Jennifer Morrison

Jennifer Morrison

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Breaking Down Barriers Through Social Contact

In this post, Jena Morrison illustrates how Allport’s Contact Hypothesis can create meaningful conversation about racial divides and historical monuments out of confrontation.

On Saturday, September 16th a protest about Confederate monuments was set to occur in what is basically my own backyard. As a sociologist, I felt obligated to go and observe the situation given the current social climate surrounding the statues, the controversial nature of these pieces of stone and metal from history, and to see how my own hometown planned to handle the situation. According to the news, a group from Tennessee in support of Confederate monuments was planning to arrive and organize a protest. Subsequently, a counter-protest had been planned by other groups in response to ideas of white supremacy, racism, and the idea of “outsiders” coming to the area to tell the locals what should be done. Neither side was issued a permit for the assembly. That didn’t stop either side or numerous groups across the entire spectrum from showing up. Groups represented at the protest included the Tennessee group, local members of the White Rose Revolution, local militia members, individuals seemingly associated with Antifa, community members and residents, field medics, the ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild, students from my alma mater (VCU), the Associated Press, dozens of news crews, law enforcement from at least five different jurisdictions, and several others that I was not able to place. Many items were barred from participants at the event (ie. Bats, helmets, etc.); however, the state laws allowing for open carry of guns was honored. This explosive potential for confrontation between members of these various groups combined with the numerous weapons present left many in the community scared, avoiding the area, and even warned by the Chief of Police to stay away from the event.

While there was a verbal confrontation earlier in the morning, much of the day was spent with people mulling around waiting for the next round of drama to occur. And, as the morning stretched into the afternoon, I got to witness a fascinating evolution in the scene from one of confrontation and discord to one of open dialogue and interest. Pockets of people from the different factions and with different, even opposing views, of the meaning of the statues and what should be done with them gathered in small groups. The conversations I overheard from these small gatherings were ones that allowed contrasting views to be shared openly and rationally. And, each person’s argument was met with curiosity and openness, thereby bridging the ideological divide and breaking down the barriers that had existed earlier in the day.

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Tragedy in Las Vegas and Functionalism of Deviance

In this post, Jena Morrison looks at the Las Vegas shooting on October 2, 2017. By examining a national tragedy through the lens of Structural Functionalism, the concepts of anomie and social solidarity are illustrated. And, deviance can be seen as having both dysfunctional and functional impacts to society.

For many of us, the morning of October first was greeted with shock and horror as we awoke to find out that another mass shooting event has occurred. CNN (2017) is reporting that the “Las Vegas Massacre” is the “most deadly shooting in modern history”. With reports of over 50 dead and another more than 500 wounded, it is easy, and horrifying, to see why it has earned this moniker (CNN 2017). It will take days if not weeks for the investigation to reveal the motivation behind this incident and to put together the events of the evening and of those leading up to this disaster. And, as we bystanders watch the news and anxiously try to come to terms with how something like this can happen, we are left to pick up the psychological pieces of our own reactions while we try to make sense of this situation.

Anomie and Functions of Deviance

Emile Durkheim proposed the concept of anomie, a situation in which the social norms are broken down, inoperative, or lost in a period of rapid social change or crisis (Seigel 2016). It is a feeling of normlessness, of not knowing what the rules are or how to respond. In situations where deviance results in complete chaos, this is easy to see. We can see it in the mass panic and confusion that erupted during and after the shooting in Las Vegas. And, we can feel it when we try to make sense of the chaos at home on our own couches as we watch the evening news. The costs involved with deviance, particularly major events such as this, are staggering and include loss of life, psychological, and financial costs. Despite this overwhelming sense of confusion and loss, however, good can and will come out of this tragedy.

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Election Reactions: Expressive Violence & Social Cohesion

In this post, Jena Morrison explores how the reaction to a presidential election can correlate with an upturn in community responses, particularly in incidents of expressive violence and efforts to create social cohesion.

In the days following a very close election, there are a lot of emotions running high throughout the entire country. Some are excited about new prospects, a change in leadership, and of the new path for the country. Others are afraid for their families, their safety, and for what the future may hold. Across the country and throughout the world, we are struggling with these emotions, the reactions of others, and watching to see what will happen next.

Expressive Violence

Expressive crimes, those that are motivated by the need to express anger, frustration, rage, and feelings of powerlessness are often seen in the aftermath of events such as this (Siegel 2016). With such a close race and high emotions, we often feel the need to be heard and to express our emotional turmoil. For some, this means emotional displays of crying, yelling, or even spending extra time at the gym. For others, however, this can result in expressive crimes such as assaults and even riots.

In the aftermath of the forecasted results, several news sites reported a break out of riots particularly those at University of California, Los Angeles, University of Oregon, and the University of California, Davis (Chabba 2016). An up-tick in crime, particularly crimes such as arson, property destruction, and assault can be common after events that we perceive as traumatic.

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