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Why We Do Crazy Things for the Ones We Love

In this essay Nathan Palmer discusses the influence significant others have on our thoughts and behaviors.

Right now my legs feel like Jell-O and my head feels like I’ve gone 12 rounds in the ring with Floyd Mayweather. Over the last four days I drove for 20 consecutive hours by myself from my home in Georgia to my hometown in Lincoln, NE. I spent 48 hours there and then again drove 20 hours back home. What was I thinking? Why would I do that to myself? The answer is simple: family.

The drive was hard, but that all melted away when I saw my beautiful niece moments after she came into the world. Being there to hold her, to comfort my sister-in-law, and to hug my brother as he became a father was priceless. In the end, the drive was a tiny price to pay for these life-long memories. I would do almost anything for my family and that, believe it or not, is a key lesson of sociology.

Others’ Influence on You

Others influence our thoughts and behaviors, that simple truth is at the center of sociology. Interacting with others is how we learn what is right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable, appreciated/unappreciated, nice/mean, and so on. Most everything you know is something you learned from interacting with other people. Others teach us how to behave and influence how we think about the world and ourselves.

At the same time, not all others are created equal. Significant others is the term sociologists use to describe people who have a profound influence on our thoughts and behaviors[1]. Often an individual is close both emotionally and physically to their significant others. Family members, best friends, and mentors most commonly fall into this group.

Significant others have a strong influence on us because we place a higher value on their opinions and viewpoints. We avoid saying or doing things that might disappoint, hurt, or offend our significant others. Similarly, we try to say and do things that we think our significant others will appreciate.

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Ex Machina & Why Robots Don’t Have Common Sense

In this essay, Nathan Palmer uses the movie Ex Machina to discuss why common sense is so hard to replicate in a computer program.

Ex Machnia is a thrilling science-fiction movie that will leave you asking yourself, “what does it mean to be human?” In the film, we first meet Caleb who is a coder at Bluebook, the world’s most popular internet search company that seems like a fictionalized version of Google and Facebook combined. Caleb has been selected to fly to a secret underground Bluebook research facility to work directly with the company’s billionaire CEO, Nathan. There Caleb learns that Nathan has created a robot with artificial intelligence (A.I.) named Ava.

Caleb soon learns that he will be administering the Turing Test on Ava.

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My Orthodontia Dreams, Gender, & the Occupational Revolving Door

What does gender have to do with professional and academic aspirations? In this post, guest author Hollace Good recalls her own academic and professional goals and examines how gendered role expectations once left her questioning her decisions.

While many of my 2nd grade peers dreamt about growing up to be teachers, police officers, or Sonic the Hedgehog, I was eagerly awaiting my chance to attend dental school and becoming an orthodontist. As I obediently trooped from office to office with my mom looking for non-surgical, nightmarish headgear-free ways to correct a problematic underbite, I was fascinated by the sorcery of dental impressions and entranced by the rainbow assortment of bracket elastics. My gregarious, power-crazed little self was enamored by the command the orthodontist had over the entire office, I was in awe of his crisp, wizard-like lab coat, and covetously imagining the untold fortune he was surely earning.

The Author Hollace Good as a Child

As my treatment progressed and my bite slowly normalized, over the course of an expensive ten year process, I actively envisioned myself in this lab coat planning treatments for my patients. I eagerly shared my career aspirations to anyone who asked. When I was very little the adults I told were thrilled probably because my dream meshed with the social (and parental) pressures urging kids to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Despite my academic competence and enthusiasm for all things “ortho,” sometimes people around me greeted me with doubt. Snarky sentiments like “Gee, that’s awfully ambitious!” and ambivalent responses like “Yes…I’m sure you will do just fine.” were irksome, but nothing that I couldn’t cope with. The interactions that weighed on me most were always initiated by a set of sanctimonious relatives who only seemed motivated to speak to me so that they could scrutinize my ambitions. No matter how many times we discussed future plans, they never failed to ask me if I still wanted to be a dental hygienist and if I would be able to spend plenty of time at home with my family. They made me wonder: Was I being ridiculous for imagining that I, a young woman, could someday successfully occupy a position of greater power, authority, and knowledge? What is more, was I out of line for even considering a career and a family an appropriate trajectory for any woman?

Such dismissive sentiments are often engrained responses, guided and tempered by norms surrounding gender-appropriate roles and paths. Women make up the majority of licensed dental hygienists, a whopping 95%, while accounting for only 25% of practicing orthodontists according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With such a gap, no wonder people saw fit to question my goals. You are likely wondering, why is there such a stark gendered difference between dental professionals? To answer this question, I will briefly examine two models that attempt to explain these tendencies toward gender-based occupational categorizing. First, I will explore the pipeline model and follow with a discussion of the revolving door theory.

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Structural Strain Theory and the Baltimore Riots

Why do people riot? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how Robert Merton’s structural strain theory can shed some light on the Baltimore riots. 

Over the last few weeks, thousands of people took to the streets in Baltimore, Maryland and cities around the country to protest the killing of Freddie Gray and the violent mistreatment of African Americans across this country by law enforcement. Last Monday, a small sub-set of the protestors in Baltimore rioted, looting and burning multiple business. Both the mainstream news media and many people on social media immediately started asking, why are these people rioting? Why would anyone riot in city they live in? While the answers to those questions would take for more time than I have hear, part of their answers lie in the strain theory of deviance.

Structural Strain Theory

The sociologist Robert Merton argued that deviance (i.e. people breaking social norms/rules) is produced by how that society distributed the means to achieve cultural goals. According to his structural strain theory (or anomie strain theory), deviance is a result of a mismatch between cultural goals and the institutionalized means of reaching those goals.

Cultural goals refer to legitimate aims. In the United States, we might refer to the cultural goal as the American Dream. In general, the American Dream includes economic success, home-ownership, and a family. A person achieves the American Dream through hard work and education (i.e., a college degree). Education is an institutionalized means of achieving the cultural goal. Military service might also be considered an institutionalized means….

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