In this essay, John Kincaid examines Durkheim’s concepts of the sacred and the profane in relation to the recent election, protest and art.
In the immediate aftermath of the election earlier this month, there were many protests that took place across the nation. Many of the protests opposed the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, but there were several rallies in support.
One of the immediate conversations in the wake of these protests has been over whether or not it is “appropriate” to protest the results of a presidential election. Many commenters have argued that the protests are “un-American,” and that the protestors are not respecting democracy. In sociology, we often look at these types of debates through the lens of the concepts of the “sacred” and the “profane.” Emile Durkheim argued that the sacred and the profane are essential components of social life. Those things a society holds sacred are objects, actions, symbols etc.. that we set aside from, and elevate above, everyday life. The profane is the ordinary, the everyday, the dingy aspects of life that surround us constantly. Observing and maintaining the boundaries between the sacred and the profane can create solidarity (another Durkheimian concept) between members of a society. They provide touchstones of shared values that can help unite members of a society that may be separated by distance or even cultural difference.
In the U.S. we tend to hold the ideal of “democracy as a sacred value, and part of the reason that the anti-Trump protests have drawn attention has been because they violate our idea of democracy as a sacred ideal. We as citizens are supposed to respect, honor and cherish the democratic process, not dirty those ideals by protesting the results of an election.
In this essay Amanda Fehlbaum uses Quinn’s concept of girl-watching to analyze Donald Trump’s vulgar remarks about grabbing women’s genitals without their consent.
If you have been paying attention to the 2016 presidential election, you have likely seen or heard the leaked 2005 “Access Hollywood” footage of Donald Trump and Billy Bush making lewd and vulgar remarks about women. Trump was on the program because he taped a cameo appearance on the daytime soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” For the majority of the video, Trump and Bush are on a bus and they are not visible; however, their comments are recorded because both were wearing microphones that were recording at the time.
According to a transcript from The New York Times, Trump talks about how he tried to sleep with “Access Hollywood” host Nancy O’Dell, and then denigrates her appearance. Bush points out the actress Arianne Zucker with whom Trump shared his scene on “Days of Our Lives.” Bush says to Trump “your girl’s hot” and notes, “The Donald has scored!” At one point, Trump describes kissing women without their consent and grabbing women by their genitals.
After Bush and Trump exit the bus, Bush encourages Zucker to give “a little hug for the Donald” and “a little hug for the Bushy.” She gives both hugs. Bush mentions that it is difficult to walk next to a man like Trump and later asks Zucker to choose whether she would rather go on a date with himself or Trump. She declines to choose and says she would take both of them.
The airing of the leaked footage has had an impact on all involved. Both O’Dell and Zucker responded by releasing statements condemning the comments and the objectification of women. Bush issued a statement, writing that he was embarrassed and ashamed and, while there is no excuse, he “was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along.” He was fired from “The Today Show.” Trump issued a statement video in which he said, “Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, it was wrong, and I apologize.” He encouraged viewers to live “in the real world” and see the tape as “nothing more than a distraction from the important issues.” The comments also had an impact on the public at large. After Trump and Bush’s comments were leaked, thousands of women shared their sexual assault stories on Twitter….
In this essay Nathan Palmer uses the recent Black Lives Matter protest at a Bernie Sanders campaign event to discuss how movements choose the tactics they will use to achieve their goals.
On August 9th two women rushed the stage at a campaign event for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and demanded they be allowed to speak. The two women, Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford who are affiliated with the Seattle Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, shouted, “Let her speak!” repeatedly while they struggled with event organizers for control of the microphone. Eventually they were allowed to speak and Johnson addressed the crowd through a chorus of boos and shouting.
After waiting about 20 minutes Sanders tried unsuccessfully to take back the microphone. He then waved goodbye, put his fist in the air, and walked through the crowd as he left the event. Later that day Sanders issued a statement online which read in part, “I am disappointed that two people disrupted a rally attended by thousands at which I was invited to speak about fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare. I was especially disappointed because on criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.”
“Well That Was Rude!”
Almost immediately the internet exploded with reactions to the disruption. Some championed Johnson and Willaford for “shutting down” the Sanders rally. Some chastised them for acting inappropriately. Others were perplexed at their choice of target. Bernie Sanders is arguably the most progressive presidential candidate running and as Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan put it you, “Don’t Piss On Your Best Friend.”
Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that involves racial discrimination in housing under the Fair Housing Act. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath describes how whiteness offered her certain advantages when apartment hunting and asks whether racial discrimination needs to be intentional in order to have a negative impact on a community.
When I moved from a large Southern city to a mid-size Midwestern factory town (which I’ll call Soybean City), I thought finding a place to rent would be a breeze. I was spoiled by the well-maintained rentals I could easily find in the large Southern city I was moving away from. They were affordable. They were clean. They came with amenities, such as tennis courts, swimming pools, and even a place to garden.
I had moved many times before, but this move was to be different. I would have my baby with me as I searched and I had only two days to find a place. Prior to coming to Soybean City, I called property managers to explain my needs, timeframe, and to schedule showings. On one of these calls, the landlord expressed relief that they were finally getting rid of their current tenant because he was black. Interesting. This landlord assumed from the phone call that I wasn’t black. So I scratched that overtly racist landlord off my list and kept looking.
A few days later, I traveled to Soybean City. I was quickly frustrated. …
While emotions feel deeply personal, they are often governed by social rules. That is, we are often told to hide our true emotions and use our face, tone of voice, and words to perform emotions we aren’t actually feeling. In this piece Nathan Palmer connects these emotional performances to how we socially construct gender.
The people who watch and care for my 6 year old daughter only pretend to love her. That may be too harsh. I’m sure that some of her teachers and the adults at her after school program do genuinely have love for her (I mean, how could they not, she’s the sweetest little girl in the world). But it stands to reason that some of the adults who educate and care for my child don’t have a particular affinity for my little girl (and that’s okay, FYI).
However, all the adults in her world act as if they love her. That is, they perform the emotions of love, nurturing, and caring even if that is not how they feel inside. Much like a stripper, a restaurant server, or a nurse, childcare workers act like they care about you because you pay them to.
The Social Rules Governing Emotion
While emotions are often experienced as visceral (i.e., deeply personal and originating from inside the body), emotions are actually governed by social rules. For instance, if you feel like laughing at a funeral, you best hide those emotions behind a reverent somber exterior. A funeral is just one of the many social situations that have clearly prescribed emotional expectations. You are supposed to be happy at a surprise birthday party. You are expected to be concerned and/or crying while in the emergency room waiting area.
As we talked about above, sometimes the presentation of emotion is a part of our job. The sociologist Arlie Hochschild (1979) coined the term Emotional Labor to describe how manufacturing displays of emotion are a part of many careers. For instance, sometimes before I teach class I am feeling exhausted, stressed, and anxious, but no matter what, as soon as class starts I perform as a teacher who is calm, excited to talk about the class material, and emotionally available for my students.
Your gender can also play a big role in the emotional labor people expect you to perform. Stereotypical masculinity is defined as being rugged, independent, strong, aggressive, and dominating while stereotypical femininity is defined as being passive, submissive, being a supporter, and being dependent upon others. With these stereotypes both men and women are told what emotions they are expected to display.
Last week the federal government failed to fund itself due to a dispute over funding the Affordable Healthcare Act. Federally funded agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control were shut down (with a essential services remaining operational). In additional national parks, monuments, museums, etc. were all shuttered. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains some of the ways the federal government shutdown impacts professional sociologists.
There are many careers sociologists hold once they earn their degrees. I hold a tenured teaching position at a community college where I get to teach sociology among other duties. Many sociologists do not teach or work in higher education at all. Many sociologists work for the federal government.
Sociologists work for the Center for Disease Control, National Institute of Health, the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among other federally funded government agencies.
Whether we work for one of these organizations or not, many of us rely on the data produced by these organizations on a regular basis. One of the posts I was preparing for Sociology in Focus relied on U.S. Census data. I went to their website and saw this:…
This week sexting photos of Anthony Weiner were released on the Internet… again. The disgraced congressperson running for mayor of NYC dominated the news cycle while at the same time Robin Thicke’s song Blurred Lines sat at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. In this piece Nathan Palmer uses both of these situations to give us a chance to “flip the script” and look at how social context affect how we understand any situation.
Sociology often hides in plain sight. One approach to bringing it into view is to see the familiar as strange which we discussed last week. Another strategy is to “flip the script”. That is, take any situation and imagine how it would be different if it had happened to a person of a different race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. or imagine if it had happened in another place or at another point in history. I have a couple of examples of script flipping to share with you, but first we should ask the sociological question: Why does this technique work in the first place? The answer is social contexts.
A context is the surrounding circumstances that help you understand a person, an action, or a situation. If I told you I punched a guy last Thursday you might be alarmed. However, if I told you that I mashed a dude’s face because he was attempting to kidnap my daughter, you’d probably not be alarmed because in the context of an attempted kidnapping violence is widely thought of as warranted.
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.
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. 
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.
Last week President Obama cried before and after he won re-election on Tuesday. That’s not remarkable, but the fact that the news media generally didn’t make a big deal out of it is. In this article Nathan Palmer explorers how traditional/stereotypical masculinity can be nearly unachievable and asks us to think about what impact the President’s tears may have on this narrowly defined version of masculinity.
Sociologist Michael Kimmel thinks that masculinity is homophobic to it’s core. At least that’s what he argues in the article The Rules of Masculinity. To be clear, he is not arguing that all men are homophobic, but that masculinity is defined by it’s opposition to femininity. To be the stereotype of a manly masculine man you have to destroy every spec of femininity within you. There’s no room for any “sissy stuff” among “real men”. Kimmel’s argument is not that men are all homophobic, but that masculinity is defined by it’s fear and hatred of male expressions of femininity.
“But wait,” you may be asking, “isn’t femininity defined by it’s opposition to masculinity?” Yes, it is, but not to the same degree. For instance, a little girl who “likes boy stuff” or displays masculine traits is often called a tomboy. Often when a little girl is called a tomboy it is not intended to be taken as offensive nor is it received as offensive. However, can you think of a scenario where a parent wouldn’t take offense to calling their little boy a sissy? To be masculine is to be free of femininity, but you can still be feminine and display masculine characteristics.
Recently there has been quite a discussion of comments by Rep. Todd Akin about “legitimate” rape. In this post, Bridget Welch discusses how his comments are not so new and what they say for how we stereotype rape.
“What is rape-rape and what is rap-ished?” asks the satirist Kristen Schaal months before Rep. Todd Akin’s (Missouri) comments. In his discussion about why rape should not be a legal exception for abortion, he stated, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
There are many things to be concerned about with this statement. Not least of which is that there seems to be very little understanding about how the female body works and how pregnancy occurs. Fact: Woman can, and do, get pregnant as the result of rape. Another concern, and what we’ll be tackling here, is the idea that rape can be more or less legitimate.
So, how is it possible that Kristen Schaal did her bit months before Akin’s statement? Simply because comments like Akin’s are nothing new. He is not the first to modify rape and discuss it as more or less real. They are part and parcel of America’s rape culture (read a description of rape culture here, but be warned, there is bad language)….