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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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Growing Older Isn’t The Problem, Ageism Is

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.

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Can’t Buy Me Love (Or Can You?)

You know Valentine’s Day is just around the corner when the stores are filled with the pink and red signs, along with chocolates, cards, jewelry, and flowers. In this post, Ami Stearns argues that love – an abstract concept- is bought and sold on Valentine’s Day through the purchase of goods and services. Whether we realize it or not, we commodify our love on Valentine’s Day. Those who “opt out” may face the wrath of a significant other.

In middle school, a boyfriend promised he had sent me a bouquet on Valentine’s Day that never showed. While the school hallways echoed with screeches of appreciation over other deliveries of cold roses and baby’s breath, I felt like I had been slapped in the face. It later turned out that there was a mix-up at the florist and I received my flowers the next day. I’ll never forget this thirteen year-old boy saying, “It’s the thought that counts” and me thinking, “That is NOT how this day works!” In my view, I had overestimated our relationship.

In America, many of our holidays have taken on a life of their own: the guts of stores literally change color depending upon the season. We have rituals, meals, and expectations surrounding nearly every holiday. Sociology offers several useful lenses through which to view these holidays. In previous pieces on Sociology In Focus, we have analyzed HalloweenChristmasFather’s Day, and Thanksgiving. This post will explore Valentine’s Day through one of Marx’s core concepts: commodification.

The Stuff of Valentine’s Day

You love it or you hate it- but Valentine’s Day is an inescapable part of our culture. It’s risky to ignore this holiday if you’re part of a couple. The day affects our romantic decision-making as well: would you start dating a new person right before Valentine’s Day? I wouldn’t! Not only do we avoid getting entangled right before V-Day, we sometimes find ourselves re-evaluating relationships during this love-filled month: Mid-February actually boasts one of the highest break-up rates in the year. Valentine’s Day is clearly more than “just” a holiday, but is in fact a socially constructed expectation of what love looks like and how we express that to others through gifts such as chocolate, candies, romantic dinners, or flowers.

On Valentine’s Day, particularly, beleaguered florists hope to break even on the flower-filled day (however, once a sure thing, mom and pop flower shop “owners” these days are becoming laborers themselves and may even lose money on the historic flower-buying holiday). The obligation of buying that special something is a large profit for a handful of corporations- not very romantic, is it?…

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Throw Me Something, Mister! Mardi Gras and Deviance

Mardi Gras is typically a time where deviant behavior is expected and encouraged. Lewdness, public intoxication, and begging are all commonplace during this centuries-old festival. Within all societies, certain behaviors that would be considered inappropriate are allowed in some contexts. In this post, Ami Stearns examines Mardi Gras with a Durkheimian lens to suggest that deviance is relative.

Mardi Gras is serious business in Louisiana. This will be my second Mardi Gras in South Louisiana but the first that I will brave the crowds in New Orleans for a firsthand look at this over-the-top festival that has ancient roots in Western history. Many cities across the nation also celebrate Mardi Gras, and share in the typical problems that accompany the revelry, including shootings (both at people and at Centaur floats), partiers falling from rooftops, “suspicious” activity, and general mayhem.

The Situational Normality of Begging at Mardi Gras

What comes to mind first when conjuring up a Mardi Gras scene are probably the beads that are thrown en masse from passing floats- but beads are not exclusively thrown to women who bare their breasts. Beads and coins are thrown to those who beg the loudest, basically rewarding the best beggars. At the Mardi Gras parades in Lafayette (the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in the world and, most notably, fairly devoid of nudity), I noticed that the loudest people who shouted “Throw me something, mister!” received the most beads.

The “urban” Mardi Gras that is most well known demands that the revelers scream and beg for things, usually in return for nothing. But there is also a more rural version that is still practiced vibrantly in small communities all over South Louisiana. During these Mardi Gras celebrations, the members of the parade do the begging, running from house to house in tattered clothes to beg for food. The items that are collected, including live chickens, ultimately end up in a delicious gumbo….

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