Thinking of Volunteering Abroad? Read this first.

Unless you have paid work lined up, soon-to-be graduates frequently ponder what they will do with all the newfound spare time on their hands, while simultaneously questioning how their university degree can be put into practice in the “real world.” Lacking that tangible, reliable post-graduation roadmap, many recent university graduates (at least those who can afford it) are choosing to volunteer internationally, as a way to build their resumes, help others in need and add meaning to their lives. In this post, David Mayeda draws on the concept of neocolonialsim to critique this growing practice of international volunteerism.

In just over two weeks, 11 current and former University of Auckland students and I will embark on a two-week trip to Cambodia and Thailand to learn about the horrific practices of human trafficking and modern day slavery. Our guides on this trip will be personnel from an organization called, Destiny Rescue, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that specializes in stopping the trafficking of women and children who are coerced into sex work. During the past year, the students and I have been preparing for this trip, which has included all kinds of fundraising, as well as having honest conversations about our short trip’s objectives.

For the most part, our trip will entail learning how broad structural factors (e.g., poverty, discriminatory citizenship laws, corruption in law enforcement and politics, gender and age discrimination, demand from high income countries) contribute to modern day slavery, guided through this learning process with people who deal with these factors “on the ground” as part of their daily work. However, there will be a few occasions where our tour group volunteers with young people who have escaped trafficking rings….

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Panic or Pandemic? Understanding the Ebola Crisis

Heard the word “Ebola” lately? This rare and exotic disease has become a household term in America over the past few weeks. In this post, Ami Stearns suggests that our fear of Ebola might be better understood from studying our fear of outsiders.

PHIL disinfection Ebola outbreak 1995.jpg

I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist, but something must be done about this disease NOW. Deaths due to the highly contagious virus are estimated at anywhere from a low of 3,000 to a high of 49,000 in America. Every economic resource at our disposal should be employed to warn our citizens of this imminent danger. Public service announcements should be tailored to alert everyone about the threat of contagion and the measures that can be taken to stop the terrifying progression of this often-fatal illness. This is no new disease either. If we aren’t very careful, we could see a repeat of 1918-1919, where this epidemic caused the deaths of 20 to 40 million people worldwide. Every media outlet should be covering this potential disaster relentlessly!

What am I talking about? The flu, of course!

Oh, just the flu? Yawn.

The flu has wreaked havoc throughout history, killing more individuals during that 1918-1919 pandemic than were killed during World War I. And yet- it’s the flu. Nothing to get excited about. How then can we explain the utter panic and grim forecasts dogging the Ebola virus?…

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Everyday Colonialism

In 1991, Philomena Essed wrote an important book titled Everyday Racism: An Interdisciplinary Theory. In her seminal text, Essed outlines how seemingly subtle and innocuous interactions between majority group members and women of color are muddled with racism. Essed termed these interactions, “everyday racism.” Other scholars in social psychology have called everyday racist acts “microaggressions.” In this post, David Mayeda discusses a recent commercial from Australia and his own research with Maori and Pacific students in Aotearoa New Zealand to illustrate the power of everyday racism and what he and his colleagues term, everyday colonialism.

Before I get into this post, check out this recent commercial that demonstrates what indigenous peoples in Australia (Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders) must cope with on a regular, everyday basis.

Here at SociologyInFocus, a sociological topic we tend to neglect is colonialism.  First let’s define imperialism – “the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory; ‘colonialism’, which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 2002, p. 46). In short, colonialism is imperialism put into action.

Today, old school colonialism is less prevalent. Instead what we tend to see are modern remnants of colonialism operating systemically through what scholars call “neo-colonialsim.” In neo-colonial settings, previously colonized states have gained political independence from the colonial powers of yester-year. However, contemporary political, social and economic arrangements persist that keep indigenous peoples pushed to society’s margins and in a state of perpetual structural disadvantage. Thus, colonialism lives on even if we don’t realize it….

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Bringing Ferguson into Context

Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18 year old child, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. Nearly everyday since, protestors have filled the streets of Ferguson demanding information and an investigation of the officer’s actions. In this post, Nathan Palmer argues that to truly understand the events of that day we must consider both the social and historical contexts that surrounded them.

“You will find that the people doing the oppressing often want to start the narrative at a convenient point, [they] always want to start the point in the middle.” Actor and civil rights activist Jesse Williams said that on CNN while talking about the killing of Michael Brown an unarmed 18 year-old and the protests that followed in Ferguson, Missouri. Mr. Williams sounds like a sociologist.

Sociology at it’s core is the scientific study of how the individual is shaped by society and how society is shaped by the individual. Sociologists believe that to truly understand an event like the killing of Michael Brown and the civil unrest that followed, you first have to place it within it’s social and historical context. Or put more simply, you can’t truly understand Michael Brown’s death if your analysis starts in 2014. Ferguson is bigger than one killing and bigger than a single town in Missouri.

If you’re not up on the news out of Ferguson, check out this helpful timeline of events and watch the video below to get caught up quickly.

The Social Context Surrounding Ferguson

Ferguson is a 21,000 person suburb of St. Louis that is predominantly Black (60%), highly segregated, and poor with one in four residents living below the poverty line as of 2012. The economic downturn of 2008 hit Ferguson particularly hard. The unemployment rate before the recession was less than 5%, but in the 2010–2012 time period it jumped to over 13%. For young African American men in the area, the economic situation was worse. As local columnist David Nicklaus reported, “47 percent of the metro area’s African-American men between ages 16 and 24 are unemployed. The comparable figure for young white men is 16 percent.”

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Is Hispanic an Ethnic Category or a Racial Category?

Sociologists use the terms race and ethnicity to mean different things even though many Americans use the terms interchangeably. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains why Hispanic origin is typically considered an ethnic category rather than a racial category. 

This post starts a bit differently than most. I want to begin with a few questions:

  1. What is race? Can you name two or three racial groups in America?
  2. What is ethnicity? Can you name two or three ethnic groups in America?
  3. What is the difference between race and ethnicity?
  4. Is Hispanic a race or ethnicity?

Sociologists use the word race to refer to categories of people who share distinct physical features. These physical features may be based in biology, but are granted social significance. For example, skin color, hair texture, and eye shape are all used in American society to determine a person’s racial categorization. In general, African Americans, Asian Americans, and White Americans are all considered racial groups.

Sociologists define ethnicity as a shared culture. For example, Jewish Americans would be considered an ethnic group because of their shared religious background. Chinese Americans would also be an ethnic group because of their shared nation of origin.

While many folks use the terms race and ethnicity interchangeably, they actually do refer to different things. Based on the above definitions of race and ethnicity, where do Hispanics fit?  Are Hispanics a racial group or an ethnic group?…

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Swim at Your Own Risk: Racial Disparities in Drowning

Is swimming a part of your summertime fun or does it feel you with dread? Does your reaction to swimming have anything to do with your race? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains the role of race in swimming and drowning. 

I’ve swam in ponds, lakes, and creeks. I’ve swam in chlorinated backyard pools, public pools, and hotel pools. As an adult (who has spent most of my life in the landlocked-Midwest), I’ve managed to swim in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Swimming has always been a part of my life. As a child, I took swimming lessons for one week each summer. It never failed that the week of my lessons, the weather would be about 70 degrees and overcast (i.e., too cold), but I still went. I was never very good. I like to say, that I knew enough not to drown. That may sound a bit over-confident, but I did know how to swim and learned some basic survival skills.

Little did I know that my access to public swimming spaces, swimming lessons, and risk of drowning had something to do with my race or the legacy of racial discrimination….

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Please Ignore the Racist In Front of the Curtain

Sterling and Bundy certainly said some horribly racist stuff. In this article, Bridget Welch argues that while what they said is horribly bad, the attention we pay to these acts is just a farce that allows the real racism to continue unchecked behind the scenes.

I don’t follow the sports. I can honestly say that I would have had no idea what city had a team named the Clippers (I’m not sure if I would have been able to name the sport) prior to the big racist meltdown Donald Sterling, the team’s owner, had when his girlfriend was seen at a game with a black man. I’m not going to get into the meltdown. It’s all over the internet for your listening … pleasure?

I do, however, closely follow grazing rights and am currently kicking butt in my fantasy public land use league with Cliven Bundy as an early pick. If that sentence made no sense to you it is because it’s one part dry humor and another part about illegal grazing of cattle which most Americans spend about 0% of their life thinking about. However, Cliven Bundy probably rings a bell because of his recent racist spiel that was cycled fairly often on all of the news channels.

Both men made comments that show attitude towards Blacks that can be traced directly back to our justifications for slavery. Sterling talks about how he takes care of his black players, evidently “giving” them cars and putting meals on their tables — I guess what he means is that he does this when they otherwise would not be able to support themselves. Bundy gets right to the point with his claims that Blacks would be better off back in the fields picking cotton because at least then they wouldn’t be asking for handouts. Both men are recycling the same tired tropes of the “happy” slave who relied upon the Master to provide for them and were content with their lot in life as long as they had a little rest and watermelon.

Please do not misunderstand as this post goes forward. What both of these men said was foul, highly problematic, and shows how much the historical creation and content of stereotypes still lingers. And I was happy to see all of the civil action in response. The problem is, the focus on these men is skewed towards paying attention to some stupid stuff someone said rather than the larger issues that actually perpetuate racism in American society.

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The Clippers, Don Sterling, and the Actions of Heroes

I used to teach the 2nd grade.  As a future sociologist, and life-long lover of justice, one of my favorite units to teach was the Social Studies unit “People Who Make A Difference.” I would begin by asking my class of 7-8 year olds, “What is a hero?” They would often respond by naming their favorite comic book heroes. Superman and Spiderman were sure to come up. As we moved past comments such as “someone who wears a cape” or “someone who has powers,” eventually a student would say something along the lines of “someone who saves people.” I would express a lot of excitement at this statement that eventually led the students to name people like Martin Luther King. Jr. as their idea of a hero.  In this post, Mediha Din explores the components of being a hero and creating social change through the three major perspectives in sociology.

As I watched the first minute of the Clippers basketball game Sunday, (a play-off game versus the Golden State Warriors) I waited to see if any heroes would emerge. I listened earlier to the recorded remarks allegedly made by the Clippers franchise owner Donald Sterling, instructing his girlfriend to avoid associating with black people in public. You can listen to the recording here.

Clippers Basketball Players

Many basketball fans awaited the response of the Clippers players and coach, wondering if they would refuse to play. The Clippers coach, Doc Rivers, made a statement earlier stating that he was not surprised by the comments. He also explained that the team met, the players were not happy about the comments, but they were not going to let anyone get in the way of what they have worked so hard for.

Just before the game began the players wore their warm-up shirts in-side out, hiding the Clippers logo. Commentators said this act was to represent their solidarity. Then the game began, basketball as usual.

I thought about Muhammad Ali. How he sacrificed his title to stand up for what he believed in. Ali declared his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War during the time of the draft. He was arrested, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license, and stripped him of his title. Some found his anti-establishment views infuriating, others found them inspiring….

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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….

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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.

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