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Dear Mr. Bluetooth: The Sociological Reasons You’re Annoying

Talking on the phone with a bluetooth headset in public spaces creates lots of awkward moments. In this essay, Nathan Palmer uses these funny moments to illustrate what sociologists call civil inattention and the unspoken rules of public conversations.

“Hi, can I ask you a question?” said the man next to me out of nowhere. I was seated in those brutally uncomfortable airport chairs waiting to board my flight. Looking up from my phone our eyes locked and I gave a small polite smile, cocked my head a little to the side, pursed my lips, and popped my eyebrows up. “Sure, what can I help you with?” Immediately he looked to the floor, threw his hand up with his pointer finger to the sky and said, “Hold on. Sorry, can you hold on a second, some guy is trying to talk to me at the airport.”

He dropped his hand and when we made eye contact. “Can I help you with something buddy? Can’t you see that I’m on the phone?” With his head turned I could fully see the disdain on his face and the flash of light on the tiny plastic bluetooth headset I hadn’t noticed he was wearing. My blood boiled. Like people fleeing a burning theater, dozens of snarky comebacks all tried at once to force their way out of my mouth. “Uh, what? Wait you’re the one who said- Look I’m not the one,” before I could dislodge my thoughts he put his hand back in my face. “Listen bro, I don’t know what to tell ya. Why don’t you go find someone who’s not on the phone.” He grabbed his things and while walking away I couldn’t hear everything he said, but I could clearly make out the words weirdo, rude, manners and the phrase “some people.”

Well, Mr. Bluetooth, you do not know who you messed with. I am a passive aggressive sociologist with a blog. You may think you got the last word (because you did), but I’ll show you. In fact, I’m going to show everyone why I think it’s jerky to talk on your bluetooth in public places and then get in a huff when people think you’re talking to them. And believe it or not, I’m going to do all of that while teaching folks a little something about sociology.

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Target, Toys, & Gender: How Much Do Words Matter?

Words matter, but how much? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath examines the other ways in which gender-based signage remains in Target even with the elimination of gender-based words.

Target recently announced that it intends to remove gender-based signage in the toy aisle and the bedding aisle. Almost immediately the Internet reacted with both praise and criticism of Target’s decision.

At first, I thought this was wonderful. There really is no such thing as a “girl” or “boy” toy. Toys are toys, but as a society we tell a child what toys to play with based on our stereotypes and by the toys we put in front of them. After my initial reaction, I thought about it some more and decided I need to actually visit a Target before making up my mind.

I was at my local Target two weeks ago and observed workers restocking the toy section. Then I heard Target’s announcement and thought they must have been rearranging due to the new signage. If there are no signs indicating “girl” or “boy,” then they must be reorganizing the toy aisles to reflect this. Wrong!

I went back to Target a few days later (after the announcement) and did notice some rearranging had taken place. I can only really comment on the Lego section as that is the section in which I spend the most time and money. My Target has had Legos in two aisles. In one aisle, Legos  fill both sides. In the second aisle, Legos fill one side (the side closest to the other Lego aisle). The Lego aisles are placed in the middle of the toy section.

Let me first describe what the toy section looks like as a whole. At one end of the toy section, one can find toys for infants and toddlers. Next, you will begin seeing toys in pink and purple packaging: Disney Princess, Barbie, My Little Pony, Monster High, My Generation dolls, and a few others. Then the Lego section appears. Finally, the packaging turns more blue: Superheroes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Matchbox cars, Nerf Guns, and so on….

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“No Justice, No Peace”: Black Lives Matter & Bernie Sanders

In this essay Nathan Palmer uses the recent Black Lives Matter protest at a Bernie Sanders campaign event to discuss how movements choose the tactics they will use to achieve their goals.

On August 9th two women rushed the stage at a campaign event for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and demanded they be allowed to speak. The two women, Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford who are affiliated with the Seattle Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, shouted, “Let her speak!” repeatedly while they struggled with event organizers for control of the microphone. Eventually they were allowed to speak and Johnson addressed the crowd through a chorus of boos and shouting.

After waiting about 20 minutes Sanders tried unsuccessfully to take back the microphone. He then waved goodbye, put his fist in the air, and walked through the crowd as he left the event. Later that day Sanders issued a statement online which read in part, “I am disappointed that two people disrupted a rally attended by thousands at which I was invited to speak about fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare. I was especially disappointed because on criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.”

“Well That Was Rude!”

Almost immediately the internet exploded with reactions to the disruption. Some championed Johnson and Willaford for “shutting down” the Sanders rally. Some chastised them for acting inappropriately. Others were perplexed at their choice of target. Bernie Sanders is arguably the most progressive presidential candidate running and as Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan put it you, “Don’t Piss On Your Best Friend.”

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You Need Sociology to Understand Ferguson

Students often wonder why sociology 101 is a required course. In this piece, Nathan Palmer argues that without sociology we cannot fully understand events like the tragic killing of Mike Brown by officer Darren Wilson.

Over the next few weeks thousands of students across the country will start a sociology 101 class. Most will not be sociology majors and many will walk into class wondering, “why on earth am I required to take this class?” The answer is, at least in part, so you can understand the world around you instead of merely making sense of it.

All of us make sense of the world around us, but that doesn’t mean that we understand why people behave the way they do or why things happen day-to-day. To fully understand the people and events in our lives, we must use science and develop a sociological imagination. That is, we have to develop the ability to see how individuals are influenced by the rest of society. We also have to consider how what is happening today is the result of what has happened in the past. In the abstract, the sociological imagination can be hard to understand. However, it can be easier to understand when applied to a single situation.

One year ago yesterday Mike Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson Missouri. Without a sociological imagination we are forced to make sense of Brown’s tragic death by only considering the individual actions of the two men involved. However with a sociological imagination, we can see how both Brown and Wilson were a part of a much larger social system and the killing was not an isolated event, but a part of a much longer timeline. Simply put, to understand Brown’s killing we have to consider the social and historical contexts that surrounded it.

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