If you had the opportunity to meet President Obama and the Queen of England what would you want to discuss? Now imagine, you are 16 years old, what topics would be most important to you at that age? Your school? Your parents? Your favorite celebrities? For one 16 year old today, educational equality, rights for women, and terrorism are the issues she eagerly wants to discuss with heads of state and members of the United Nations. If you have not heard of Malala Yousafzai, her story is sure to inspire. A year ago, at age 15, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen simply because she wanted to go to school. Miraculously, she survived and is now bravely speaking out in an effort to improve educational opportunities for children around the world. In this post, Mediha Din describes education from the sociological point of view known as Conflict Theory.
According to Conflict Theory, education is a mechanism that produces and reproduces inequality in society. Malala Yousafzai is passionate about combating this inequality. The recent 20/20 special about her journey describes a young girl growing up in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. In 2009, the Taliban banned girls in her region from attending school.
Malala began a blog for BBC News in opposition to the order and voiced her desire for education. Soon after, the New York Times created a documentary about her struggle for education, and her name became known.
In 2011, Malala told CNN, “I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk.”
A year later, Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while riding the bus home from school. She amazingly survived and continues to work as an activist for children’s education.
Conflict theory is a perspective in sociology that sees the world as an arena of competition. When analyzing any situation from this point of view, a conflict theorist emphasizes the importance of:
1. Competition: over scarce resources
2. Inequality: conflicts between “haves” and “have-nots”
3. Discrimination: different treatment and opportunities for different groups such as rich versus poor, males versus females, employers versus employees.
Malala’s story clearly illustrates a competition over scarce resources. In this case, the precious resource is education. “In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It’s their normal life,” Malala told Diane Sawyer in an interview for ABC News. “But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education … it’s like a precious gift. It’s like a diamond.” Today, millions of children around the world reach age 15 unable to read or write. According to data from the Central Intelligence Agency, 774 million people age 15 and older are illiterate, 52% of these people live in South and West Asia, and 22% percent live in sub-Saharan Africa….
Sociologists focus on our world today. Today we have seen tragic news of shootings at a mall in Nairobi, a park in Chicago, and a Navy Yard in Washington D.C., all within the week. This devastating loss of innocent lives has impacted families, friends, and community members, and left many questions in our minds. As sociologists, we use three theoretical perspectives (think of them as three pairs of glasses with different lenses) to analyze society. One method that can be used for analyzing mass shootings such as the heartbreaking Navy Yard shooting in Washington D.C., is structural functionalism. In this post, Mediha Din describes structural functionalism and how this sociological perspective can be used.
How can we analyze society from the point of view of structural functionalism? Think of the morning cup of joe.
Do you drink coffee? Does it help you wake up? Focus? Give you an energy boost? These are some functions (purposes) of caffeine. Or do you avoid it because of the energy crash, acidity, or jitteriness it causes you? These are some dysfunctions of caffeine.
Looking at society from a functionalist point of view includes examining how something is functional (useful) and dysfunctional (not useful).
The structural functionalist point of view sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote stability. The human body is often used as an analogy for structural functionalism. Many different parts (heart, liver, brain, lungs) work together in order for the body to work.
Functionalism is also focused on maintaining harmony in society, just as your body works to maintain harmony (if you are cold, your body shivers to warm you up, if you are hot, your body produces sweat to cool you down).
When we look at terrible occurrences such as the mass shooting in D.C., we will immediately see many dysfunctions caused by this horrendous crime. Families have lost a loved one, provider, and support mechanism. Our Navy has lost valuable members of their workforce, and many surviving members may suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The members of society as a whole feel disheartened, fearful, and confused by these horrific acts of violence. Looking at the negative consequences of a behavior is part of structural functionalism.
Functionalism also analyzes how criminal acts can provide some functions in society. (This does not mean justifying atrocious acts of violence against innocent people in any way). Crime can have a role in society, and some positive outcomes can be seen coming out of extremely negative circumstances.
How can crime be functional for society? A few ways:…
It’s graduation season! That means caps, gowns, and awards ceremonies that sometimes include celebrity commencement speeches. Oprah Winfrey spoke at Harvard University this year, and was also awarded an honorary degree by the prestigious institution. One of the things that Oprah is respected for is speaking with passion. This skill is not only important for public speeches, but also for her current television show, Oprah’s Next Chapter. The show includes interviews with celebrities in their homes, reminiscent of the interviews she was known for on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah’s interview skills often make for great television, but would a sociologist use the same methods for interviews in social research? In this post, Mediha Din describes research methods.
In our previous post, Jimmy Kimmel, Starbucks, and Sleeper Questions we explored how researchers may encounter problems with reliability when conducting an interview or surveying participants.
To increase reliability, sociologists work to avoid common errors in the design of research questions. The most common mistakes are using questions that are double-barreled, loaded, threatening, unclear, or include built-in assumptions.
Double-barreled questions make the mistake of asking two or more questions in one. For example, if you ask your friend “Is Professor Din’s class easy and interesting?” the response “yes” is unclear. The class might be easy, but not interesting, or the other way around. As sociologists, we work to ensure that double-barreled questions are broken into two separate questions to avoid an unclear response: “Is the class easy?” and “Is the class interesting?”
“You read the whole chapter, didn’t you?” Leading or loaded questions should also be avoided. These are questions that subtly push a respondent to give a certain response. Think of movies with courtroom scenes of an attorney jumping up while their witness is being questioned by the prosecution to say “Objection your honor! Leading the witness!” Leading/loaded questions can be worded to get either a positive or negative response. Compare the next two examples:…
Late night television shows, news specials, and talk shows all include segments from time to time that are labeled as “social experiments.” But do their surveys, interviews, or investigation tactics have any connections to actual research methods sociologists would use when studying human participants? In this post, Mediha Din discusses the complexity involved in designing survey questions.
Jimmy Kimmel sets up an experiment. He wants to know if the new $7 cup of coffee offered at Starbucks lives up to the hefty price tag. His crew heads to Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles to ask coffee drinkers for their opinions. The participants sit down in front of two Starbucks cups, labeled A and B. They are asked to take a sip from each, and see if they can tell the difference between the regular coffee, and the premium $7 Costa Rica Finca Palmilera. The participants taste the beverages and quickly begin giving their feedback on which is the more expensive brew. They describe their choice as “richer” “bolder” “smoother” even “beany.” His experiment has one very interesting catch though-the cup of coffee in both cup A and cup B is exactly the same!
The video of this segment from Jimmy Kimmel Live isn’t just a good laugh, it’s also a perfect example of a type of question used in social research known as a sleeper question.
A sleeper question is designed to ensure that a respondent is accurately reporting their knowledge….
What kind of cell phone do you have? Is it the latest and greatest smart phone? How about your TV? Did you upgrade from a plasma to LCD, then to LED? How about your laptop, tablet, ipod, and nook? Are they the lightest, thinnest, and most advanced out there? Our technology is changing faster than even most of us can keep up with, and definitely faster than Mother Nature would like. In this post, Mediha Din explores the significant impact technology has on the environment.
My brother had a sparkle in his eye while he was opening up the package to his new iPhone 5. Almost all the men in my family work in the technology industry, so I’ve listened to them discuss that dang phone for months now. My brother was among the first to receive it. Does he need it? Doubtful. He already has the iPhone 4s. I remember not too long ago rolling my eyes as he made countless requests to Siri, only to hear “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t answer that” over and over.
I watch as he takes the new iPhone5 out of the box and marvels at all of the changes. The changes that will help everyone else know that he has upgraded. It is a little longer, a little lighter, and the case is clearly different on the back side. I can already see him in my mind walking around with it as everyone takes notice. “Is that the new iPhone? Can I see it?” someone is sure to ask him.
To my brother, and Apple’s advertisers, this phone is a revolutionary upgrade. Never mind that the phone will require my brother to buy all new power cables, docks, speakers, adapters and car chargers because it has a different style of plug in at the bottom of the device than last year’s model. Never mind that his phone won’t fit in his old phone case and he’ll have to replace that. It’s funny how one new purchase leads to a cascade of consumerism.
Is your Halloween costume this year offensive? Even racist? Some students from Ohio University are asking others to take a second look at their Halloween costume choices this fall. The statement “We’re A Culture, Not A Costume” is seen on posters developed by the student group. The students are trying to raise awareness about what they consider to be racially insensitive attire that many Americans don each October, and view as harmless. As you purchase groceries this month, you may walk by Halloween accessories with titles such as “Ghetto Fab Wig” or “Adult Beer Belly-White Trash” and continue walking without a second thought, just as others once did with signs stating “Whites Only Water Fountain.” In this piece, Mediha Din takes a look at campaigns against stereotypes found in major institutions of society- holidays, sports, and fashion.
My friend Julie hosts a Halloween party every year that the whole neighborhood looks forward to. It’s her favorite holiday, so she goes all out. Her house always looks like it’s decorated professionally, the food and drinks have spooky themes, and there are always prizes for the best costume. Last year the winner was a girl in a sexy cop costume. What helped her get votes wasn’t just the knee-high boots and short shorts though, it was extra touches of a different kind. She put on a pig nose mask, a pig tail, and had a small zip-loc bag of baby powder in her pocket. The corrupt cop stereotype was a hit.
As sociologists, we describe a stereotype as a preconceived, simplistic idea about the members of a group. These ideas can hinder social interactions and lead to false assumptions about others.
Many times stereotypes can also lead to prejudice, discrimination, and racism. Prejudice refers to attitudes (fear, anger, strong dislike, hatred). While, discrimination refers to actions (unequal treatment based on group membership). Racism includes discriminatory beliefs or actions based on race.