How do we collectively decide what we call a social problem? How do we decide who is at fault or to blame for the problem? In this article Nathan Palmer uses conflict theory to discuss how those with social power often use it to define social problems as the fault of the least powerful in society.
Stop what you’re doing and think of the word most commonly used in the United States to describe when people from other countries come to the U.S. without the appropriate legal paper work. What do we tend to call that? I ask my students this question during the first week each semester and the answer they always give is, “illegal immigration”. Now you may be thinking, “yeah, so what. Big deal”, but stay with me. Why do we call it “illegal immigration”?
Think of the industries that undocumented immigrants work in most often. Many undocumented immigrants work in low wage manual labor in agriculture, manufacturing, and in the service industry. So here’ s my question: do you think any of the products or services you’ve purchased were cheaper because the workers who produced it weren’t paid a fair wage or given proper benefits? How much higher would your grocery bill be if we paid the workers who produced the food that fills your cart a fair living wage? Probably a lot, right? So that means that you personally are the direct beneficiary of what is commonly called “illegal immigration”. You have more money in your pocket because of the undocumented workers in the United States. Or put more simply, consumers and corporations in the U.S. benefit from exploiting undocumented immigrant labor.
Conflict theory, one of the main theoretical camps of sociology, argues that those in power, use their power to ensure that they stay in power. To this end, conflict theorists argue, those in power use it to define social problems as the fault of the least powerful in society. With this in mind let’s go back to our original question: why do we often call it “illegal immigration”.
With the thousands of hours and millions of words reported on the London 2012 Olympics, there was one story that was relatively ignored. As we watched awesome synchronized diving, Mitt Romney’s horse prance, runners blaze new records, most of us failed to realize one thing. The ground on which the rhythmic gymnasts ribbon-twirled once, not too many years ago, was a neighborhood with businesses, factories, nature lands, and residents. In this post, Bridget Welch discusses not the athletes, but the people who actually used to live where the Olympic Village now stands.
I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics with awe. As the pastoral English countryside was shoved away for the smoke stacks of the industrial revolution, I was amazed at the pageantry. The stage was set for the upcoming stories of transformation of young boys and girls into Olympic champions. From the achievements of Gabby Douglas to the announced retirement of Michael Phelps, we ate up these stories. But the real story of transformation went untold.
Think about it for a second. The Olympic Village was located in London – a city of over eight million people. If you’ve ever been to a big city, quick question: Can you think of a vacant area in these cities big enough to house the Olympics?
Same deal in London….
Can “women have it all”? That is, can women have a family and a high power job? In a recent Atlantic cover story Anne Marie Slaughter argues that it’s impossible. A few days after it’s publication we learned that Marissa Mayer would leave Google and become the CEO of Yahoo. Which is news worthy in it’s own right, only 20 women serve as CEO in all of the Fortune 500 companies, but the Internet was a buzz after the announcement because she’s…. wait for it… pregnant. In this piece Nathan Palmer will explore the barriers women and mothers face in the modern economy and also ask, “why do women have to be mothers to ‘have it all’?”
At 37 years-old Marissa Mayer is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500[1. The Fortune 500 is a list of publicly traded companies that are ranked by annual gross revenue by Fortune magazine. In other words, these are arguably the 500 most important publicly traded companies] company. However, not only is she the youngest CEO she is one of only 20 women CEOs on all of the Fortune 500. Let’s pause for a second, that means while women represent 51% of the population they represent only 4% of the top leadership of the corporate world. What’s going on here? Why aren’t more women making it to the top of the corporate ladder?
While there are many factors that can help explain why women are better represented at the top including discrimination in promotion, discrimination in hiring and job placement, etc. I’d like to explore the gendered expectations within heterosexual families. Women, more than men, are expected to be the primary care givers for children and aging parents. Heck, some of you reading this might argue that women are “naturally better parents”[2. This, of course, is a gender stereotype that is not supported by science and one that hurts both women and men.]. The responsibility for parenting is disproportionately placed on women and because of it they are less able to promote their careers by taking high-power high-demand opportunies and more likely to take time off from their career for family reasons. One study that looked at people in highly competitive jobs found that nearly half of the women took time away from the ultra-demanding jobs, while only 12% of men did (Hewlett 2010; Hewlett & Luce 2005). When these women return to the highly-competitive career track they are often years behind the men who never left. What’s worse is, even when women don’t have children they still face the stereotypes that women aren’t reliable enough for high-power high-demand jobs.
Feminists, among others, have long argued that women should be able to reach their career dreams while also having the family they want. Society affords men this luxury, so why should women not be able to have both?…
This weekend on July 7, mixed martial arts’ (MMA) most dominant champion, Anderson Silva, will defend his middleweight title against long time nemesis, Chael Sonnen. The fight is a rematch from their first fight, which took place on August 7, 2010, when Sonnen controlled Silva for four and a half rounds, before being submitted by Silva with less than two minutes left in the fifth and final round. Though MMA reflects one of the more physically visceral sports out there, the Silva-Sonnen rivalry is known as much for Sonnen’s brash trash talking, as it is for their first epic encounter in the cage. In this post, David Mayeda examines the hype going into the Silva-Sonnen rematch to illustrate the concept of “fight sport theatre.”
Ask just about any athletic coach what values sport brings to society, and s/he will typically rattle off a number of clichéd responses: “Sport builds character”; “Sport teaches people to bounce back from defeat”; “Sport produces discipline.” Okay, I won’t deny that sport if coached under certain conditions can, and sometimes does teach those values while also enriching our lives. On the other hand, there is no denying that sport is tied intimately to the capitalist market; sport is a form of entertainment with its own set of commodities (namely the athletes) that can be bought, sold, and used for profit-based motives. As John Sewart (1987) writes, “when sport becomes a commodity governed by market principles there is little or no regard for its intrinsic content or form” (p. 172). Like other professional sports, MMA is no doubt governed by market and gendered principles….
I fly coach. I can’t afford those expensive tickets. So I put up with little leg room and a measly bag of nuts so I can get from point A to point B. But what happens when the class of ticket you purchase equates to your life or death? In this post, Bridget Welch revisits how this was the reality for many passengers on the Titanic.
“It was called the ship of dreams. And it was. It really was.” So intones the actress who plays the elderly Rose in the now rereleased in 3-D Titanic (because, I don’t know about you, but I really want to feel like Leonardo DiCaprio is coming out of the screen at me).
April 15, 1912 — now just over 100 years ago — in a ship that set off with 2,233 souls on board hit an iceberg and sunk resulting in the death of 1,530 people. This catastrophe has been retold countless times in films and books. Like many others of my generation, it was Leo and Kate flying at the front of the ship (with, perhaps unfortunately, Celine Dion warbling about how her heart will go on in the background) that was my entrance into this social epic. In fact, much of what I knew for a long time was because of that production. Let’s examine what the film teaches us.
The heart of the story (besides of course the “Heart of the Ocean” which you can now buy) is a love story between star-crossed lovers. While Romeo and his Juliet were caught up in a familial squabble, Kate and Jack are doomed because of their difference in social class. Kate, the newly poor aristocrat who needs to marry to refinance her way of life, gives us entry into the upper class area of the ship. No doubt luxurious and comfortable, the people are snobby jerks. Kate is trapped and boxed in by the requirements of her social milieu and is only able to escape by touring the 3rd class areas with Jack. She flees her proper life and to go drinking, dancing, posing nakedly, and sexing it up with Jack. Message: Wealthy = Boring and Trapped. Poor = Fun and Free….
Hegemony is a big word for a fairly simple idea. When socially powerful people use their influence to convince less powerful people it is in their best interest to do what is actually in the most powerful people’s best interest, that’s hegemony. If you had a younger brother or sister, then chances are you’ve been hegemonic before. In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses how hegemony is used to get his daughter to bed and to justify the growing economic inequality in the United States.
My 3 year old daughter doesn’t want to go to bed, ever. I used to fight with her, but I found my feeble reserve of late day energy no match for her inexhaustible reserves of protest anger (she takes a mid-day nap- it’s not a fair fight). I have power and authority over her. I am 10 times her size. My mastery of basic intellectual skills pwns her 3 year old set. And yet I’m reduced to begging her and/or God for the mercy of sleep.
We’ve been focusing a lot on power and control here on SociologyInFocus, but it’s an election year, so this is to be expected. There are a lot of ways to control/dominate people, but not all of them are as painless or as sinister as hegemony.
Hegemony is the opposite of coercion. Whereas coercion uses force or intimidation to get folks to do what you want, hegemony is the act of convincing another that it is in their best interest to do what you want them to do. Tom Sawyer famously convinced his friends that painting a fence was “so much fun” that they begged him to let them do Sawyer’s work for him. Sawyer was a hegemonic mastermind.
Let’s go back to my daughter. I have authority, size, and power over her, but using coercion goes against my values and against the laws of my state. So I busted out my hegemony skills.
Are you racist? Do you have white privilege? Are you a beneficiary of systemic racism? If you are white, some sociologists argue you should answer yes to all of these questions. In this post, Sarah Nell asks you to reimagine racism as a system of advantages and disadvantages that benefits Whites whether they like it or not.
If you’re white, chances are you don’t think you’re racist. Perhaps you found this title unsettling. I’m not here to tell that you are a bad person, but I am here to show you how to think differently about what racism really is. Racism – from the point of view of many sociologists– is not a set of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors held or committed by individuals. Racism is a system of advantage based on race. And if you’re white, you are racist because you benefit from that system. Even if you don’t want to.
As a result of our current economic downturn, the wealth gap between Whites and African Americans is larger today then any time in the past 25 years. In this post, Bridget Welch explores how historical housing practices and current predatory lending practices combine to reinforce institutional discrimination.
Unless you have been living under a rock, or work on Wall Street, you may have noticed that the economy is not doing so well. Just in case you are unaware of how that statement should win “The Most Understated Statement of the Year” award, please watch this short video that shows the spread of unemployment across the United States. Yet, as hideous as the current unemployment rate is, there is a group of people who live on this razors edge constantly.
You see, African Americans’ unemployment rate is always at the recession rate. In other words, what makes this current economic downturn so notable is that Whites are now at the unemployment rate that African Americans normally are at. And, of course, African Americans are disproportionately hurt by the current downturn – meaning their unemployment rates (particularly men’s) have soared. Don’t believe me? Go play with this fun NYT infographic. The truth is that minorities in our country act as the canary in the coal mine – falling to the poisonous atmosphere before it reaches the rest of us….
Do you support slavery? Don’t be so quick to answer no. Conservative estimates show that in a given year, 27 million people are enslaved across our global society. Yes, our current society! While you may find different forms of contemporary slavery reprehensible, our ties to the ongoing slave trade are often times closer than you think. In this post, David Mayeda questions our consumer culture and its ties to worker exploitation.
I admit, I love my iPad. I utilize it so much and so often that one of my colleagues calls it my best friend. I also own a laptop, a cell phone and a number of other gadgets that I find extremely useful in our contemporary techy society. I’ve also been tempted to hit up those post-holiday sales that emerge every December 26, but thus far I have resisted. My modicum of resistance stems from a moral consciousness. Remember, in a capitalist society, the objective is to profit. Rendering a profit means cutting costs, and this happens most effectively by cutting labour costs. Too often, labour costs are cut entirely by enslaving people.
Kevin Bales – the foremost scholar on contemporary slavery – defines slavery as the total control of one person by another for the purpose of economic exploitation. Why is it that those of us in high-income countries can go into stores and pay $5-$10 for clothing items? It is likely because the stores you’re buying those items from, purchased the items for substantially less than the relatively small amount you’re paying. Does $5 even cover the cost of the materials used to make a T-shirt?…
Been to a movie recently? Did you see the Hangover part 2, Paranormal Activity 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, X-men 5 (subtly retitled “First Class”), Planet of the Apes 7, or maybe you saw Harry Potter 8. In all, there are set to be 27 sequels this year and 14 of those are the 4th, 5th, 7th, or 8ths in their franchise. An alien looking down on the United States would think we hate original movies, but a sociologist would say that this is the McDonaldization of Society at work.
Sociologist George Ritzer suggests that the principles of McDonalds (i.e. efficiency, predictability, uniformity, and control) have become the principles behind how we run society as a whole. He is not arguing that McDonald’s food is affecting society. He is arguing that society is becoming like a McDonalds. The flood of movie sequels is a prime example of the McDonaldization principle of predictability.
Stop for a minute and think about what a McDonald’s hamburger bun tastes like. Can you think of it? You probably can because all of McDonald’s food tastes almost exactly the same anywhere you eat it. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? I want you to go home and make a burger and fries for five nights in a row and tell me if they taste identical. Now imagine you had to make burgers and fries at the millions of McDonald’s located all across the country, could you make them taste identical?…