Sociology Focus

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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A Macaroni Necklace to Make-Up for Workplace Discrimination: Happy Mother’s Day!

Despite our gushy Hallmark cards, floral arrangements, macaroni necklaces, and brunch celebrating mothers, U.S. social policies regarding mothers continue to be dismal. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores some of the ways in which mothers in particular are penalized for “choosing” motherhood & the role social structure plays in the “choice” of parenthood.

Career or Family Signs

In the United States, motherhood (and parenthood) is viewed as a choice. Parenthood as a choice is a good thing in that it has decreased the stigma placed on the childless and childfree. The downside of choice-based parenthood is that it leaves society off the hook for supporting people who choose parenthood. While we have expanded support for families through the addition of workplace protections for breastfeeding mothers, our social policies remain lacking.

Let’s look at some of the social policies directed at families. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turns 20-years-old this year. This means that for many of today’s traditional-aged college student, their parents were the first to have job protected leave to care for a newborn.

Many? Why not all? FMLA only covers employees who have been employed with their company for at least a year and work in companies with 50 or more employees. This means if your parent(s) worked in a company with 49 employees or worked there less than a year, then they would not have qualified. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

How We “Do Gender”

Sociologists have long argued that gender is more of a social performance than a biological fact. Many students find this idea challenging because they have up until a sociology class felt their gender identity was just, “natural”. In this post, Sarah Michele Ford uses two models to illustrate the performance qualities of gender.

How Do We Do Gender?

Take a look at this model. Now take a look at this model.1

So what do we notice? They’re both 6’2″ tall. They both have cheekbones that could, as the saying goes, cut glass. And they are both models.

You probably assumed that the first model is female and the second model is male.

You assumed wrong.

The first model is Andrej Pejic, who models both mens- and womenswear. The second model is Casey Legler, who exclusively models menswear. Andrej is male and Casey is female.

In society we often associate a particular gender with a particular biological sex. In the United States we often connect masculinity to males and femininity to females, but this connection is socially constructed (not to mention that both femininity and masculinity are socially constructed as well). In the case of these two models, each performs a gender that is not inline with what society commonly expects from males and females.

So what’s going on here? Continue reading

Jason Collins & The Ever Present Gender Policing

Last Monday Jason Collins became the first active male athlete in American team sports to come out as a gay man. On the same day, MTV announced that it was launching a show called Guy Court where men who violated the “guy code” would be punished. In this piece Nathan Palmer explains how these two events are connected by homophobia and discusses the sociological concept of gender policing.

Jason Collins

Jason Collins

Last Monday Jason Collins published an essay in Sports Illustrated that announced to the world that he was a gay man. This was noteworthy because Collins was the first active male athlete in the big four of American male team sports (i.e. football, baseball, basketball, hockey) to come out. Collins is by no means the first athlete to come out. Many other athletes have come out. In fact, a couple of days before Collins’s announcement Brittney Griner signed an endorsement with Nike to become the first out-and-proud athlete to do so with the company. All that said, it was a big deal. It took a lot of courage on his part.

So the question we should be asking as sociologists is, why? Why was it such a tough decision? Why did it take so long for any active male athlete in major American team sports to come out? The answer is obvious: homophobia, prejudice, and discrimination.

The other question we should be asking is, what does Collins coming out mean for the prevalence of homophobia in the United States? Many commentators on the cable news channels have argued that Collins’s announcement along with the pro-marriage equality victories during the last election cycle signal that open bigotry toward the LGBT community is on a rapid decline. So are they right? Are we about to enter a whole new era of acceptance, respect, and equality? To answer that question, we first need to explore the deep connection between masculinity and homophobia.

Masculinity, especially in the United States is often defined by it’s opposition to femininity. This is the main argument that Sociologist Michael Kimmel makes in his essay, Masculinity as Homophobia[1]. That is, to be a “real man” is to avoid being feminine in any way. If it’s feminine to cry, show fear, or care about the way you look, then any man who does that is seen as “unmanly” and likely to have their “man card” pulled. All of this results in narrowing the definition of masculinity. Put another way, we create this ever shrinking box that all men are expected to conform to or they’ll be punished. Continue reading

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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