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“Kiss Me, I’m Irish American”

“Kiss My I’m Irish”? How about, “Kiss Me I’m Irish American”? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how St. Patrick’s Day celebrations can be a practice in symbolic ethnicity.

Happy St. Patricks Day

In March, we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in my household. Growing up, I typically was lucky enough if I remembered to wear green on the holiday so no one would pinch me.

My only recollection of acknowledging the holiday as a child was that my elementary school teachers messed up our classroom once claiming it was leprechauns. I could even be misremembering the incident in that I know the teachers definitely did this once for Easter (Easter Bunny) and I am 85% sure they also did this once for St. Patrick’s Day.

So, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations of my childhood included wearing green so no one would pinch me and maybe the teachers turned over some desks in the classroom once. How’s that for memorable celebrations?

Even in college, I don’t recall any extra emphasis on partying on the day to celebrate or any other special rituals marking the day. Afterall, St. Patrick’s Day always fell on a day ending in ‘y,’ which was reason enough for many college students to go to the bar. While St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been very important in some regions of the country (e.g., Savannah, GA, Boston, and Chicago) for a number of years, these celebrations have spread to other parts of the country, too. (Read more about What Makes a Holiday.)…

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“Your Map is Racist” Here’s How

Can maps be racist? Aren’t maps just a reflection of reality? In this piece Nathan Palmer will show us how maps are actually a social construction and how they can lead us to think that anglo nations are bigger and more central to the world than nations of color.

A few years back I had the opportunity of seeing Jane Elliot speak at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln my alma mater. She was one of the boldest speakers I’ve ever heard before or since. She said[1], “The education system in the U.S. is racist and I’m going to prove it to you.” She then started to unfold a world map. “How many of you went to school looking at a map like this?” I raised my hand and so did most of the 400+ people in the room.

Mercator Projection Map

Elliot continued, “How many continents are there?” Someone shouted out that there were 7. “Okay, let’s all count them together”. She pointed at North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica and we all spoke their names aloud.

“Wait. Are there 8 continents?” We all looked at her with our crazy faces. “Don’t give me that look. You said that Africa was a continent, right?” We shook our heads and droned out a yes in unison. “Well look at greenland up there. It’s almost the same size as Africa. Why isn’t Greenland a continent?” Nervous laughter ran across the room.

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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….

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Framing & Fear of Young Black Men in America Part I

This is part one in a two part series. In this first post, Bridget Welch explains prototypes, schema, and framing and how these concepts help us understand the characterization of black and Latino boys as criminals. In the second post, she will help us relate these concepts to understand the charges of racism made in recent Stand Your Ground cases.

Close your eyes and imagine a dog. What does your dog look like? The dog you image is your “doggiest dog.” It’s the doggiest dog to ever dog. It’s your dog prototype. All other dogs are measured (and found wanting) in comparison to your dog prototype. It includes the list of attributes that you have about a dog (e.g. fur, paws, tail, wet nose) but also includes something more. The dog “essence.” What it does then is allow you to look at other things, like this thing:

and decide, “Is that a dog?”

And, if despite your better judgment you decide “Yes, that thing is a dog” what then happens is you activate your dog schema. While a prototype is your exemplar of a category, a schema is all your ideas about that category. Think of it as a file cabinet in your head with a drawer marked “dog.” When you open that drawer, all the information you have about dogs is right there. Information about what they eat, how they behave, your ideas about their loyalty, the Taco Bell chihuahua, the Dog Whisperer — everything that you’ve gathered about dogs from hearing about them, reading about them, watching TV or films, and of course interacting with them, all right there. And you use that information to decide how to interact, treat, and behave toward the new thing you’ve labeled “dog.”

We also have prototypes with related schematic content for things like “criminals” and “drug users.” If you closed your eyes and pictured a “criminal” what would that person look like? Would that person be a he? Would he be young or old? Would he be black? Research indicates that for most Americans, our prototypes for criminals are young black (and to lesser extent but still highly problematic, Hispanic) males. Indeed, as Kelly Welch (no relation) writes in her article about black criminal stereotypes:”stereotyping of Blacks as criminals is so pervasive throughout society that “criminal predator” is used as a euphemism for “young Black male.”…

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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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#ashtag: The Sacred and Profane of Lent

The season of Lent has become popular among the non-religious population and has gained steam this year with the help of social media. From last week’s hot trending tweet of #ashtag to smartphone apps that help with Lent, the ancient practice begs a more modern, sociological interpretation. In this post, Ami Stearns discusses the sociological reasons behind participation in Lent.

Ash Wednesday

Did you catch all the ash selfies on Twitter on last week? The Twittersphere blew up March 5th and 6th with the hashtag #ashtag (get it?). #Ashtag posts featured a selfie of the tweeter’s forehead ash. That now-famous Oscar picture taken by host Ellen DeGeneres was even altered to promote the hashtag. In case you didn’t know, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent season for Christians who identify mainly with the Catholic faith. During the Ash Wednesday ceremony, the pastor or priest marks parishioners’ foreheads with ash in the form of a cross to signify penance, humility, and mortality.

This year, Lent began on March 5th and will end on April 17th. It’s a 40-day period of observation, self-reflection, and sacrifice that has been observed since as early as the 3rd century C.E. (some argue 5th century C.E.). In the Catholic tradition, Lent is typically marked by fasting or abstaining from certain foods. While a uniquely Christian observation, Lent has been “co-opted” by more and more people, including those outside of the Catholic faith, former Catholics, and even non-believers. In fact, the opportunity to try out a 40-day resolution appeals to nearly everyone (how long did your New Year’s resolution last anyway?). So how can we use sociology to explain the secularization of Lent?

Social media is playing a strong role in this year’s Lent. If you weren’t in on the #ashtag phenomenon, maybe you’ve had your Facebook feed clogged with people’s intentions for Lent. I’ve seen people cutting out certain food groups, giving up complaining, and logging off social media for 40 days (after proclaiming it on social media, of course!). Some people are using the Lent observation to begin a new habit, like writing a daily blog post or being thankful every day. If anyone needs help getting through Lent – there’s an app for that!…

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You Get What You Deserve & Deserve What You Get

A mere 85 people control as much wealth as the poorest 3 billion people in the worlds population. That sobering fact makes it clear that the world in an unequal place, but is this economic inequality unfair? That all depends on what you believe. In this piece Nathan Palmer will explore the depths of economic inequality and discuss how the sociological concept of a justifying rationale can make you think it’s fair.

Do you want play monopoly with me?

Let’s say you and I just played a game of monopoly and I won. Would you want to play again with me, but this time I start with all of my winnings from last time? No? Why not? It’s unfair? Says who? If this is unfair then why do we the exact same thing in the real world. Each of us is born into an ongoing game of monopoly. Some of us are born to the winning families and some to the families that are losing.

My point here is that we know things are unequal, but for some reason we don’t think it’s unfair. Let’s start by looking at how unequal things are and then let’s dig into why we don’t think it’s terribly unfair.

If we put every single thing that could be owned in the country (i.e. the land, businesses, stocks, investments, etc) into one big pot, then the richest 20% of the country would own 88.9% of it all. That means that the other 80% of the country (which almost certainly includes you) is fighting over the remaining 11% of existing wealth[1]. If we put all of the earned income into the same pot, we’d see that the top 20% earns 59.1% of that too. At the same time, poverty in the United States is higher than it’s ever been since 1928. In 2009 1 in four children under the age of six were impoverished. If we look at the global level, we find that the top 85 richest people have as much wealth as the bottom 3 billion people on earth… Let the soak in for a moment.

While I could blather on, I’d rather show you what this looks like using a video. But before I show it to you, I should tell you that the video is not without it’s flaws (read more about them here). However, the general gist (i.e. things are more unequal than we think they are) is still valid. So with that, here you go:

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What’s Wrong with Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns

Breast cancer is arguably the most talked about disease in the United States and yet every years students across the country carry out campaigns to raise awareness of the disease. In this post Nathan Palmer asks us to think about these campaigns from a social movement and social change perspective and ask ourselves what actions can we take to create the largest impact in our communities?

Wait. You’re not ready to read this yet. You and I have to have a little talk first. Before you waltz into the rest of this post, let me say right here right now, I am not trying to shame anyone or discourage anyone from trying to make the world a better place. It’s always better to do something than it is to do nothing.

You care about things (that’s why I like you). I’ve rarely met a student who wasn’t passionate about some issue or cause. Many of my students of mine are deeply concerned about issues like human trafficking, child abuse prevention, intimate partner violence, immigration reform– I could go on. As a sociologist it “fills my bucket”, as my 6 year old daughter would say, to be surrounded by enthusiastic and driven social change agents. But more than any other issue breast cancer awareness gets my students to take action like no other issue. We’re going to tackle the issues surrounding breast cancer awareness campaigns from three angles, but first let’s talk about your time, attention, and money.

The Finite Nature of Time, Attention, and Money

You are going to die. You only have so many hours left on this earth (as your Tikker watch could tell you). While we’re discussing depressing things, it’s also true that your bank account only has so much money in it. I bring up all of this sobering information to make the point that each of us has a set finite amount of time, attention, and money. All three of these things are precious and irreplaceable. Let’s keep this in mind while we talk about your philanthropy (i.e. the causes you donate to, the charity runs you participate in, the food drive you contribute to, etc.).

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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.

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