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Why Don’t People Know What Labor Day is Celebrating?

Why is Labor Day a national holiday? If you’re stumped, you’re not alone. In this post, Nathan Palmer argues that our awareness of the U.S. labor movement is connected to how textbooks and curriculum are created through a process of cultural production.

“What are we celebrating on Labor Day?” There is always a long silence after I ask my intro to sociology class this question. My students look to their left and right waiting for a classmate to generate the answer. “It’s a day off because we labor so hard, right?” I shake my head no. In eight years of teaching only one class got it right and I think they googled the answer on their information phones.

Labor Day celebrates the victories of the labor movement. Whether you know it or not, people fought and died protesting for the right to unionize, for weekends off, child labor laws, the 40 hour work week, and many other things that most workers today could not imagine living without.

So why are so few of us aware of the history of the labor movement? The answer to this question lies, at least partially, in James Loewen’s (1995) work Lies My Teacher Told Me.

The History of History Textbooks

Loewen analyzed the high school social studies and history textbooks to see what was and was not talked about it. Loewen found that half of the 18 American history textbooks he reviewed contained no index listing at all for the terms social class, social stratification, class structure, income distribution, inequality, or any conceivably related topic. Furthermore, very few of the books discussed labor union strikes and absolutely none discussed recent strikes and the strong government opposition to labor unions starting with the Reagan administration. Loewen (1995: 205) concluded that, “With such omissions, textbook authors construe labor history as something that happened long ago, like slavery, and that, like slavery, was corrected long ago.”

It’s easy to think that history is history (i.e. that history is the collection of facts about what happened before now), but that would be wrong….

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Is It Really A “Small World”?

“It’s a small world” is something we say all the time, but is it really? In this post Nathan Palmer discusses how he lost his GoPro in a river, then against all odds got it back, and learned that it isn’t a small world, but it is a highly connected one.

My name is Nathan Palmer and I love making videos. Mostly videos of my wife and little daughter. She’s getting a lot bigger these days and so are our adventures. So I recently purchased a GoPro camera to keep up with her.

Our first big family adventure with the camera was tubing down the Chattahoochee river. I set off for a lazy day of floating with my wife and daughter. It was perfect. Well, that is until Lilly fell into the river. I dived for Lilly- catching her by the arm. After she was safe in her tube I went to sit back down in mine. My tube flipped up and hit my camera dead on, knocking it into the water. Lilly was safe and that’s all that matters, but my camera and all the memories it held were lost forever or so I thought.

My GoPro camera scratched the bottom of the river for about a week. Until it found a final resting place between some big rocks. And that’s the end of the story or at least thats where the story ends most of the time. But not this time.

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Hey, Mister, Can You Spare a Thousand? Crowdfunding as the Middle-Class Version of Panhandling

Asking for money is uncouth. In fact, money is not even really a polite topic for conversation, along with other taboo subjects like religion, politics, and sex. We go to elaborate lengths to avoid people who are asking for money in public by crossing to the other side of the street, avoiding eye contact, rolling up our windows, and pretending to talk or text on our phones. Money requests are, in short, uncomfortable. In this post, Ami Stearns suggests that the middle-class has harnessed the power of the internet to re-construct the way requesting financial assistance is accomplished. Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter provide a socially-acceptable method of asking for money.

Panhandler

“Only because of GoFundMe and my friends was I able to raise money for shoes,” wrote Igor Vovkovinskiy, the world’s tallest man. Other requests I looked at on GoFundMe included asking for financial assistance to open a cupcake shop, to run for Miss Washington, to help fund artificial insemination and adoption, trips to do ancestry research in Guatemala, animals’ vet bills, and help “living the dream” in New York City. Kickstarter funds creative projects: albums, video games, documentaries. Even rocker Neil Young is using Kickstarter to fund his portable audio player. These days, it’s more than acceptable to ask for money using these sites- it’s hip and fun!

Money is a difficult subject. It’s embarrassing if you have too much or too little. It’s tough (often humiliating) to have to ask someone for money. It’s considered in poor taste to hand your best friend a $20 bill on their birthday instead of buying a present. In fact, when given as a gift, money needs to come disguised, so it’s not seen as tacky. When I Googled “manners” and “asking for money,” over 9 million pages were presented. That’s a lot of advice for a delicate subject!…

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What’s Wrong with Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns

Breast cancer is arguably the most talked about disease in the United States and yet every years students across the country carry out campaigns to raise awareness of the disease. In this post Nathan Palmer asks us to think about these campaigns from a social movement and social change perspective and ask ourselves what actions can we take to create the largest impact in our communities?

Wait. You’re not ready to read this yet. You and I have to have a little talk first. Before you waltz into the rest of this post, let me say right here right now, I am not trying to shame anyone or discourage anyone from trying to make the world a better place. It’s always better to do something than it is to do nothing.

You care about things (that’s why I like you). I’ve rarely met a student who wasn’t passionate about some issue or cause. Many of my students of mine are deeply concerned about issues like human trafficking, child abuse prevention, intimate partner violence, immigration reform– I could go on. As a sociologist it “fills my bucket”, as my 6 year old daughter would say, to be surrounded by enthusiastic and driven social change agents. But more than any other issue breast cancer awareness gets my students to take action like no other issue. We’re going to tackle the issues surrounding breast cancer awareness campaigns from three angles, but first let’s talk about your time, attention, and money.

The Finite Nature of Time, Attention, and Money

You are going to die. You only have so many hours left on this earth (as your Tikker watch could tell you). While we’re discussing depressing things, it’s also true that your bank account only has so much money in it. I bring up all of this sobering information to make the point that each of us has a set finite amount of time, attention, and money. All three of these things are precious and irreplaceable. Let’s keep this in mind while we talk about your philanthropy (i.e. the causes you donate to, the charity runs you participate in, the food drive you contribute to, etc.).

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The Rise of the Non-Church Church

Can a Sunday gathering meet the social needs of a community while leaving out religion? In this post, Ami Stearns documents a surprising new trend, The Sunday Assembly. These godless churches have taken off like wildfire across the globe, built on the existing structure of a typical religious organization, but leaving God out of the formula. This begs the question, what defines a church? As Finke and Stark suggest in The Churching of America: 1776-2005, churches have expanded in new ways to fill a huge variety of social and civic needs, which may be why a religious organization like the megachurch has relevance in today’s secular society. The Sunday Assembly shows that a “church” need not be based on religion in order to meet social and civic needs.

An auditorium full of people clap and sing along with the leaders on a Sunday morning. There’s time for an inspirational reading and quiet reflection. While this sounds like a service at any one of a number of large “megachurches” around the country, this gathering has attracted hundreds of atheists. In November of 2013, the first of these services, called The Sunday Assembly , debuted in the U.S. after having success in the U.K.

Atheist-Badge-BrushedMetal

Begun in January of 2013 by two U.K. comedians (really!), The Sunday Assembly is not anti-religion. Instead, these gatherings leave religion out of the social and civic experience of going to “church.” The Assemblies are godless, but celebrate life and learning, and strive to help individuals reach their full potential, with the motto “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.”

As of January 2014, there are over thirty Sunday Assemblies operating worldwide, from Los Angeles to Melbourne. The Sunday Assemblies offer humanitarian opportunities similar to other religious organizations, like picking up trash around the community, collecting coats for underprivileged families, planting trees, and volunteering with food banks. The Sunday Assemblies also incorporate civic activities like book clubs, philosophy clubs, small group sessions, reading books to elementary students, and donating blood.

In 2005, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark co-authored a book called The Churching of America: 1776-2005. The work challenged the notion that religion was losing relevance in American society, suggesting that a new form of religious institution, the megachurch, was having a significant impact on civic and social life, mainly by offering a myriad of social services to the surrounding community.

Channeling televangelist Jerry Falwell’s motto that a cheap church makes God look cheap, megachurches began appearing on the religious landscape in the 1970s. Using the modern shopping mall as their architectural inspiration, megachurches like Saddleback Church in California, Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, and A Community of Joy in Arizona were designed to meet not only the spiritual needs of the surrounding community, but also (and perhaps more importantly) the social needs.

Megachurches foster strong ties with the community by offering schools, daycare centers, GED courses, food banks, recreational facilities, sports leagues, fitness classes, 12-step programs, grief and divorce support groups, working mothers’ brunches, coffee shops, food courts, concerts, pageants, and small group sessions. In other words, these megachurches are a source for “one-stop shopping” to meet a community’s social needs.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that religious adherents in America are decreasing. One-fifth of Americans today are not affiliated with any specific religion (five years ago, 15% of adults reported no affiliation, but today 20% of adults report no affiliation with a religious organization). This one-fifth includes atheists, agnostics, and those who say they are affiliated with “nothing in particular.” However, of those unaffiliated adults, nearly one third of them report themselves to be spiritual. The biggest issue with religious institutions today, the unaffiliated say, is too much focus on money, power, rules, and politics. So where does someone turn who is spiritual but not necessarily religious?

For those individuals who don’t miss church, but do miss the social and community aspects of attending church, the Sunday Assemblies might be a new way to connect with others, take time to reflect, and serve the community.

Dig Deeper:

  1. What is your initial reaction to something dubbed an “atheist church?”
  2. If you have ever attended church, describe what social needs the church met.
  3. Listen to this NPR story and make a list of how the Sunday Assemblies are similar to a “typical” church and how they are different. Compare lists with a classmate to see if the lists are alike.
  4. Have you ever been inspired to be a better person or live a fuller life by a person other than a religious leader? In what way did this person inspire you?


The Reverse Racism Debate (Sociology Edition)

If White Americans are the targets of racial prejudice and discrimination, then that’s reverse racism, right? Well, while many people might agree with this logic, in this post Kim Cochran Kiesewetter discusses the differences between individual and institutional racism to help explain reverse racism from a sociological point of view.

I still remember sitting in my first sociology course in college – Race and Ethnic Relations – and hearing the professor introduce the discussion of racism. Immediately, my mind flew to an experience I had as a child where I had felt attacked for being White while staying with my grandmother in a neighborhood composed predominantly of families from minority racial backgrounds. As I shared my story with the class, the professor interjected that, even though I had felt discriminated against, I hadn’t been the victim of racism since I was White. A look of confusion crossed my face moments before I realized I was incredibly offended. How in the world could this person be telling me I couldn’t have experienced being the victim of racism?!

As a sociology teacher myself now, I regularly encounter the same conversation I had with my professor when I myself was a student… except now I am the professor trying to use that conversation as a gentle move into the discussion of individual versus institutional racism.

Learning to think sociologically takes time because, for many of us, it’s a dynamically different way of looking at the world. Sociologists look at trends for large groups of people to examine how a variety of social forces can influence the ways in which we experience life. This means that we don’t use individual, singular experiences as representative of whole populations. Instead, we have to look at the proverbial big picture.  Aamer Rahman, an Australian comedian, does a great job of using humor to explain how to view racism in a “big picture” manner, versus as an individual experience.


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Preventing Men’s Violence Against Women: A Zealand Case

Remember the Steubenville travesty that occurred in mid-2012 but didn’t start making headlines until months later? If you don’t recall, the case involved teenage males sexually assaulting a heavily intoxicated younger female, bragging of their exploits online, as various parties looked the other way or covered up the males’ actions. In the aftermath, certain mainstream media outlets were more sympathetic to the adjudicated males than to the female survivor. In this post, David Mayeda covers a strikingly similar case that has made headlines in New Zealand.

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.

A while ago I began writing a few SIF articles focused on “preventing violence against women.” I discussed the Steubenville case, as well as the tragedy in New Delhi, India and in different form, examples from Pakistan. In retrospect, I should have recalled how Jackson Katz frames the issue by naming it “men’s violence against women,” highlighting men’s responsibility in gendered violence.

This past month, I was reminded how correct Katz is when 3News in New Zealand exposed a group of older teenage males from West Auckland called the Roast Busters. As reported by The New Zealand Herald, “The Roast Busters caused outrage by bragging on their Facebook page about getting underage girls drunk and having sex with them…. The Roast Busters Facebook page and the profile pages of some members – who are said to have targeted girls as young as 13 – have been taken down since news of their activities broke.”

Since this story broke, members of New Zealand’s mainstream and alternative media have provided excellent commentary critiquing the Roast Busters and a broader rape culture in New Zealand that “systematically trivializes, normalizes, or endorses sexual assault.”

Unfortunately, following the Roast Busters’ exposure, a number of other disturbing events emerged that exemplify how rape culture operates in a patriarchal society, where men’s privilege is embedded across society’s institutions. Take for instance the male-dominated institution of law enforcement. Police initially stated they could not take action on the Roast Busters because no victim had formally come forward to complain.

However, the public quickly learned that “police had received a complaint from a 13-year-old girl as far back as 2011.” Demonstrating how police blamed the very young victim instead of taking action against accused male perpetrators, it was later revealed, “The girl…told 3News she was upset by the line of questioning used when she was interviewed by police in 2011, including about what she was wearing” (see also here)….

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What Can A 16 Year Old Teach Us About Education Today?

If you had the opportunity to meet President Obama and the Queen of England what would you want to discuss? Now imagine, you are 16 years old, what topics would be most important to you at that age? Your school? Your parents? Your favorite celebrities? For one 16 year old today, educational equality, rights for women, and terrorism are the issues she eagerly wants to discuss with heads of state and members of the United Nations. If you have not heard of Malala Yousafzai, her story is sure to inspire.  A year ago, at age 15, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen simply because she wanted to go to school. Miraculously, she survived and is now bravely speaking out in an effort to improve educational opportunities for children around the world. In this post, Mediha Din describes education from the sociological point of view known as Conflict Theory.

According to Conflict Theory, education is a mechanism that produces and reproduces inequality in society. Malala Yousafzai is passionate about combating this inequality. The recent 20/20 special about her journey describes a young girl growing up in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. In 2009, the Taliban banned girls in her region from attending school.

Malala began a blog for BBC News in opposition to the order and voiced her desire for education. Soon after, the New York Times created a documentary about her struggle for education, and her name became known.

In 2011, Malala told CNN, “I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk.”

A year later, Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while riding the bus home from school. She amazingly survived and continues to work as an activist for children’s education.

Conflict theory is a perspective in sociology that sees the world as an arena of competition. When analyzing any situation from this point of view, a conflict theorist emphasizes the importance of:

1. Competition: over scarce resources

2. Inequality: conflicts between haves” andhave-nots”

3. Discrimination: different treatment and opportunities for different groups such as rich versus poor, males versus females, employers versus employees.

Malala’s story clearly illustrates a competition over scarce resources. In this case, the precious resource is education. “In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It’s their normal life,” Malala told Diane Sawyer in an interview for ABC News. “But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education … it’s like a precious gift. It’s like a diamond.” Today, millions of children around the world reach age 15 unable to read or write. According to data from the Central Intelligence Agency, 774 million people age 15 and older are illiterate, 52% of these people live in South and West Asia, and 22% percent live in sub-Saharan Africa….

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They’re watching!… Themselves.

The “Quantified Self” is a movement characterized by the technological ability to collect and analyze data about ourselves: from our mood to our heart rate to the number of calories just consumed after that giant tub of movie popcorn. The popularity of high-tech devices like FitBit and apps like MoodPanda normalizes the experience of being monitored. Sociologist Michel Foucault used the metaphor of an 18th century prison design called the Panopticon to illustrate a modern society where surveillance and monitoring is normalized. In this post, Ami Stearns argues that the Quantified Self movement re-locates the Panopticon from outside our bodies to inside our minds, further internalizing and normalizing the phenomenon of being watched.

I always feel like someone’s watching me; my every move & mood. Oh wait, it’s me.

As of 10:00 on the morning I write this, my maximum heart rate had reached 168 during a fitness class, I’d consumed 417 calories (including 7 grams of fat, 11 grams of protein, 48 grams of carbs, and way too much sodium), documented my mood as feeling very safe after killing a spider, and realized I hadn’t met my writing goals for the month after receiving an alert on my phone. In a sense, since waking up this morning I have been constantly monitoring my productivity along with my physical, biological, and emotional states, collecting data on myself through the assistance of technological devices.

The Quantified Self describes the phenomenon of monitoring ourselves through technology. Users can track and quantify everyday activities, whether it’s calories burned, miles run, television consumed, quality of REM sleep achieved, sonnet lines penned, or ovulation cycles estimated. The phrase “Quantified Self” was coined by Wired magazine writers Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf, spurring an entire movement that now holds global conferences to bring users together with manufacturers of Quantified Self products. The Quantified Self movement’s motto: Knowing yourself through numbers.

But what are you to do with all these data on yourself? Be the person society wants you to be! Be productive, be thin, be fit, be smoke-free, be pregnant (or not), be aware of how many microbrews you sampled so far this year. You can even use the data you’ve collected to stay safe from sexually transmitted diseases by storing the results from your latest STD test on your phone’s MedXCom app and then “phone bumping” with potential sexual partners who have the app (I’m not kidding). In case your data are becoming overwhelming, consolidate and analyze the big picture with the Daytum app.

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Hashtag @ctivism: Miss Representation, Tweets, & Feminist Praxis

Hashtag activism emerged on social media and remains a popular method of campaigning for or against an issue. Users can protest an incident or raise awareness of a social problem with a click of a button with very little personal investment. Yet, for all its ability to raise awareness, hashtag activism seems like “activism light.” Can it really accomplish anything? In this post, Ami Stearns discusses how the #notbuyingit campaign has actually created real world change and argues that hashtag activism can be a form of effective feminist praxis.

Digital campaigns seem to appear out of nowhere, only to quickly disappear from Facebook, twitter, and the public’s attention. Remember #Kony2012? Suddenly, everyone from college sophomores to retired grandmothers wanted to bring attention to this previously unknown Ugandan warlord and his child army. But what real good came of “liking” the issue or hashtagging Kony’s name all over twitter? Was real change enacted? This type of awareness-raising campaigning has been called “slactivism” because it only requires tapping a computer key in order to feel that something has been accomplished. Hashtag activism has the ability to communicate complex problems succinctly and quickly, as well as mobilizing users efficiently. Also, hashtag activism does not involve the personal sacrifice or time investments usually required by in-person protests or campaigns. The phenomenon of digital activism begs the question: how effective is it?

Phone with Twitter Showing

The Miss Representation organization is a non-profit group dedicated to fighting back against the misrepresentation of women in the media and in larger contexts. Their website reinforces their activist orientation, stating: “Consumers are using their power to celebrate positive media and advertising, and challenge negative media and advertising”. Miss Representation even has a phone app to assist users in digitally protesting negative and sexist portrayals of women in commercials, in the news, and even in products. Using the hashtag #notbuyingit, twitter users can target the offending company and hope to see real change take place.

This hashtag activism has succeeded in a number of instances….

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