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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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How to Start a Freakout Dance Party!

You make your own decisions, right? I mean, you don’t let others influence you, do you? While many of us are inclined to think that our decisions are 100% our own, sociologists point out that we are heavily influenced by the decisions others are making around us. When we you decide to break conventional norms in a group setting because, “everyone’s doing it,” sociologists call this mass deviance Collective Action. In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses some sociological theories that may help us understand why sometimes our behavior is shaped by those around us.

You are sitting in class trying to listen attentively, but drifting into a daydream. Today’s class has been fantastically unremarkable; almost identical to all the classes that came before it. Then all of a sudden one of your classmates jumps out of their seat looking down at their phone. “Uh, professor, I’m sorry but I gotta leave, it’s not safe here!” he says before bolting out the door. You grab your phone and get onto Twitter to see if you can figure out what he was talking about. You haven’t even unlocked your phone before two other classmates storm out of the room.

“Everyone, let’s calm down. Please take your seats,” your professor says with the palms of her hands extended out to the class. Eight more students peel off as you check your phone. You check everywhere, but can’t find anything alarming online; there’s no messages, tweets, or news stories suggesting anything is wrong. When you look up from your phone almost everyone in the class is gone. So what do you do? Do you stay or do you jet?

Collective Action

Each of us is profoundly impacted by the actions of those around us. Think about the last time you did something you really got in trouble for or think about the first time you drank alcohol (if you have); were you alone? Chances are you were surrounded by a collection of your peers egging you on to do something crazy. When people in groups behave in similar ways (often by breaking social norms) together to try and achieve a certain goal, sociologists call this collective action. There are multiple theories that try to explain why people give their individuality over to the group, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, but today I want to talk about just one: Emergent Norm Theory. But first, who feels like dancing?

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If It’s Hard To Change, Hardly Anyone Will

Want to change the world? Even in a small way? Well if you do, then you need to pay attention to what sociologists call the social organization of daily life. In this post Nathan Palmer describes where his health and the social organization of daily life collide.

I woke up at 4am yesterday and couldn’t hear. Slowly coming into consciousness, it felt like I was submerged in water. I knew this day would come after I got diagnosed last fall, “but… not now. Not so soon,” I told myself. A train of no’s started to ricochet around my head starting slowly at first and then building to a frenzy. “No… no… no, no, oh no. Oh god. Please no. Please, I’m sorry!”

My hand shot from my side, “April, I can’t hear.” I whisper-screamed to my wife. “What!?!” she yelped, shooting up from the bed. I heard her voice clearly in my left ear, but only my left. I described what it felt like and we held hands. Then I laid my head on her chest. Wincing my eyes shut I asked the universe for help.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with an inner ear disease that could wind up causing me to lose my hearing. Along with medication, my doctor told me to go on a low salt diet immediately, but for the most part I haven’t. Waking up in a cold sweat partially deaf might get me back on the low salt diet bandwagon…. maybe.

Before I was done with my coffee my hearing came back. I’m no doctor, so I can’t tell you if what I experienced is common or if it all was just a psychosomatic mess that I created in my head. However, I am a sociologist so I can tell you how my experience illustrates another reason creating social change is hard.

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Why You Stink At Creating Social Change

Our world is filled with signs yelling at people to clean up their messes, follow the rules, etc. and yet almost no one abides by them. Why are signs like these so ineffective and how does this illustrate how bad we are at creating social change? In this piece Nathan Palmer addresses both those questions and cautions against falling in the rational actor trap and falling for the fundamental attribution error.

“PLEASE DON’T PUT SODA BOTTLES IN THE FREEZER!!! THEY EXPLODE!!!” Signs like this are plastered across the break room refrigerators all over the world. They always make me laugh. I wonder what effect the person who wrote the sign thought it would have:

  • Sheila walks into the break room warm soda in hand. Gripping the freezer door handle Sheila reads the warning and says to herself, “wait, soda bottles will explode in the freezer? I had no idea. Boy am I glad I got this timely message just before I made a mistake. I’ll put this in the refrigerator.”

Signs like this are everywhere. There’s a sign in the dirty bathroom that says, “it’s your responsibility to clean up after yourself!!!” Go to the dog park and you’ll see, “Clean up after your dog!” on a sign surrounded by piles of dog poop. When the lights go out at the movie theater a “please shut off your cell phone” sign is partially visible over all the illuminated cell phones in the crowd.

All of these messages have a few things in common. First they are hung in a communal space. Second they tell readers something they probably already know. And finally, the signs are fantastically ineffective at creating social change. Signs like these illustrate one of the reasons we all stink at creating social change.

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Preventing Violence Against Women & Girls: New Delhi

Violence against women comes in many forms, existing in varying degrees across all cultures and countries. Among other ways, violence against women happens through intimate partner violence, rape and sexual coercion, human trafficking, and infanticide (for a broad review, see Watts and Zimmerman, 2002). In this post, David Mayeda begins a 3-part series examining cases of violence against women from 2012 that happened in India, Pakistan, and the United States. First off, the tragic case of the 23-year-old female physiotherapy student who was recently sexually assaulted and killed by six male suspects in India’s Capital City, New Delhi.

Protests in Bangalore

On 16 December 2012, a 23-year-old female physiotherapy student from New Delhi, India was riding home with her fiance after seeing The Life of Pi when she was sexually assaulted on a bus by six male suspects. The assailants beat her and her fiancée, leaving them for dead. Reports vary, but some suggest the police wasted valuable time arguing over jurisdictional responsibility before helping the young woman. Roughly a week after the assault occurred, the young woman was flown to Singapore to receive further medical care. Unfortunately, the assault was so brutal and her organs so damaged, she passed away in late December. The suspects now face murder charges and the streets of India are alive with fervent protests:

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Paris Hilton or Death: You Decide

Words matter. Or to put it more sociologically framing matters. The words, symbols, and ideas we use to describe something have a profound affect on how we come to view it. In this piece Nathan Palmer talks about what symbolic interactionists might think about the death tax, that is the Paris Hilton Tax, er… that is the estate tax.

Man Holding Hands In Front of Eyes to Make Frame

Did you ever do something bad? Did your parents ever have to come to school for a meeting with your principal? I did something like that. Twice even. One time in 3rd grade another boy and I reenacted wrestling moves we saw Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior do and my teacher thought we were fighting. Another time, I was riding my skate board near the large glass double doors at the front of the school when I fell on my butt launching my skateboard into one of the floor to ceiling glass panes. If you couldn’t already tell, I was one bad ass kid. [1]

The difference between getting expelled and getting off the hook can be determined by which label gets used to describe you and your actions. Are you a “good kid who made a mistake” or are you a “menace to society that has to be stopped”? Sociologists use the term labels most often to refer language, symbols, and imagery we use to frame an individual’s behavior. But today I want to talk to you about labeling’s cousin discursive frames.

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Contemporary Slavery: Thailand’s Matrix of Domination

As has been covered numerous times here in SIF, gender is a social construct ascribed to both males and females. Patricia Hill Collins (1990) argues further that gender operates along side multiple social constructs (race, class, nationality, sexuality) that are enmeshed in a “matrix of domination.” Within this matrix, uneven opportunity structures emerge for individuals who fall into these socially constructed groups. In this post, David Mayeda closes out his series on contemporary slavery by applying Collins’s matrix of domination to a type of work in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where adolescent males and young men are manipulated into commercial sexual exploitation.

Under what circumstances, if any, should a person be bought?

On the third night of our anti-slavery tour in Thailand, our group was being led through one of Bangkok’s red light districts. In this environment, sex was not the only thing being sold on the cheap. Tourists could cheaply purchase all kind of things – clothes, weapons, luggage, electronics. Though this was a work trip, the one leisure item I wanted to purchase was a pair of focus mitts for kickboxing. Some popped into my vision and I checked them out. Within a minute, the salesperson dropped his price from 2500 to 1000 baht (about $32 USD).

At that moment, the situation’s realness hit me, and I had a rather uninsightful but powerful reminder of why I was on this trip – to problematize the commodification of human life. We are all commodified to some degree. If you’ve held a job, you and your work skills were commodified as labor. But what if you were the object being commodified, if your body was being sold and your choice to be sold for someone else’s pleasure was minimized, even erased? This is the reality that characterizes sex workers’ lives across the world.

Getting a foot massage (or anything else) on the cheap is made possible by global inequality.

Similar to other countries, Thailand’s commercial sex industry preys on the young and vulnerable. Most of those exploited are young women who might exert elements of choice when working in this environment, though “choice” is minimized by poverty, familial and cultural expectations tied to gender and birth order, and limited employment options. Within this matrix of domination, other women are fully controlled as sex slaves, given literally no choice. This industry also victimizes young men and adolescent boys whose choices are manipulated.

Illustrating that males and females can both be feminized (or masculinized), “boy bars” exist catering to wealthier men from predominantly western countries. The males who work in these bars are typically heterosexual but play a more effeminate role to improve their chances of attracting foreign men who pay for their sexual services. In this context, the Asian males, like their female counterparts in the commercial sex industry, are a commodified form of erotica for the privileged western male consumers (see hooks, 1992)….

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Declining Homophobia among Male Athletes

Historically, sport has been constructed as one of the last institutional bastions of hegemonic masculinity where homophobia stands as cultural norm. Such a perspective definitely pervades in numerous sporting contexts. But times are changing. A recent poll of professional athletes conducted by ESPN found that 61.5% and 92.3% of National Football League and National Hockey League players, respectively, support gay marriage. Some professional athletes are speaking up as individuals and collectively as teams to support marriage equality and admonish homophobia in general. In this article, David Mayeda, examines this critical cultural shift in sport.

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has done his share to end homophobia in society.

If you have not read the phenomenal letter Minnesota Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe, wrote to Maryland state delegate, Emmett C. Burns Jr. this past September, well, it is a must read. In the letter to delegate Burns, Kluwe supports Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo in the movement to legalize gay marriage (i.e., marriage equality). Previously, delegate Burns had admonished Ayanbadejo for speaking out in support of gay marriage. Among numerous other gems, Kluwe writes to Burns:

“I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster…. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?”

Again, the entire piece is a must read.

Kluwe’s and Ayanbadejo’s support for gay marriage reflects a broader and quite radical shift among male athletes – a declining trend in homophobia and being outspoken about it. Another very informative article by NPR notes that although no player in one of America’s four major professional sports (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) has come out while still a competitive athlete, support for gay rights in these sports is growing. Unfortunately, the fact that gay athletes who are male typically come out after their athletic careers have ended demonstrates the violent forms of social control they fear from athletic teammates, coaches, management, and the broader fan base. However earlier this month, professional boxer Orlando Cruz came out, an especially significant act given that Cruz is still boxing….

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I’ll Give You a Cookie if You Change the World

Cookies. Free Meals. And other random acts of humanity. In this post, Bridget Welch explains how having something nice happen to you — or doing something nice for others — could make the whole world a better place. 

When my husband came in to the house his eyes were glowing with happiness. A wide smile and obvious glee made it clear that something good had occurred. What that possibly could be, I had no clue. I mean, the man just went to McDonald’s to pick up some burgers and nuggets. “When I went through the drive through,” he said almost breathlessly, “the clerk told me that the car in front of me paid for my food and asked if I wanted to pay for the people behind.” He did, and the clerk told him that he was the eighth person in a row paying it forward backwards.

Have you perchance seen those Liberty Mutual Commercials? A bystander witnesses a stranger do “the right thing” (e.g. help someone rake a yard, returning money left behind, picking up a dropped toy) and then does the right thing in another situation. In turn, another person sees them do this act and they are so inclined to help someone else. And on goes the chain of kindness.

Social psychologists have called this the “happy glow effect.” A series of studies in the 70s looked at how making people feel good could cause them to want to make others feel good. My favorite of these was “Cookies and Kindness.” The researchers gave some people cookies and didn’t give others cookies.[1] They then saw that people who got cookies were more likely to give help when asked. Cookie = Happy Glow.

My husband didn’t get cookies, he got nuggets. But the happy glow was achieved.

Kinda cool, right? But what’s the big deal? If people have something nice happen to them, or witness something nice, then they’ll be nice. Whoopie (and not the pie, cause that could make you glow with happiness).

However if you couple the happy glow effect with six degrees of Kevin Bacon you may have something to write home about….

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