Sociology Focus

Where’s Waldo Explains Stereotypes — Really.

How is playing a silly search and find game able to explain our reliance on all types of negative stereotypes? In this post, Bridget Welch answers that question and suggests how you can stop the game.

Where’s Waldo?: Official Movie Trailer
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Are you up to the task of finding Waldo before it’s too late? Before we begin, a little review of how the game is played (if you need a first-hand refresher, go play it here).

Where's Waldo

Waldo is a shady charter with brown hair, black circle glasses, a red hat, red and white and horizontal striped shirt. Trying to appear normal, this white male in his mid-twenties to early thirties blends in with his blue jeans and his cocky little grin.

Armed with Waldo characteristics, you take in a wild scene full of random red and white striped towels, a similar shirt with vertical stripes, a Waldo-looking girl… and as you move through the image, left-to-right, in a tight search pattern, you search and dismiss. Moving quickly over areas without the red and white images, slowing down when there is something on the list, and moving again as you dismiss it as a decoy. Finally, when all hope seems lost, you see the red and white stripe shirt. You note the correct hair and glasses, the correct white color and jeans. BINGO! You’ve got him. You need search no more.

As I’m fond of saying: The world is like Where’s Waldo — EXCEPT ON CRACK! Continue reading

Pirates & Social Stratification

In this post, David Mayeda, takes look at an example of global stratification, where fishing companies from higher-income countries strip resources from poor, local fishermen off the coast of Sierra Leone. It is a classic example of how gaps between the rich and the poor still widen, on a global scale.

One of the most widely used concepts in sociology is “social stratification.” Taken literally, stratification refers to a kind of layering. By adding the term “social,” sociologists argue there exist different levels of social layering across all societies, demarcated by measures of inequality. Systemically, social stratification can be measured in three ways: (1) by access to resources/wealth (e.g., money, social networks, weapons, computer technology); (2) power (the ability to influence others, often against their will); and (3) prestige (the status one commands within a society).

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world. If you don’t know where Sierra Leone is, well, that may be one indicator of its lack of status in the global economy. Speaking of the global economy, the Human Development Index (HDI) ranks countries with regard to overall quality of life based on three major criteria: whether those in the country’s population (1) live a long and healthy life; (2) have access to knowledge; and (3) hold a decent standard of living. According to the 2011 HDI, Sierra Leone ranks 180 out of 187 countries globally, as it still recovers from a brutal civil war that lasted throughout most of the 1990s and up until 2002.

In contrast, the top five ranking countries in the 2011 HDI are, in order, Norway, Australia, Netherlands, United States, and New Zealand. This index is one way of saying on a global scale, these countries stand very high in a socially stratified world, whereas Sierra Leone stands quite low in comparison. Continue reading

How to Write a Sci-Fi Novel -by Someone who Hasn’t Done It

…and probably never will. In this post, Bridget Welch explores social institutions as a conceptual tool that can help to help create a fictional world.

I write. I do. In fact, if you think about it, I’m writing right now. Kinda blows your mind, doesn’t it? The truth of the matter is that I don’t actually know how to write a sci-fi or fantasy novel. I assume my mass consumption of said genre does not necessarily mean that I could put proverbial pen to paper and create a whole world of magic, dragons, dirigibles, and parallel universes. What I do know, however, is sociology. I also happen to know that the good science fiction and fantasy authors also know sociology- even if they don’t know they know it.

Think about it. Have you read the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov? One man manages to predict the whole course of human events for generations. This theory provides the basis to craft a whole new society able to survive the end times. His predictions work out even after his death! Well, isn’t that just the kind of thing structural-functionalists aspire to?

Sci-fi not your thing? What about Pat Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind? He created a whole new world where magic and mages ruled. With creatures we’ve never seen before and hopefully never will. And, unlike above, he describes the power of one person to impact the shape and function of society. Ah, a symbolic interactionist’s dream (not to mention the less popular but infinitely awesome Engineer series by K.J. Parker).

Is conflict theory more your rag? I’m sure most of you have read, watched, or at least peripherally became aware of Game of Thrones where the desires of a few families casts empires into bloody war. Continue reading

#KONY2012: An Ethnocentric Social Movement?

The last few weeks, an organization called “Invisible Children” made waves across the internet, attempting to raise global consciousness of the long-term and horrific violence that has plagued Uganda for decades. Specifically, the organization encourages citizens from high-income countries to take a global responsibility in capturing Lord’s Resistance Army leader, Joseph Kony. However, critics have argued the effort lacks a true Ugandan viewpoint. In this post, David Mayeda asks if Invisible Children’s efforts reflect privileged ethnocentrism.

At the time of writing, Invisible Children’s slick 30-minute YouTube video, “KONY 2012,” has been watched over 100 million times, taking only 6 days to reach that threshold. In this video gone viral, the charity’s leader, Jason Russell, helps to expose the conflict that ravaged Ugandan communities for decades, while privileged citizens from high-income countries went about their daily lives with little awareness of the extreme violence. In fact, the conflicts that cut across Uganda are indicative of a much broader and complex web of collective violence that has long ravaged the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and adjacent countries, termed by scholar Virgil Hawkins as stealth conflicts:

Continue reading

Posted by David Mayeda

Prehistoric Rape Machines & Protectors (Trigger Warning)

If women are blamed for their own victimization, what happens to men? In this post Bridget Welch explores how the dichotomy of virgin-slut provides a dichotomy for men: rapist-protector.

I recently posted on how the birth control debate reinforces the dichotomy of women as sluts or virgins. If women are responsible for their own virginity, the post explained, and then women who fail in anyway (whether it is having sex or taking birth control) are sluts. But where does this leave men?

Men are the ones attempting to make women fail in purity protection. In other words, its men who are attempting to tear into the wrapping paper of a woman like a little kid on Christmas day. They are licking the proverbial lollipop and making it unsuitable for rewrapping. Because women are responsible for their own purity, men are never responsible for a woman who “falls” — regardless of WHY she falls. In this way, women are blamed for their own victimization — to the extent of being at fault for their own rapes. Continue reading

Posted by Bridget Welch under

The Sociology of MMA: Breaking Arms & Making Patriarchal Bargains

How does a female athlete survive in the patriarchal and exploitive world of MMA? “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, the new bantamweight Strikeforce champion, speaks candidly about how she navigates a hyper-sexualized and hyper-violent profession. In this post David Mayeda explores the patriarchal bargains Rousey openly makes and their consequences.

If you’ve ever thought women can’t fight, think again. On Saturday March 3, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey faced off against Strikeforce’s then bantamweight champion, Miesha Tate. Both women are fantastic athletic talents. Before competing in MMA, Rousey wreaked havoc in judo, representing the United States in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, winning a bronze medal in ‘08. As foreshadowed, Rousey dethroned Tate, winning via brutal armbar submission in the fight card’s main event (see video highlights, below).

Tate’s arm was severely hyper-extended and injured as she refused to “tap out” (submit), rendering this an institutionally sanctioned example of sporting violence (see picture here – warning graphic photo).

Scholars have noted that as women navigate their options in patriarchal systems 1, they frequently make strategic “bargains,” assessing gendered rules and scripts specific to the cultural contexts in which they live. Frequently, “patriarchal bargains” occur when women behave in ways that grant them power as individuals, but reproduce the dominant gender order, thereby perpetuating cultural systems that subordinate women collectively. Continue reading

Posted by David Mayeda under

What Makes a Holiday?

Why did Leap Day and Dr. Seuss’ Birthday become holidays? In this post Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how the rise of Leap Day and Dr. Seuss’ Birthday along with the decline of Casimir Pulaski Day illustrates how are socially created.

The Lorax
The past few days have been a holiday-filled time period. February 29 was Leap Day, March 2 was Dr. Seuss’ Birthday, and the first Monday in March was Casimir Pulaski Day.

This year, several sitcoms built storylines around Leap Day (e.g., 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, The Middle, and Modern Family). I attended an employee luncheon on Leap Day and the tables were decorated with bowls of blue water complete with fake lily pads and plastic frogs. The ambient music playing in the background was, I kid you not, the sound of frogs.

So what makes a holiday in the first place?

Holidays typically commemorate something (e.g., Fourth of July), serve to honor a historical figure (e.g., Martin Luther King Day), server to honor a group of people (e.g., Mother’s Day), or is a religious celebration (e.g., Christmas).

Leap Day is more of a glitch than anything. A long time ago, some really smart people figured out that the way we measure time would be continually thrown off if we did not add an extra day to the calendar every four years. It does not commemorate or serve to honor anything or anyone. Continue reading

I am a Slut: The Gender Politics of Birth Control

Married for 11 years to one man, I woke to the realization this weekend that I am a slut. In this post, Bridget Welch explores the current birth control controversy and comes to terms with being a prostitute.

“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.” -Darren Washington, an abstinence educator (as quoted in The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti).

Washington is not alone in these inventive descriptions of virginity. Lee Ann Finch, a proponent of school-based sex education, use the idea of a gold wrapped package which kissing and heavy petting tore to such destruction it could never be repaired. “Shaking her head, she said in a voice full of regret, “This is never going to look like it did originally… Is this the gift you want to hand your spouse on your wedding night?” The youth answered with the only response Finch’s presentation allowed – a resounding “no.”

In Risky Lessons, Jessica Fields points out that the educator “invoked a well-established and gendered romantic script in which women and girls, not men and boys, trade their sexual virtue for love. According to this standard narrative, girls remain valuable and desirable as long as their hymens remain intact and their bodies remain virginal.”

Let’s examine this idea a little. A girl is in charge of protecting her sexual purity. Of keeping their proverbial lollipop wrapped. This is an idea that has been around a long time and that is currently is running rampant in today’s political environment. With the change of many state legislatures from democrat to republican in 2010 and the increase in numbers of GOP representatives in Congress, reproductive rights have come under fire. This extends from an attempt to redefine rape (rape has long been justification to allow for abortion coverage from governmental plans like Medicaid) to forcing women to have medically unnecessary and invasive ultrasounds before abortion is allowed.

Republican presidential candidates and their supporters have made waves with comments that highlight the cultural belief that women need to protect their purity. Underlying this argument is that birth control should not be provided by the government because giving women birth control gives them the license to GO WILD! Continue reading

Posted by Bridget Welch under

Indian American Token Characters on TV Sitcoms

Indian Americans are increasingly visible in television sitcoms. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores if the increasing number of Indian American token characters a sign that Indian Americans are “becoming white” through social class and educational attainment.

Man Watching TVMy guilty pleasure is sitcoms. While watching I noticed something recently.  Indian Americans1 are everywhere! (Maybe MTV will cash in on the trend with a show called 16 & Pregnant Indian American). At the same time Indian Americans are not everywhere. These characters are primarily serving the role of token racial minority character2. Indian American token characters are displacing Black token characters (see Token Black on South Park as a satirical version of the Black token character). Today, token Indian American characters include Kelly Kapoor on The Office, Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, Rajesh Koothrappali (and periodically, Priya, his sister and his parents via Skype) on The Big Bang Theory, Timmy on Rules of Engagement, and Kevin on How I Met Your Mother (though he is only a recurring character). I’m sure I’m leaving someone out. I can’t watch every episode of every sitcom after all. Continue reading