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I Do: Examining Expensive Weddings through Three Sociological Theories

It’s June, the month of love… and expensive weddings. Chances are you have been to a June wedding, you were married in June, or you know that June is a popular month for nuptials. In this post, Ami Stearns examines the increasing costs of wedding ceremonies through the “big three” sociological theories: conflict, functionalism, and symbolic interactionism.

June is still one of the more popular months for weddings, either because June is named after the Roman god Juno and his wife, Jupiter,  who reigns as goddess of marriage and childbirth, or because June was the one month centuries ago that people smelled really good.

Weddings, in our culture, are extremely significant. The significance can be shown by examining the cost of an average wedding, which continues to skyrocket. However, simultaneously, the desire to wed has fallen. Why is this? How can we explain the seemingly contradictory practice of exorbitantly priced nuptials with the decreasing importance of marriage itself? Sociology can give us a few hints (you knew I’d go there, right?), especially when examining the reason for these skyrocketing prices for a couple of “I Do’s.”

Wedding Pricetags

If you’ve been married recently, you may already know this. The rest of you need to hang on to something as I tell you this. The average cost of a wedding is $32,641according to a recent CNN report. That money would buy a brand new car, provide a 10-15% down payment on an average house purchase, or contribute substantially to a future child’s college education. Some couples elect to take out loans to pay for their wedding, while some rely on parents to pitch in. Frugal and DIY weddings are definitely a trend, but we’re still talking in the realm of $5-6 grand, by some estimates. Clearly, spending over $5,000 on a few hours’ activity indicates there is a huge importance placed upon the exchange of vows in our society. (This dollar amount, by the way, is before taking into account the cost of a honeymoon)….

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The Lasting Effects of Having a Teacher Mispronounce Your Name

In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses how students having their names mispronounced by their teachers can affect their learning and academic success.

What makes Key and Peele so funny is how they turn racial privilege inside out. Middle-class white students rarely have to endure the indignity of having their names mispronounced. With 81.9% of all teachers identifying as white, these students can walk in on the first day of class and expect to be educated by someone who shares a similar cultural background. The pronunciation of a students name may, at first glance, seem trivial, but a growing body of research suggests that it is anything but.

Names Matter, So Get Them Right

Names are important. Your name is one of the first words you learn as a baby. Parents name their children to pass on their family’s culture, to honor loved ones, or to carry on family traditions. Our name is a central part of our identity and naming customs are a central part of any culture.

Schools are one place where names matter a lot. As Kohli and Solórzano (2012) found in their research many students with uncommon or non-anglo names are forced to suffer the indignity of having their names butchered by teachers over and over again. Worse yet, teachers often laugh off their inability to pronounce their students’ names, or they ask the student if they have a nickname that is easier for the teacher to pronounce….

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Activewear Everywhere: The Sociology of Conspicuous AthLeisure

In this post Nathan Palmer explains why increases in sales of athletic clothing haven’t corresponded to increases increased participation in athletics by discussing Veblen’s theory of the leisure class.

When I was a kid, the saying was, “if you leave your house in sweatpants you’ve given up on life.” My how things have changed. Today sales of athletic clothing have been booming, celebrities like Kate Hudson and Beyonce have their own athletic fashion lines, and wearing your workout clothes outside of the gym is increasingly become the norm.

The days of wearing $8 Hanes drawstring sweats are over [1]. Today, many customers will gladly pay over $100 for a pair of Nike sweatpants. Sweat pants have even gone “high fashion” with runway models strolling down the catwalk in $800 sweatpants(!).

Ready to say, “no duh”? Well, here you go; most of the people buying these athletic clothes aren’t exercising in them. This fashion trend is often called athleisure, because these athletic clothes are often worn by people who aren’t working out. For instance, in the Wall Street Journal Germano found that sales of yoga apparel grew approximately 45% in 2013, but yoga participation that same year only grew 4.5%. In many social circles, it has already become the norm to wear athleisure clothes in everyday situations, and some journalists have suggested that wearing sweatpants at the office or yoga pants in a board meeting may soon become the norm.

Athleisure & Symbolic Fitness

Symbolic interaction is a sociological theory that examines how we use symbols to communicate with one another who each of us is and what each of us thinks is going on at the moment. Dramaturgy, which is a more specific theory within symbolic interaction, argues that every second of the day we are performing our identities. We use costumes, props, settings, and movement to perform for one another. From this perspective, our bodies are like walking billboards that tell those around us who we are and where our place is within social hierarchies.

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When (not) to Talk About Money

In this piece, Sarah Ford examines the process of socialization in to norms about money.

Recently I was at dinner with my family and a friend’s family. During our weekly family dinner date, my daughter’s friend Mister T[1] crowed,

“… and my grandma also gave me fifty dollars!”

His mother glared at him. He, like a typical nine-year-old, was oblivious until she asked him, “Why am I upset with you?”

He hung his head. “Because I was talking about money.”

“That’s right. It’s not polite to talk about money. We don’t do it.”

Inside this little mother-son exchange we can see a lot of socialization taking place.

Socialization and Developing Your Generalized Other

Socialization is the process through which we learn our culture’s values and norms (the ways that we translate those values into behavior). The process of socialization begins at birth, if not before, and goes on throughout our lives. The first “agent of socialization” that we come into contact with is our family, and they take primary responsibility for making sure we can get along in society.

Many of the lessons of social interaction that we learn from our families and other early agents of socialization are relatively concrete. We learn not to hit people when we don’t get our way, we learn basic table manners, and even infants understand turn-taking in conversation.

According to George Herbert Mead, one of the key components of socialization is learning to “take on the role of the other”. This means that we learn to see situations from the perspective of other interactants, and to anticipate and respond to their interpretations of our actions. When we teach children not to hit each other, for example, we make this explicit by pointing out to them that hitting hurts their friends and asking whether they would like to be hit in a similar situation….

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Waist Training and Body Modification Norms

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.

Body Modification

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.

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Posing the Dead & Other Death Rituals

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).

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Matching Men: Tinder & The Presentation of Masculinity

On Tinder, you are given very basic information and have to make a decision to swipe left (reject) or swipe right (accept) the person on your phone screen. In this essay, Amanda Fehlbaum investigates how men perform their masculinity on this notorious dating app.

Last weekend, I went on a date. I did not meet this person while browsing at the grocery store or partying at the club. My friends did not set me up on a blind date, nor was he a friend of friends. I did not even connect with this man on a dating site like Match or eHarmony. We connected on Tinder.

Tinder is described in the Apple App Store as “a fun way to discover new and interesting people nearby,” noting that over 10 billion matches have been made using the app. The way it works is this: You sign up using your Facebook profile and your Tinder profile is populated with some photos, your name, age, location. You have the option of including where you went to school and your occupation as well as the option to write a 500 character-length description about yourself.

You are then presented with the photo, name, age, and information of people within a set radius of your location. Because the app is covertly linked to your Facebook, you can also see if you have any friends in common with that person. You do not get to filter matches beyond sex, age, and location. In other words, you see every person who fits just those three criteria….

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Social Construction of Cosmetically Challenged Food

Have you ever bought a potato that looked like Abraham Lincoln’s face, an eggplant that had arms to hug you with, or an orange with a strange growth? Why is it that in America, we pass over “ugly” produce that is nutritionally sound in favor of pretty produce? In this post, Ami Stearns argues that the designation of our fruit and vegetables as edible or non-edible has been socially constructed.

In America, a quarter to a third of all food grown is simply never eaten. In fact, much of it is discarded before it even has the chance to reach the grocery store shelves. When organic “trash” is added to a landfill, dangerous methane gas is produced, which is a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect. Not only is trashing organic matter dangerous, it is a moral and ethical issue as well. According to Jonathan Bloom’s American Wasteland, twenty-five percent of the food that Americans waste would provide three daily meals to over 40 million people. We are a culture that celebrates throwing things away as a symbol of high status. American sociologist Thorstein Veblen wrote about our consumer culture in the late 1800’s, arguing that the higher one’s social standing, the more one should consume, discard, and consume again.

Our throw-away culture replaces phones not when they wear out but when a new one is introduced, and also re-creates this behavior with food. Because we live in an environment of excess, we are free to be wasteful. Food waste is an issue at all levels, from individual families to mega-corporations. The average family throws out food that costs them $1,365 to $2,275 per year. The food waste that restaurants discard is now equal to approximately 15% of the average landfill waste. A full 20% of crops grown are turned away by grocery stores based on the cosmetic appearance of the fruits and vegetables.

The Ugly Fruit Movement

Grocery stores insist on a certain “perfect” look for their produce. Skin discolorations and other unsightly blemishes, shapes, or textures are deemed not fit for the fruit and vegetable aisle. Many good-looking tomatoes make it all the way to the grocery store loading dock only to be rejected due to bumping and bruising from the long trip. Because this practice leads to so much waste, food activists have begun raising awareness about the waste of perfectly good, unattractive food. Let’s call it the ugly fruit movement….

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In The U.S. We Live Long, But Die Hard

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.

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“Glamping” & The Gendering of Outdoor Recreation

Glamping (glamorous + camping) is one of the trendiest new outdoor activities. In this essay Ami Stearns argues that glamping is an attempt to overcome the stereotype that camping is manly and in the process Stearns asks us to consider why we gender any activity in the first place.

What do grilling hot dogs on a stick, pooping in the woods, gathering sticks for a fire, and working for hours to set up a sagging tent have in common? Camping! While it’s true that both males and females go camping, this is an activity that, in our culture, particularly embodies masculinity. Camping brings to mind the rugged outdoors and the sense of manly survivalism seen in movies like The Revenant (do NOT watch that movie without a big, warm blanket and a copious amount of beef jerky).

Gendering Outdoor Recreation

Outdoor life is typically associated with men, while indoor activities are considered the domain of women. For example, women tend to bicycle indoors while men ride “real” bicycles outdoors more often. Women are still doing most of the indoor chores while men work outside mowing lawns and carrying the trashcans out to the curb. Fishing, hunting, and camping are typically related to men’s activities more often than they are related to women’s activities. Many behaviors, like camping, are gendered, whether we are aware of it or not.

Keep in mind I’m not saying that women don’t camp or don’t enjoy camping. I am arguing that in our culture, we stereotype camping and other outdoorsy activities as more masculine than feminine. In terms of gendering an activity, it is much easier to create new, alternative versions of a masculine activity (like shaving) than to convince women to completely “inhabit” a masculine behavior. Plus, any good Marxist would state that alternative versions of products (like his and hers body wash) are merely marketing gimmicks to double the consumer pool. With all these things in mind, I give you the trendy concept of glamping. Glamping is the word that occurs after mashing-up glamour and camping. It calls to mind Victorian safaris and elegant getaways. Glamping is luxurious (some glampsites come with butler and chef) and “authentic, effortless, and inspiring.”

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