In the one or two lectures most introduction to sociology courses give on theory, students are often left confused as to what the heck that thing was and why the heck we care about it. In this post, Bridget Diamond-Welch discusses why theory is important providing an example of how reintegrative shaming informs the likely success of a new Presidential Order on hiring.
This week President Obama instructed federal agencies to “Ban the Box” from their hiring decisions. The “box” in this case refers to the question that asks applicants if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. Federal employers are still free to do background checks or ask an applicant about their criminal history during a job interview, but only after they considered the application. The quick video below can fill you in on the rest.
The questions that the Ban the Box movement begs us to ask are 1. what affect will this change have on our economy? 2. What effect will this change have on society as a whole. To answer either question, you need social theory. Let me explain.
What is Social Theory?
Sure, you probably get that theory directs how research gets done and tells a person what to look for and what to ignore when designing their study. But besides creating that long, dry, boring research paper that you may be forced to read (gulp) in a higher division class, why do we bother?
In order to answer that question, we first need to define theory. There are a lot of definitions out there. The one I like is “a generalization separate from particulars.” In other words, a theory is a general story about how the world works that doesn’t refer to something that has happened in a particular time or place. For example, if I said Jane slapped Jim because Jim grabbed her butt, that’s not a theory. That talks about a specific instance. However, if I say “A woman will physically retaliate when a man touches her in an unwanted way” we have a theory. I can apply this to Jim and Jane, and Jamal and Jennifer, and Jasmine and Jacob (and even people whose names don’t start with J).
Even in 2011, 50 years after the second wave of the feminist movement, there exist dramatic gender inequalities in the workplace. At this point, women and men participate roughly equally in paid labor, but the types of work men and women do are dramatically different. In this piece Sarah Michele Ford explores gender inequality in the workforce and asks are sociologists any better?
The feminists have won! 50 years after the second wave of the feminist movement, women make up just under 50% of the workforce!
Wait… does this necessarily mean that we have reached a point of equality in employment? Sadly, the answer is no. Across the board, men who are employed full time earn 17.6% more than women who are doing comparable work (Bureau of Labor Statistics); these differences are even more pronounced when we start taking into account differences across racial/ethnic lines.