| |

Is Fall a Social Construction?

#PSL #4Life, y’all! Apparently, Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte has its (her? his?) own twitter account, complete with over 93,000 followers. What IS it about the pumpkin spice latte that creates such a frenzy? How does a beverage featuring a member of the squash family signal fall scarves and thick sweaters to us? In this post, Ami Stearns risks being socially ostracized for suggesting that the pumpkin spice latte creates an imagined community of fall-loving consumers who are primed to start spending money during the coming holiday season by making itself a scarce, once-a-year, valued commodity. Drink up!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Sign

I recently moved to the deep, deep south. If fall has started here, I only have two indications. One, it’s slightly less incredibly hot than it was a few weeks ago. Two, pumpkin spice ads (for lattes, puddings, cakes, cookies, and cheesecakes) are everywhere. In a place where the leaves aren’t changing and nobody is cuddling up in their chunky knit scarves in front of fireplaces, I can at least count on Starbucks to alert me to the change of seasons.

During the fall, Starbucks estimates that its famous eleven year-old beverage receives about 3,000 tweets daily. Estimates put sales at 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes (PSLs) since the drink’s inception. Starbucks, of course, does not have a monopoly on pumpkin this time of year, but it certainly has kickstarted a pumpkin craze that is absolutely everywhere (one popular meme features a Game of Throne character and the words, “Brace yourselves. Everything pumpkin flavored is coming”). Believe it or not, there is now even a PSL controversy . Spoiler alert: apparently there is no pumpkin in a pumpkin spice latte- who knew?…

Read More


Janay Rice, The Cycle of Abuse, & Obstacles for Victims

The disturbing video of NFL player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée during a dispute in an elevator has been seen by many and resulted in a great deal of discussion.  Ray Rice’s contract was terminated on Monday and he was suspended indefinitely from the NFL. His wife Janay Rice recently released a statement that led to more debate and confusion in the public. She stated “THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get…Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is!” How do sociologists explain violence in relationships and the occurrence of victims staying with an abusive partner? In this post, Mediha Din describes the concept of the Cycle of Abuse and social barriers that make it difficult for victims to leave abusive relationships.

Ray Rice

Many people were surprised to find that one month after the assault in the elevator in Atlantic City, Janay Rice married the man that hit her. Many people also wonder the same thing about someone they know- how can he or she stay with that person?

Before analyzing abusive and unhealthy relationships, it is important to note that we cannot make assumptions about the relationship between Ray and Janay Rice, we can only use the public attention regarding this case as a starting point for discussing abuse. We must also remember that victims of abuse can be male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, married, dating, or “hooking up”, adults, teenagers, or tweens, rich or poor, educated or dropouts, and of any cultural, religious, or racial backgrounds.

In 1979, psychologist Lenore E. Walker developed the social theory of the Cycle of Abuse (also known as the Cycle of Violence), describing patterns that are often seen in unhealthy relationships. The cycle consists of three stages. Tension Building, Abuse, and Honeymoon.

Tension Building: During this stage, the victim feels things could blow up at any moment. The victim may feel that he/she is walking on eggshells, anticipating an explosion. Anything might set the abuser off, such as not returning a text or phone call immediately. The abuser may start a fight for no apparent reason.

Explosion. During this stage there is an outburst that includes some form of abuse. It can be intense emotional, verbal, sexual, or physical abuse, or a combination. This can include hitting, slamming someone against a wall, screaming, yelling, or humiliating. The abuse is not always physical and it does not always leave a mark. Spitting on someone is an example of abuse that is emotionally damaging but won’t leave a bruise.

Honeymoon: In this stage the abuser often apologizes profusely. They may say “I love you”, promise that it will never happen again, and buy the victims gifts. During this stage the abuser also often tries to shift the blame away from them self. They might blame their stressful job, alcohol, drugs, family stress, and very often- the victim, for the outburst of abuse….

Read More


| | |

Who’s To Blame For The Celebrity Phone Hacking?

Last week approximately 100 celebrities had their phones hacked and nude photos of them stolen and posted online. The reactions by some were, “what are these celebrities doing taking nude pics in the first place?” In this post Nathan Palmer argues that we can better understand reactions like these by understanding the Just World Hypothesis and the phenomenon called victim blaming.

Jennifer Lawrence

People are saying the craziest things about the nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and dozens of other celebrities posted online last week. If you somehow missed it, last week approximately 100 celebrities had their phones hacked and stolen sexual images of them were posted online. And let’s just be clear from the jump, this was a crime not a scandal or a leak. The celebrities are well within their rights to take any photos of themselves and share them with anyone they choose. So now to the shockingly unintelligent things people were saying.

Comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted just after the news broke, “Celebrities make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from the computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” The New York Times tech columnist Nick Bilton echoed this sentiment when he tweeted, “Put together a list of tips for celebs after latest leaks: 1. Don’t take nude selfies 2. Don’t take nude selfies 3. Don’t take nude selfies” These two were not alone. Just go back and read the comments section under any of the news stories about the hack; every third comment chastises the celebrities for being foolish enough to take a nude picture of themselves in the first place. Now I’m willing to bet that some of you who are reading this right now are thinking these comments make sense, but let’s take a second and really think about what they are saying.

Comments like these are implying that the celebrities are to blame for having their phones hacked because they took photos of themselves that would be attractive to hackers. By that logic, celebrities should never do anything that they don’t want the public to see. Or as Jay Smooth put it, “is the rule that if you want a right to privacy, just don’t have a private life?” What’s going on here? The answer can be found in two sociological concepts: The Just World Hypothesis and victim blaming.

Read More


| |

Why Did The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Become a Movement?

At this point, if you haven’t heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, you may want to check your pulse. For the past several weeks, Facebook news feeds have been clogged with videos of folks dumping ice water over their heads for a good cause. In this post, Ami Stearns frames the Ice Bucket Challenge as a social movement, noting that the combination of several factors unique to our post-modern, selfie-obsessed society helped catapult this fundraising activity into one of the more coveted statuses our culture offers to the lucky few: going viral.

Mission Accomplished - ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (14848289439)

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a disease that targets nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The disease can lead to paralysis and even death. The ALS Association is a national non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals who have been diagnosed with the disease. Like other non-profits, the agency’s lifeblood, so to speak, comes from donations. As of the week I write this, an ALS press release announced that $94.3 million had been donated- just since July 29. For comparison, consider that this same non-profit received somewhere around $19 million in donations during all of their 2013 fiscal year. How has nearly $100 million been raised in a few short weeks? With the fervor of a meme like 2012’s Harlem Shake (see SIF’s earlier post on the Harlem Shake meme) and the ubiquitous selfie/navel gazing that is a hallmark of social media, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has become an unbelievably successful phenomenon….

Read More


Framing & Fear of Young Black Men in America Part II

This is part two in a two part series. In the first post, Bridget Welch explains prototypes, schemas, and framing in relation to the stereotyping of young black and Latino boys as criminals. In this piece, she relates those concepts that helps us understand charges of racism made in recent Stand Your Ground cases.

Now that you know everything you need to know about schemas, let’s put that knowledge to good use in understanding charges of racism against Michael Dunn as an exemplar of stand your ground cases.

Prior to starting, we need to answer the question: What are stand your ground laws? You can read the statues if you want (here’s Florida’s), but basically stand your ground makes the use of deadly force when you have “a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm” to yourself or another. As we will see, the important component here is the idea of reasonable. Reasonable to whom?

Michael Dunn saw a bunch of black young men listening to loud music (what he called “rap crap” in the courtroom) in a gas station parking lot. He asked them to turn down the music. They did. Dunn then reported that 17-year-old Jordan Davis pointed a gun at him (see story here). Dunn then brought out his own gun and fired ten times as the car fled, hitting Davis 3 times and killing him. No gun was ever found. Dunn was not found guilty of killing Davis, instead he was found guilty of second-degree attempted murder because of the other boys in the car.

As soon as Dunn saw the boys in that car, his schema for young black males was activated opening up all of the information he has about black boys. While I am not in his head and can’t give you the table of contents for his schema, we have a lot of information about what is most likely there….

Read More


The Presentation of #SELFIE

Currently #SELFIE by the Chainsmokers is the number 20 song on the Billboard Hot 100. That’s right, the phenomenon of the selfie has grown so much that a song about the act is popular. In this post Nathan Palmer explores the selfie phenomenon and connects it to the sociological concepts of impression management and the presentation of self.

Everybody’s doing it. Ellen broke Twitter records with her Oscar selfie. This reporter made news by barely missing a baseball to the head while she was posing for a selfie. Heck, even the president has made news taking selfies during Nelson Mandela’s funeral. It’s official, the selfie is a thing[1].

Let’s analyze a selfie like a sociologist. First, note that people often take selfies in locations that are noteworthy. It’s often a way to say, “hey everybody, look where I visited”. Second, before you take a selfie you make sure your hair/clothes look good and then you make a face or “give a look” to the camera. For instance, consider the ridiculous trend of taking selfies with a “duck face”. Both of these facts tells us that the selfie is a manufactured presentation of self.

 

The Presentation of Self

While the selfie is new, the manufactured presentation of self is not. In 1959 sociologist Erving Goffman published The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Goffman argues that as we move through the world each of us engages in what he calls impression management. In other words, each of us tries to present ourselves as we want those around us to see us. So when I walk into the classroom I am trying to present myself as a professor in the hopes that my students will believe that I am a competent professor.

If Goffman were alive today, he would likely argue that all of social media is designed around the presentation of self. Everyone who uses social media like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. posts images and updates that show only one side of ourselves. Very few people tweet pics of themselves first thing in the morning or doing anything that is not particularly flattering. In my experience, Facebook has become a place to brag about your accomplishments, post photos of your vacations, and/or post images of all the fun/cool things you’ve been doing.

Read More


Framing & Fear of Young Black Men in America Part I

This is part one in a two part series. In this first post, Bridget Welch explains prototypes, schema, and framing and how these concepts help us understand the characterization of black and Latino boys as criminals. In the second post, she will help us relate these concepts to understand the charges of racism made in recent Stand Your Ground cases.

Close your eyes and imagine a dog. What does your dog look like? The dog you image is your “doggiest dog.” It’s the doggiest dog to ever dog. It’s your dog prototype. All other dogs are measured (and found wanting) in comparison to your dog prototype. It includes the list of attributes that you have about a dog (e.g. fur, paws, tail, wet nose) but also includes something more. The dog “essence.” What it does then is allow you to look at other things, like this thing:

and decide, “Is that a dog?”

And, if despite your better judgment you decide “Yes, that thing is a dog” what then happens is you activate your dog schema. While a prototype is your exemplar of a category, a schema is all your ideas about that category. Think of it as a file cabinet in your head with a drawer marked “dog.” When you open that drawer, all the information you have about dogs is right there. Information about what they eat, how they behave, your ideas about their loyalty, the Taco Bell chihuahua, the Dog Whisperer — everything that you’ve gathered about dogs from hearing about them, reading about them, watching TV or films, and of course interacting with them, all right there. And you use that information to decide how to interact, treat, and behave toward the new thing you’ve labeled “dog.”

We also have prototypes with related schematic content for things like “criminals” and “drug users.” If you closed your eyes and pictured a “criminal” what would that person look like? Would that person be a he? Would he be young or old? Would he be black? Research indicates that for most Americans, our prototypes for criminals are young black (and to lesser extent but still highly problematic, Hispanic) males. Indeed, as Kelly Welch (no relation) writes in her article about black criminal stereotypes:”stereotyping of Blacks as criminals is so pervasive throughout society that “criminal predator” is used as a euphemism for “young Black male.”…

Read More


| | |

#ashtag: The Sacred and Profane of Lent

The season of Lent has become popular among the non-religious population and has gained steam this year with the help of social media. From last week’s hot trending tweet of #ashtag to smartphone apps that help with Lent, the ancient practice begs a more modern, sociological interpretation. In this post, Ami Stearns discusses the sociological reasons behind participation in Lent.

Ash Wednesday

Did you catch all the ash selfies on Twitter on last week? The Twittersphere blew up March 5th and 6th with the hashtag #ashtag (get it?). #Ashtag posts featured a selfie of the tweeter’s forehead ash. That now-famous Oscar picture taken by host Ellen DeGeneres was even altered to promote the hashtag. In case you didn’t know, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent season for Christians who identify mainly with the Catholic faith. During the Ash Wednesday ceremony, the pastor or priest marks parishioners’ foreheads with ash in the form of a cross to signify penance, humility, and mortality.

This year, Lent began on March 5th and will end on April 17th. It’s a 40-day period of observation, self-reflection, and sacrifice that has been observed since as early as the 3rd century C.E. (some argue 5th century C.E.). In the Catholic tradition, Lent is typically marked by fasting or abstaining from certain foods. While a uniquely Christian observation, Lent has been “co-opted” by more and more people, including those outside of the Catholic faith, former Catholics, and even non-believers. In fact, the opportunity to try out a 40-day resolution appeals to nearly everyone (how long did your New Year’s resolution last anyway?). So how can we use sociology to explain the secularization of Lent?

Social media is playing a strong role in this year’s Lent. If you weren’t in on the #ashtag phenomenon, maybe you’ve had your Facebook feed clogged with people’s intentions for Lent. I’ve seen people cutting out certain food groups, giving up complaining, and logging off social media for 40 days (after proclaiming it on social media, of course!). Some people are using the Lent observation to begin a new habit, like writing a daily blog post or being thankful every day. If anyone needs help getting through Lent – there’s an app for that!…

Read More


| | |

Is Cameron Diaz A Sociologist?

The well-known actress recently published a New York Times best-seller that may make you see her as one. The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body might not sound like the title of a sociological text, however the connections Diaz makes between societal influences and the health of Americans have the sociological imagination written all over them.  In this post, Mediha Din explores the use of the sociological imagination to understand health, with the help of Cameron Diaz’s recent publication.

It’s not too surprising that a book written by a Hollywood star on health and nutrition may find itself as number three on the New York Times Best Seller list. Many Americans are eager to learn the “secrets of the stars” when it comes to weight loss or health. However, Diaz’s book is not a diet guide or how-to on weight loss. It is an in-depth explanation of human health that makes strong connections between trends in our society and the health of our citizens.

The sociological imagination is a key concept in sociology (this post by Kimberly Kiesewetter describes the sociological imagination in detail.) Using your sociological imagination means being able to see the connections between the larger society and individual actions, events, or beliefs. Cameron Diaz’s book is filled with these connections. She discusses changes in American society based on technology. She cites scientific health studies examining how we were once a highly physically active society, but are now a “society that loves to sit”. Most American workers before the 1960’s had jobs involving manual labor such as farming and building. Most house work also required physical exertion such as washing dishes by hand or vacuuming with a heavy Hoover. Cooking required long bouts of standing to chop vegetables and watch the pots on the stove.

Today, modern conveniences have dramatically decreased our physical exertion. Many jobs require sitting at a desk and working on the computer for 8 hours a day or more. Microwaves, dishwashers, washing machines, frozen meals, and pre-chopped veggies have dramatically changed housework.  Affordable cars and televisions have also contributed to more and more sitting. The implications of less activity and more sitting on our health are devastating. Long-term sitting is associated with higher risks of heart disease, high-blood pressure, and diabetes, according to a study in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Read More


| |

How Many Facebook Friends does a Person Need?

Most of us recognize that we can’t possibly know 1,200 people well enough to truly be friends with that many people, yet we all know someone (and maybe even are that person), who seems to friend everyone on Facebook. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how having numerous social network connections might be beneficial. 


“Can you believe she has 1,200 Facebook friends?”

“I know. How can she possibly know that many people?”

“I only friend people I know in real life. I have no time to keep up with people I barely talked to in high school or only met briefly at a party.”

“I’m with you. I’m perfectly content with my 163 Facebook friends. I only want to be Facebook friends with people I know well in real life.”

Have you ever had a conversation like the one above? Are you someone who seems to friend everyone on Facebook or are you more selective with your Facebook friend requests?

It is usually pretty easy to understand the motives of a person who is fairly selective about who they accept friend requests from on Facebook. It is often more difficult to understand the person who appears to friend everyone.

A sociologist is interested in both types of Facebook users. In this post, I will explain how having hundreds or even thousands of Facebook friends might be advantageous.

The main reason why a person tends to be critical of the Facebook user with numerous friends is that this Facebook user is elevating friend status to relatively weak social ties rather than reserving the word friend for people they really do consider to be friend. Facebook is using the word friend to really mean tie. These ties may be to people the person does not know very well. They might have never even met the person outside of the Internet….

Read More