In this piece, April Schueths discusses how social scientists are using new sources of data to aid in the prevention of suicide.
Yesterday, September 10th, was World Suicide Prevention Day, a day to raise awareness and support the expansion of global resources and services to prevent suicide. The World Health Organization reports that suicide is a serious public health concern in all countries and is currently the 15th cause of death worldwide. Sociologists are well aware that certain conditions, circumstances, and life events can influence the rates of suicide within a community. The reason we know this because of sociological data.
In fact, sociologists have been using data to study suicide for more than a hundred years. French sociologist, Emile Durkheim (1897), studied European countries and found that groups of people with lower rates of social integration, that is fewer social ties to one another, tended to have higher suicide rates. Durkheim’s work helped researchers move away from just individual-level explanations and look at how larger social structures such as social status, industrialism, and capitalism can impact mental distress.
Durkheim’s analysis relied on data collected from previous researchers and public records to draw his conclusion. However today, with modern technology, social scientists can now access anonymous crisis data from teens reaching out for help. in real time using the Crisis Text Line (CTL). The CTL is a service that allows people to text back and forth with a trained crisis counselor anonymously. The CTL is the largest set of publicly available crisis data in the United States and is a good example of how data can save lives of people, especially teens, on the verge of suicide.
“Who benefits?” That’s the a question critical sociologists such as Karl Marx, C. Wright Mills and more recently William Domhoff have explored. Instead of just observing the social world, critical sociologists evaluate society and work to create social change. Let’s take a look how critical sociologists apply the, who benefits question, to contemporary immigration detention in the US.
Immigration enforcement has become a top priority in the US. When non-citizens, including legal and undocumented immigrants (adults, families, and children) are picked up, they are placed in confinement until the US determines what will happen to them (i.e., deportation, asylum, etc.). Like the prison system, the US is also number one in immigration detention, detaining nearly half a million individuals each year. In the US alone, it costs around 2 billion per yer to detain immigrants and people seeking asylum.
Immigration Industrial Complex
The immigration industrial complex is the joining of the “public and private sector interests in the criminalization of undocumented migration, immigration law enforcement, and the promotion of ‘anti-illegal’ rhetoric” (Golash-Boza 2009: 295). The immigration industrial complex stems from the prison industrial complex (PIC) and the military industrial (MIC) complex. Tanya Golash-Boza (2009: 306), a sociologist who studies race and immigration explains that all three of these complexes perpetuate fear, bring together powerful interests of the public and private sector, and blame disadvantaged groups. She explains:
With the military build-up during the Cold War, the ‘others’ were communists. With the prison expansion of the 1990s, the ‘others’ were criminals (often racialized and gendered as black men). With the expansion of the immigration industrial complex, the ‘others’ are ‘illegals’ (racialized as Mexicans).
Sociologists, Martinez and Slack (2013: 15) also take note of the similarities of the “mass incarceration of African Americans and the criminalization of largely brown Mestizo and indigenous undocumented migrants from Latin America. “Juan Crow” appears to be riding in on the tail feathers of Jim Crow.”
Who Benefits from the Immigration Industrial Complex?
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) manages the immigration detention system and hires private companies, such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and country jails to maintain detainees. Beginning in 2009, Congress implemented a yearly detention bed quota, which is currently up to 34,000 beds per year. No other law enforcement agency in the US operates on a quota system.
In this piece April Schueths looks at waist trainers, people who work to shrink their waists with corsets, to invite us to think about how we all modify our bodies in one way or another.
It happened again. I was on Facebook and got sucked into reading something I am not proud of: Twelve Times the Kardashians Made Us Cringe by Wearing Waist Trainers. Apparently the Kardashians have been a part of the waist training corset craze. Kim Kardashian first posted a picture of herself on Instagram in a tight corset, touting that this device can help make your waist smaller and into a feminine hourglass figure. There’s even a group of people, called tightlacers, some who wear their corsets nearly 24 hours a day. My first thoughts were pretty judgmental.
I found myself thinking that waist training seemed incredibly painful and probably dangerous. Then, I began to look at this practice with more nuance.
We all make changes to our bodies, depending on what we can afford. Do you have a body piercing? Have you ever gotten a haircut, shaved, or colored your hair? Do you or anyone you know, have a tattoo? You likely answered yes to at least one of those questions. You might not have even considered that these are all forms of body modification.
“But these are not the same as extreme forms of changing your body, like waist training or surgery,” you might be thinking. Isn’t there a difference between getting your hair colored and getting major surgery? Surgery has many risks, including infection and even death.
As I’ve discussed in a previous Sociology In Focus post, people in the U.S. spend billions of dollars on plastic surgery each year. In 2015, there were nearly 16 million elective plastic surgery procedures in the U.S. Of those, 1.7 million were surgeries, with breast augmentation, being the most common. Labiaplasty, a surgical procedure to decrease the labia, has become quite popular in recent years. Labiaplasty went from 5070 in 2013 to 8075 in 2015, a 72% increase.
In this essay, April Schueths discusses how death rituals, and every other type of ritual, can change over time.
“Have you seen those pictures on the internet of dead people posing? Like, that guy on a motorcycle?” asked someone I know recently. I hadn’t, but of course, I rushed home to do some googling. If you haven’t seen the pictures (and feel comfortable viewing them), click here and here.
This trend is said to have started in 2008 at the Puerto Rican funeral of Angel Luis Pantojas, conducted by the Marín Funeral Home. The young man had earlier told his family that he wanted to be displayed on his feet rather than in a casket. During the viewing, he was fastened to a wall in his family’s home, and his funeral was referred to as “El Muerto Parao” or dead man standing. Since “El Muerto Parao,” similar funerals have taken place in Puerto Rico and the United States.
But How Can People Make Light of Such an Important Ritual?
People around the world use different rituals, that is, “scripted collective activity that employs certain cherished symbols” (Marwell and Murphree 2013: 391). Rituals, whether sacred or secular, delineate important transitions and provide meaning to the people involved. Rituals include things like graduation ceremonies, holiday traditions, and even interaction patterns, such as the way we greet one another. Check out this webpage for more on the sociological roots of rituals.
Death rituals, such as funerals, offer the grieving a structured and culturally appropriate way to part with their loved ones. Taking part in ritual may:
“Assist in acknowledging the reality of death, provides social support, encourages the expression of emotions, and helps in converting the relationship with the deceased from presence to memory. Ritual also draws the bereaved back into the presence of family and friends; this reconnection with community decreases the social isolation that may develop as a result of the death and facilitates healing” (Kobler, Limbo, and Kavanaugh 2007: 290).
In this piece, April Schueths challenges the stereotype of spring break debauchery and asks us to consider how our spring break plans reflect the social stratification/inequality in the United States.
“What are you doing for spring break?” We all know the spring break stereotype of unruly beachfront debauchery; watch Jon Stewart break down Fox News’s “Exposing Spring Break” to see the stereotype in action. A stereotype is “a simplified and often negative generalization about a group (i.e., college students) that is often false or exaggerated” (Manza, Arum, and Haney 2013: A–11). Clearly, some students will head to the beach, and some will even engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking, unprotected sex, law violations, etc. Yet, it’s simply not true that all college students will do so.
It turns out that many students spend their time productively, volunteering or visiting family while others will take the time to work or catch up on coursework. It is interesting that students’ perception of what their peers are doing on spring break do not match their own self-reported plans.
Spring Break & Social Stratification
We also have to acknowledge that for many students, spending a crazy week at Daytona beach isn’t something they can afford. Some students have fewer spring break options than others. Low-income and working-class students often have difficulty even paying for the basic costs of higher education (i.e., books, housing, food, etc.) and thus work more than their higher income counterparts. Soria, Weiner, and Lu (2014: 14) point out:
“Low-income and working-class students face continued financial challenges while enrolled in college and are more likely to make decisions based on financial needs, rather than educational ones.” In addition, he majority of college students raising children and caring for family members work full-time while attending school.
The point is that the spring break stereotype is built on top of another stereotype; the false idea that all college students are 18–24 year olds without jobs or kids who have family money and student loans to pay for everything. If you fit that stereotype, then cheers to you, but there are many of your peers who don’t. Research from the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2013 over a third of all full-time students aged 16–24 were employed and for part-time students the percentage jumped to over two-thirds (See chart below)….
In this essay, April Schueths examines how death is treated in American culture and asks us to consider how we could make death and dying easier in the U.S.
“Don’t touch that body, it’s disrespectful,” my grandfather, a mortician, shouted at me from across the funeral home. He found me, a curious nine year old at the time, standing in front of an open shiny, blue casket, about to touch the face of an older woman I had seen at our local nursing home. It wasn’t uncommon for me and my brothers to stop by the funeral home, where my grandparents also lived, and find a deceased person in a casket in preparation for a viewing.
Death was a part of our day-to-day lives, so talking about death was common for my family. However I’ve found many people work hard to avoid this topic. It can be scary and frightening. It’s almost as if we forget about our mortality and that we will all die someday. Death is a natural part of life, but can create intense anxiety when it’s sanitized and hidden.
Our Death-Denying Society
Western societies have been described as death denying (Kellehear 1984). Zimmermann and Rodin (2004) provide three examples used to support this thesis: 1) We remove death from our lives by avoiding thoughts or conversations about death. For example, the majority of Americans do not have their end of life plans, or advance directives, in writing; 2) We use technological advances to delay death (i.e., the medicalization of death). Even adults with advance directives have no guarantee that physicians will follow through on their wishes. Death, after all, is seen as failure. And, 3) We separate the dying from society in medical facilities. Even though most Americans would prefer to die at home, eighty percent of Americans die in medical facilities, including hospitals or nursing homes.
Lee (2009: 55) argues, denial about death doesn’t make it less painful:
Modern Americans die hard. We live longer thanks to new advances in modern medicine, but we die with less equanimity than our grandparents did. We meet our own death with fear and despair because of anticipated pain and the helpless depression of hopelessness of any afterlife.
In this essay, April Schueths explores how our society is obsessed with youth and how this collective obsession influences our perspective of older adults and our attitudes toward getting older.
“Becoming older is a privilege denied to many,” the saying goes. But, are you excited about getting older? When I ask my students this question they often say things like, “No way!” and follow with a list of negative stereotypes describing older adults as sick, unhappy, slow, and sexually inactive. How do so many of us, including myself, come to this conclusion?
The aging population (i.e., individuals 65 and over) around the world is growing. In the U.S. alone, one in seven persons is now an older American, and this number is expected to double by 2060. As we’ve previously discussed here at Sociology In Focus with other concepts (seasons, time, etc.) aging is also socially constructed.
A Youth Obsessed Society
The U.S. has often been described as a youth obsessed society. Some have argued that aging is a fate worse than death. During 2014, nearly 13 billion dollars was spent on plastic surgery with the bulk of procedures performed on women 40 and older. The sale of anti-aging skin care products is also a booming business. U.S. consumers now spend more on anti-aging medications than on drugs for disease. Clearly people are feeling pressure to maintain their youth.
In this post April Schueths outlines the unique challenges facing working poor families in the US as well as potential policy solutions.
I want to tell you a story about Ashley and Ty, and their infant daughter, Brianna. The Hunts live in a small rural Southeastern town in Georgia with few job prospects. Ashley didn’t graduate from high school and Ty has a GED. Like many in their community, times have been tough. For several months they have been rotating between friends and family member’s couches. On a couple of nights they’ve ended up sleeping in their car. Last year they rented a small apartment for several months after they got their tax refund but they just couldn’t keep up with the bills. Because of the lack of stable nighttime housing, by some definitions this family is considered homeless.
Would you be surprised to know that Ty has a job working on a small farm but only makes minimum wage, $5.15 per hour? This means his household income is slightly over $10,000 per year. This is well below the poverty line. For a family of three in 2015, their household income would need to be above $20,090 per year to no longer be living in poverty. They would have to be earning nearly $41,000 per year to move out of the low-income bracket altogether (i.e., be above 200% of poverty).
“But I thought that minimum wage was $7.25 per hour?” you may be thinking. It is true that the federal minimum wage went up to $7.25 in 2009, however, Georgia and Wyoming, decided to keep the state minimum wages at $5.15. Federal law requires all states to pay the federal minimum wage for some workers. Even earning $7.25 per hour would bring their household income up to about $14,500, still well below the poverty line.
In this essay April Schueths discusses transracial adoption and the laws and policies that govern how children are placed with adoptive families.
Should White parents be allowed to adopt children of color? This question is one that social service workers have been wrestling with for years. Before you answer this question, you should know a couple of other facts. First, the majority of parents looking to adopt are White. Second, the majority of children in foster care who are eligible for adoption are non-white. If you say that children of color shouldn’t be placed with White families, then you are in effect arguing that children of color should stay in the foster care system; perhaps for their entire childhood. On the other hand, are White families equipped to help children of color develop a healthy racial identity and cope with interpersonal and institutional racism? The issue at the heart of this question is what sociologists call transracial adoption. Before you settle on your answer, let me give you a little bit of the history of transracial adoption and the controversies surrounding the laws that govern it.
What is Transracial Adoption?
Transracial adoption is when an adopted child doesn’t share the same race or ethnicity of the adopted parent(s). According to the National Survey of Adoptive Parents, 4 out of 10 adopted children in the U.S. are transracially adopted. Most adoptive parents are white, while most adopted children are non-white. However, Hannah Rau and Lisa Wade (2013) from Sociological Images point out that proportionally, white people are actually less likely to adopt than nonwhites.
Historically, transracial adoption was not the norm. In the 1970s the National Association of Black Social Workers argued that in order to preserve African American families, White families shouldn’t adopt African American children for any reason. Instead they argued that African American children should be placed with family members. Up until the 1990s social service workers tried to place children in adoptive families that shared the child’s racial-ethnic background. This all changed in the 1990s….
It’s easy to think that all sociologists are researchers. In most sociology classes the majority of class time is spent discussing sociological research and/or the methods sociologists use to conduct their research. The truth is, only a small minority of sociology graduates go on to become research faculty. More than 25% of sociology graduates end up working in social services and between 40–60% work in other areas such as management, administration, or education related positions, just to name a few. Sociology graduates certainly use the research skills they learned from their programs, but “researcher” is often not in their job title. The fields of applied sociology and clinical sociology are just two of the many career paths that allow graduates to do sociology in more than just an academic research setting.
What is Applied Sociology?
According to the Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology, “Applied sociology is the utilization of sociological theory, methods, and skills to collect and analyze data and to communicate the findings to understand and resolve pragmatic problems of clients.” This means that applied sociologists are often using their sociology skills, even their research skills, to create positive social change in organizations and communities. For example, Mindy Fried from Arbor Consulting Partners discusses how she and others have worked as program evaluators, policy advocates, lobbyists, and researchers for non-profits, private companies, and government.