at homicide rates. Some cities are reporting an increase in homicide rates, while other cities are reporting a decline in the 2013 homicide rate for their city.

Alex Tabarrock reports that there is a 25% difference between the lowest and highest reported homicide rates for 2010. He points out that the statistics come from three different reporting agencies (FBI, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and CDC) and that each of these agencies defines (i.e., operationalizes) homicide differently.

While Tabarrock gives a brief explanation of the difference in definitions, I was curious as to how exactly homicide is defined by each agency.

I began my quest by going to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website and typing in the word “homicide” into the search bar. I decided the results “FASTSTATS” would be the best place to start. As I scrolled down the page, there it was, the link I needed: “Injury Definitions and Methods.” But alas, there still was not a clear explanation of how homicide is operationalized by the CDC. The best I can gather is that for the CDC, homicide exists within the category of death from injuries. Death from injuries includes “accidents (unintentional injuries), intentional self-harm (suicide), and assault (homicide)” (here, p. 166)….

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Richard Sherman & Racialized Code Words

Wow, the Seattle Seahawks blew out the Denver Broncos in this year’s Super Bowl! How many of you saw that coming? If you believe in the saying, “Defense wins championships,” you might have predicted a Seattle victory. Speaking of defense, one member of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” received mounds of media attention in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl Sunday – cornerback Richard Sherman. An athletic play by Sherman two weeks earlier thwarted a San Francisco 49ers drive and sealed Seattle’s trip to Super Bowl 48. However, it was Sherman’s postgame interview and the attention it generated that caused all kinds of controversy. In this post, David Mayeda uses this case to illustrate the concept of racialized code words.

Richard Sherman

Like other sectors of society, sport serves as a site where constructions of race are developed and contested on a regular basis. Throughout history, sport has always responded to broader race politics, while simultaneously firing back at the racialized patterns seen off the field.

We see it less now than in decades past. Today’s celebrity athletes are more constricted by corporate-driven politics and a less active push for social justice. Now in the twenty-first century, much of society likes to feel we have reached a place where perceptions of race and behavioral racism no longer matter, or only emerge among fringe, extremist groups outside the mainstream. The thing is, racism is still quite pervasive throughout society. It’s simply changed.

Public response to talented black men

As described above, following Seattle’s win over San Francisco about three weeks ago, Richard Sherman was interviewed by side-line reporter Erin Andrews. In the interview, an animated Sherman asserted his status as the League’s top cornerback, while verbally deriding 49er wide-receiver Michael Crabtree, and doing so by staring angrily into the camera. Sherman and Crabtree had developed a mild rivalry; both are African American….

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The Rise of the Non-Church Church

Can a Sunday gathering meet the social needs of a community while leaving out religion? In this post, Ami Stearns documents a surprising new trend, The Sunday Assembly. These godless churches have taken off like wildfire across the globe, built on the existing structure of a typical religious organization, but leaving God out of the formula. This begs the question, what defines a church? As Finke and Stark suggest in The Churching of America: 1776-2005, churches have expanded in new ways to fill a huge variety of social and civic needs, which may be why a religious organization like the megachurch has relevance in today’s secular society. The Sunday Assembly shows that a “church” need not be based on religion in order to meet social and civic needs.

An auditorium full of people clap and sing along with the leaders on a Sunday morning. There’s time for an inspirational reading and quiet reflection. While this sounds like a service at any one of a number of large “megachurches” around the country, this gathering has attracted hundreds of atheists. In November of 2013, the first of these services, called The Sunday Assembly , debuted in the U.S. after having success in the U.K.

Atheist-Badge-BrushedMetal

Begun in January of 2013 by two U.K. comedians (really!), The Sunday Assembly is not anti-religion. Instead, these gatherings leave religion out of the social and civic experience of going to “church.” The Assemblies are godless, but celebrate life and learning, and strive to help individuals reach their full potential, with the motto “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.”

As of January 2014, there are over thirty Sunday Assemblies operating worldwide, from Los Angeles to Melbourne. The Sunday Assemblies offer humanitarian opportunities similar to other religious organizations, like picking up trash around the community, collecting coats for underprivileged families, planting trees, and volunteering with food banks. The Sunday Assemblies also incorporate civic activities like book clubs, philosophy clubs, small group sessions, reading books to elementary students, and donating blood.

In 2005, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark co-authored a book called The Churching of America: 1776-2005. The work challenged the notion that religion was losing relevance in American society, suggesting that a new form of religious institution, the megachurch, was having a significant impact on civic and social life, mainly by offering a myriad of social services to the surrounding community.

Channeling televangelist Jerry Falwell’s motto that a cheap church makes God look cheap, megachurches began appearing on the religious landscape in the 1970s. Using the modern shopping mall as their architectural inspiration, megachurches like Saddleback Church in California, Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, and A Community of Joy in Arizona were designed to meet not only the spiritual needs of the surrounding community, but also (and perhaps more importantly) the social needs.

Megachurches foster strong ties with the community by offering schools, daycare centers, GED courses, food banks, recreational facilities, sports leagues, fitness classes, 12-step programs, grief and divorce support groups, working mothers’ brunches, coffee shops, food courts, concerts, pageants, and small group sessions. In other words, these megachurches are a source for “one-stop shopping” to meet a community’s social needs.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that religious adherents in America are decreasing. One-fifth of Americans today are not affiliated with any specific religion (five years ago, 15% of adults reported no affiliation, but today 20% of adults report no affiliation with a religious organization). This one-fifth includes atheists, agnostics, and those who say they are affiliated with “nothing in particular.” However, of those unaffiliated adults, nearly one third of them report themselves to be spiritual. The biggest issue with religious institutions today, the unaffiliated say, is too much focus on money, power, rules, and politics. So where does someone turn who is spiritual but not necessarily religious?

For those individuals who don’t miss church, but do miss the social and community aspects of attending church, the Sunday Assemblies might be a new way to connect with others, take time to reflect, and serve the community.

Dig Deeper:

  1. What is your initial reaction to something dubbed an “atheist church?”
  2. If you have ever attended church, describe what social needs the church met.
  3. Listen to this NPR story and make a list of how the Sunday Assemblies are similar to a “typical” church and how they are different. Compare lists with a classmate to see if the lists are alike.
  4. Have you ever been inspired to be a better person or live a fuller life by a person other than a religious leader? In what way did this person inspire you?


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Southerners Just Don’t Know How to Handle Snow!

On the Walking Dead zombies brought the apocalypse to Atlanta. Last week, a measly two inches of snow seemed to bring Atlanta to the verge of total collapse. In this post, Midwestern-native Stephanie Medley-Rath explains what snow and ice in Atlanta, GA can teach us about culture shock, ethnocentrism, and cultural relativism.

Buses stuck in the ice in East Atlanta

I promise that I did not intend for snow to be a recurring theme in my posts this winter (see here and here). But then the snow kept falling and falling in regions that typically do not get much snow, such as Atlanta, GA.

I lived in Atlanta for six years while attending graduate school. During my first winter living there, I learned how ill-prepared the city and many residents were to handle any snow or ice. In my apartment complex, maintenance attempted to clear the parking lot with a piece of plywood attached to the front of a golf cart. My Midwestern reaction was to send an email to my friends describing the snow removal technique. “Of course, you should use proper snow removal equipment!” I thought. I was experiencing culture shock. I was surprised by how the people of Atlanta dealt with snow. It was very different from my own experiences growing up in Illinois.

A couple of years later, there was more ice. I was still an apartment dweller without a garage, but I did have an ice scraper to clean my car windows. I watched as my neighbor resorted to boiling water to pour on his truck windows to remove the ice. I offered my ice scraper, but he didn’t want it. His method worked, despite taking longer and the greater risk of injury compared to my humble ice scraper. While his ice removal method worked, it is certainly was not what I, the experienced-with-snow- Midwesterner recommended. At this point, I had grown accustomed to how Atlanta residents dealt with snow and ice, but still remained perplexed at the refusal of my ice scraper….

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