Stephanie Medley-Rath

Stephanie Medley-Rath is an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University Kokomo. Her research interests include the sociology of autobiography, cognitive sociology, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

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Why do People Pose Next to Dead Animals?

One way to “think like a sociologist” is to look at the unremarkable “normal” things of everyday life as if you’ve never seen them before. Put another way, sociology often asks you to look at the familiar as though it were strange. For example, have you ever seen a picture of a hunter standing next to an animal they just killed? While this is a common practice, if we look at it from a critical point of view we can see a whole lot of sociology going on. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath shows us the deeper meaning behind the norms of death pose/hunting success photographs to explore the meaning behind the photographs.

Two years ago I wrote about some of the reasons people deer hunt. Last week, the website Sociological Images shared images of the death poses animals are placed into after a successful hunt. The author, Lisa Wade, posed this question,”Why do they do it?” Wade goes on to say:

  • Maybe it had something to do with the relationship to nature that hunter culture endorses. Instead of a destructive, violent relationship to nature that would be represented by picturing animals in their death poses, these pictures suggest a custodial relationship in which humans take care of or chaperone a nature to which they feel tenderly. That is, they don’t destroy nature with their guns, they tame it.”

Since my initial post on deer hunting, I have conducted research on Christian deer hunters to learn why they hunt. On the surface, it seems that hunting could be understood as not Christian because it involves killing. What I have learned, however, is that the Bible lends support to hunting. Though condoned by the Bible, the Bible does not give an unrestricted hunting licence. My research supports Wade’s interpretation of these hunting photos in that they do reflect a hunting culture that works to take care of nature rather than destroy nature.

Thus far, this interpretation fits nicely within the symbolic interacationist theoretical framework. Recall that symbolic interactionism focuses on how people act based on the meanings people have of the situation, which in turn shapes social interaction. In the case of death pose or hunting success photography, what is the meaning behind this particular style of photo?…

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Preventing Epidemics and The Return of Polio

Polio was erradicated in Syria in 1999, but last week 10 cases were confirmed. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how social factors contribute to health outcomes and how the reemergence of polio in Syria could indicate an approaching epidemic of the disease.

Epidemiologists study the social factors that contribute to health outcomes (e.g., likelihood of contracting a disease or dying). Epidemiologists have found that factors such as race, gender, and age are correlated with health. For example, the leading killer of women in the United States is heart disease, but this is only true for white and black women. Cancer is the leading cause of death for Hispanic, Asian American, and American Indian/Alaska Native women. In other words, gender, race, and ethnicity are correlated with cause of death.

Epidemiologists work at organizations such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) These organizations track the spread of disease and work at preventing disease. Knowing who has contracted a particular illness can help the CDC and the WHO better predict which groups are most at risk so that they can better target prevention campaigns.

It is the job of epidemiologists to track epidemics, which could become pandemics. An epidemic is a disease that is widespread within a particular population (i.e., a community or country). A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread worldwide. HIV is an example of a pandemic in that it is found all around the world. Malaria is an example of an epidemic in that it greatly impacts some regions of the world while others remain untouched. It is possible for epidemics to be defeated.

Polio is an example of a disease that was once epidemic in the United States, but today is mostly a memory. Prior to the polio vaccine, there were approximately 35,000 polio cases each year in the U.S. After the vaccine, polio rates declined dramatically and there have only been 162 polio cases in the U.S. since 1980….

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What is College For? The Manifest & Latent Functions of College

What is college for? Getting a job? Finding your soulmate? Developing your professional network? Learning how to party? Well, in this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath answer this question by explaining the difference between manifest and latent functions of college.

As college tuitions continue to increase, students (and their parents) are asking, what is college for? A sociologist might answer that question using the symbolic interactionist, conflict, or functionalist perspective. Let’s explore how a functionalist might answer this question.

Once upon a time, it was thought that a woman who attended college was primarily after her MRS degree and only secondarily, if at all, a college degree. While many people do meet their significant other while attending college, there are many more functions of college besides matchmaking.

Matchmaking would be a latent function of college. A latent function is an outcome that is unintended or not the main point.

In contrast, a manifest function is an intended outcome of a phenomena. Most would agree that manifest functions of college attendance include gaining the necessary skills and knowledge to secure emloyment.

Increasingly, college student and their parents expect a college graduate to be both employable and earning more money than they would without a college degree. On both counts, college graduates do succeed. College graduates have lower unemployment rates and earn higher wages over the course of their lifetime. Some critics go as far to suggest that students should focus on the return on investment they get out of a college degree. Forbes has even created two lists of the colleges with the best and worst return on investment….

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Wanna Buy Some Candy? School Fundraising & Inequality

Dang, what’s a parent to do. Every school year cash strapped school districts (which is basically all of them) ask their students to sell candy, or wrapping paper, or some other trinket to scrounge a few more dollars together to help educate their students. The problem is, poorer school districts tend to have poorer who come from poorer families. So it can be really hard for the students to find anyone to purchase their overpriced wares. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how we can understand these school fundraising woes with the sociological imagination and then explains how a concept called the Matthew Effect works to perpetuate school inequality. 

I have been thrust full-force into the world of fundraising, due to being a parent of a school-aged child. Seriously, at any given moment I can hook you up with wrapping paper or chocolates and sometimes both. Of course, all this selling presents a personal trouble for me. I do a combination of choosing not to sell due to the product or how the funds are going to be used, actively selling, and donating directly instead of selling. When I actively sell, I have to figure out who my potential customers might be.

So who are my customers? Let’s examine the city in which I work. The average household income for this small Midwestern city is $35,194. Broke down further, 57% of households (or 4,425 households) earn less than $40,000 each year, while 6% (or 252.5 households) earn $100,000 or more each year. In other words, most residents simply can not afford to buy my high-priced wrapping paper and chocolates, which is why I also choose not to sell or donate instead of sell. The reality is that I am not the only parent in this predicament, suggesting thatwhat looks like a personal trouble (i.e., lack of rich people in my social network), may in fact be a public issue (i.e., lack of a critical mass of rich households in a community).

In The Sociological Imagination, C. Wright Mills distinguished between troubles and issues when describing the sociological imagination. Mills argued that a person’s biography could not be understood without also understanding the historical moment in which that biography was created. In other words, the historical context matters….

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Due to the Lapse in Gov. Funding, This Post Can Not be Written

Last week the federal government failed to fund itself due to a dispute over funding the Affordable Healthcare Act. Federally funded agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control were shut down (with a essential services remaining operational). In additional national parks, monuments, museums, etc. were all shuttered. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains some of the ways the federal government shutdown impacts professional sociologists.

There are many careers sociologists hold once they earn their degrees. I hold a tenured teaching position at a community college where I get to teach sociology among other duties. Many sociologists do not teach or work in higher education at all. Many sociologists work for the federal government.

Sociologists work for the Center for Disease Control, National Institute of Health, the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among other federally funded government agencies.

Whether we work for one of these organizations or not, many of us rely on the data produced by these organizations on a regular basis. One of the posts I was preparing for Sociology in Focus relied on U.S. Census data. I went to their website and saw this:…

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Global Stratification in Real Life: “Elysium” as Nonfiction

Is global stratification futuristic? What does global stratification look like today? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how the filming locations used in “Elysium” rank.

I was recently reading about the film Elysium in Wired  (see, I don’t just read fashion magazines). I have not seen the film, but I am troubled by how the film  provides a futuristic portrayal of inequality by relying on existing global stratification for it’s backdrop (i.e., filming location):

  • “Elysium takes place in 2154, when the 1 percent live out their caviar dreams and enjoy spectacular health care on board the film’s titular space station—while the rest of humanity suffers on a ravaged, overcrowded Earth. The orbital utopia scenes were shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, while a Mexico City slum stands in for LA. Blomkamp spent two weeks of the four-month Mexican shoot filming in one of the world’s largest dumps, a place swirling with dust composed partly of ‘dehydrated sewage.’ ”

In other words, utopia already exists in Vancouver, Canada, while a location complete with “dehydrated sewage” can be found in Mexico City, Mexico. Futuristic inequality is not really futuristic because already exists in 2013 in the form of global stratification….

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Men & Clothes Age, but Women Stay Forever Young

In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how aging is portrayed in a fashion magazine to explore the norms of aging in popular culture. 

Woman emerging from older self

I picked up a copy of the August issue of Vogue at the newstand. This particular issue is “The Age Issue.” The cover proclaims: “Fall Looks for Everyone.”

I saw advertisements with Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, and Jennifer Aniston completely wrinkle-free. No surprise here, but disappointing, considering the issue’s theme is aging. I’m younger than all these women, yet I have more wrinkles than them. Of course, I have never found myself accurately reflected in the a fashion magazine.

Very quickly, I realized this issue of Vogue is not about growing old gracefully or even looking good at any age. The magazine was chock-full of advertising promising “younger looking skin in 15 minutes” or “fighting 7 signs of aging.” One advertisement was for some sort of serum that has “complete age control concentrate” on the packaging. Age control in a bottle. What? What does that even mean? The message I got from all of this is that the appearance of age can be controlled.

Shortly before reaching the mid-point of the magazine is an advertisement for cigarettes. Absent from the ad was any indication that smoking cigarettes causes wrinkles. For an editorial message completely bent on “controlling” aging, one would think that accepting advertising for a product that accelerates the appearance of aging would have been refused.

I read on (let’s be real, I skimmed). The writers of Vogue ask the tough questions:

  • “Can you wear grunge when your kids are wearing it” (p. 106)?
  • “Is traditional [plastic] surgery passé” (p. 120)?
  • “Is height loss inevitable as we age” (p. 134)?

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Learning Demography with the Guess Who? Board Game

What can a board game teach us about demography and the U.S. population? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how the board game Guess Who? fails to accurately reflect the U.S. population.

I realize that board games are supposed to be “fun” (at least that is what non-sociologists say), but as a sociologist, I feel the need to ruin everything.

My child was super-excited to find Guess Who? at the thrift shop last week. I recall this game existed when I was child, but I don’t recall ever playing it. So when we got home, my daughter immediately showed me how to play. My first observation about the game was that while it does a  semi-acceptable job of portraying racial diversity, it does an especially poor job at portarying gender or age as it actually exists in the United States.

As I examined the people on the board, I began thinking about how representative this board game is of America. While my daughter asked me if any of my people had “eyeballs looking to the side,” I was busy doing a census of the demographics portrayed on the board.

Here’s how race, gender and age demographics (or characteristics) are represented in the game:

  • White = 19 (79.17%)
  • Black = 5 (20.83%)
  • Men = 19 (79.17%)
  • Women = 5 (20.83%)
  • Elderly (or those who have gray hair) = 5 (20.83%)
  • Children = 0
  • Adults (18-65) =19 (79.17%)

Based on this board game, the typical American is a white man aged 18-65. Hmmm….sounds a lot like Hollywood. So how far off is Guess Who? from the American population?…

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Watch Out NYC!: The Sociologists are Coming (to Share Research)

Sociologists are about to descend upon New York City for their annual professional conferences. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains that this ritual is just a step in the research process, that of sharing research. 

Podium from the presenter's perspective

Remember back in junior high when you did a science fair project? You selected a topic, developed a hypothesis, did the experiment, prepared a poster, and presented your research to a small audience. Well, this week thousands of sociologists will visit New York City to do our version of a science fair: the annual sociology conferences, where we share our research.

Sharing our research is an important part of the research process. We share our research in a variety of ways, but the typical way of sharing research is through presenting our research at a professional conference, publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, or ideally both.

I first attended the American Sociological Association in 2002 as part of the Undergraduate Honors Program. It was beyond overwhelming! I attended by myself as an undergraduate and got my first experience of actually presenting research to other people interested in sociology. I presented my mediocre paper at the Undergraduate Honors Program Roundtables. I had no idea what a roundtable was! This certainly was not like the science fair I did in junior high, nor was it like anything I had even done in college. There were no posters. I did not have to stand up in front of the room. Instead I got to sit during my presentation. At a roundtable, papers are typically grouped by topic with 3-4 other papers. Each person takes a few minutes to present their research to the other presenters at her or his table and sometimes an occasional audience member. This was the first time I was able to share my “research” outside of the classroom….

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On the Menu: Fried Cicadas, Hummus, and Guacamole

Bugs. They’re what’s for dinner? The foods we eat are a product of our culture and as our world becomes more interconnected we have seen the delicacies of one culture spill over into another. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath defines this process as cultural diffusion and explains why she just might serve fried cicadas at her next dinner party.

Fried Cicadas

A feature of culture is that it varies across time and space. Think about it. The clothing that you wear as a young adult probably looks a bit different than what your grandparents wore as a young adult. Food, like clothing, is a cultural artifact and what counts as food varies across time and space. Along with your clothing, the food you eat probably differs from the food people in other cultures eat and perhaps deviates from what your grandparents ate when they were your age. For example, I never ate guacamole until I was an adult and have since introduced it to my 90-something-year-old grandmother.

Today, guacamole is quite commonplace and no longer “exotic.” Hummus, is another example of a once “exocitc” food for Americans, yet is increasingly popular. Hummus originates in the Middle East and its popularity has spread to the United States. The process of cultural products (e.g. foods, clothing, music, etc) gaining popularity in one region and then spreading around the world is known as cultural diffusion. As foods and other cultural products diffuse into a new region they can quickly go from being “exotic” to being “ho-hum”….

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