Sociology Focus

Sociology at a Baseball Game Part 3: In-Groups and Out-Groups

Baseball may just be entertainment, but it can also teach us about sociology. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains what a baseball game can teach us about group membership.

Take a look at the above photo. What do you notice? I notice that most people are wearing red. A few are wearing white or blue. And a group in the middle is wearing yellow. Of course if you have been following along with the blog, you know that this is the third and final installment of “A Sociologist Goes to a Baseball Game” (read part 1 on race here and part 2 on class here) and that the above photo is from a St. Louis Cardinal’s game.

Fans attending sporting events often choose clothing in the colors that symbolize the team they are cheering for. In this case, red, white, and even blue symbolize the St. Louis Cardinals. The yellow symbolizes the visiting team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. People use symbols to communicate.

Symbols also can communicate group membership. Sociologists distinguish among different types of groups. In this case, we can see an example of in-groups and out-groups.

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Nationalism and the Olympics: Meddling with Medal Counts

The Olympic Games is one of the key markers for nationalism in contemporary society. Supposedly, if a country wins a large number of medals, this becomes an international indicator of the country’s overall superiority. The United States typically does very well in the summer Games, leading the way in both gold medals won and total medal count, though China has been a close second in the past two summer Games. Bear in mind, however, the United States has a population of about 310 million, and China 1.34 billion. In this post, David Mayeda breaks down which countries are the true Olympic standouts, considering each country’s population size, and questions the Games as an indicator of nationalism.

“U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A.” You could hear the national pride in the chants coming from the American fans. The United States won more medals at this summer’s olympic games than any other country with 104 total medals and 46 gold. The People’s Republic of China earned 88 medals with 38 gold. More than any other symbol of the Olympics, a nation’s medal count is supposed to be a measure of a nation’s global superiority. While it’s true that the Olympics are idealized as a two week international love, peace, and unity extravaganza, this sentiment is at best quaint.

If anything, the Olympics promote a fleeting nationalism within countries – a sense of solidarity, shared values, and cultural pride within a nation’s borders that revolve around athletes’ international success. For instance, all Americans can supposedly take pride in Michael Phelps’s ongoing success across three Olympic Games. It is apparently behind Phelps that all American citizens can rally together, assimilated as one, for about a week.

And in turn, as the USA wins the most gold’s and medals as a whole, Americans in general can assert their collective global superiority. With their Olympic dominance, we can safely assume that the United States must hold greater levels of technological advancement, athletic training innovation, work ethic, physical superiority, mental acumen, and well, just must be the best, period. Right?

Not so fast. Continue reading

Can Sociologists Hurt People?

Researching humans is what social scientists do, but what happens when they want to conduct research that would harm the people in their study? In 1993 a team of researchers in Baltimore Maryland wanted to find out which method of lead paint removal was most effective. Their study allowed predominately African American families with small children to live in homes they knew were contaminated with lead. In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses three key aspects of ethical research and how if followed they protect human subjects.

Researchers in Baltimore, who wanted to find the best method for removing lead paint from old houses, watched as children suffered from lead poisoning for years. These are the charges brought by two parents who are now suing the research team. The parents argue that while they knew that their home had lead paint in it, the researchers gave them a “false sense of security” from test results that only showed low levels of contamination. The research conducted from 1993 to 1999 enrolled 108 low income African American families many of whom were already living in the contaminated homes.

The first two judges to hear this case dismissed it, but later a judge upheld the case arguing that it was very similar to a modern day Tuskegee Experiment. During this experiment African American men in Alabama who suffered from syphilis were monitored by the U.S. Public Health Service from 1932-1972. The men were not told they had syphilis, but rather only that they had “bad blood”. Worse yet, when penicillin became the widely available cure for syphilis, the researchers decided it was more scientifically valuable to document how the men would die from the disease than to give them treatment. While this is beyond tragic in it’s own right, these men also unknowingly passed the disease to their wives and partners and many of their children were born with congenital syphilis.

“What it going on here? Can researchers really do stuff like this?” are the first two questions many of my students have. And the answer is, no.

Because of incidents like the Tuskegee experiments, federal research ethics and regulations have been established. Before a researcher can carry out a study on human subjects they must, if they receive federal funding, have their methods reviewed by an independent panel to verify their safety. These panels, often called an Institutional Review Board (IRB)[1], are guided by the three pillars of ethical research: 1. Do No Harm, 2. Informed Consent, 3. Voluntary Participation.

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Posted by Nathan Palmer

The Olympic Transformation: Regeneration or Gentrification

With the thousands of hours and millions of words reported on the London 2012 Olympics, there was one story that was relatively ignored. As we watched awesome synchronized diving, Mitt Romney’s horse prance, runners blaze new records, most of us failed to realize one thing. The ground on which the rhythmic gymnasts ribbon-twirled once, not too many years ago, was a neighborhood with businesses, factories, nature lands, and residents. In this post, Bridget Welch discusses not the athletes, but the people who actually used to live where the Olympic Village now stands.

I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics with awe. As the pastoral English countryside was shoved away for the smoke stacks of the industrial revolution, I was amazed at the pageantry. The stage was set for the upcoming stories of transformation of young boys and girls into Olympic champions. From the achievements of Gabby Douglas to the announced retirement of Michael Phelps, we ate up these stories. But the real story of transformation went untold.

Think about it for a second. The Olympic Village was located in London – a city of over eight million people. If you’ve ever been to a big city, quick question: Can you think of a vacant area in these cities big enough to house the Olympics?


Same deal in London. Continue reading

Posted by Bridget Welch under

Understanding Sociology: A Beginner’s Guide

Hi. I know we’ve just met, but I already like you. I want to give you a piece of info that will make learning sociology a snap. All you need to do is invest five minutes in learning a few key sociology vocabulary words. Words like disproportionately, dichotomy, continuum, and empirical are thrown around left and right in a sociology class, so do yourself a favor and learn them real quick. In this piece, Nathan Palmer will hook you up with a few key vocabulary words that will make it easier to understand any sociology teacher or text.

“… and that’s why some people are poor and others are rich,” I said finishing a nearly 10 minute explanation of how social inequality works in the United States. My four year old daughter had asked, “why are some people poor?” on the way to school and then sat there intently as I delved into the nitty gritty of economic inequality. I kept checking her facial expressions in the rearview mirror and she seemed interested, so I laid it all out. Sitting in her car seat with a furrowed brow she looked perplexed as she asked, “Dad?” Her long pause prompted me, “yeah sweetie?” “What does inequality mean?”

While my students aren’t four year olds, my daughter did remind me that no one can learn sociology if they don’t understand some basic vocabulary. Some grouchy professors would argue that you should, “Look it up yourself!” But I’ll hook you up with a few of the basics here.

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Is it Still a Democracy if You’re Not Allowed to Vote?

With the presidential election coming in just a few months multiple states across the nation have rushed to pass new voter I.D. laws that will require voters to prove their eligibility to vote. Advocates of the laws say they will end rampant voter fraud, but critics point out that voter fraud only accounts for a few hundred false votes each election. In this piece Bridget Welch explores how these voter I.D. laws exemplify institutional discrimination as they will disproportionately hurt elderly voters, college students, the poor, and people of color.

I Voted Doll

I love to vote. I get the ballot from the newspaper and research every candidate — including the judges that few people have ever thought of. I weigh candidates opinions, create a little cheat sheet, and off I go to do my civic duty. And after I finish, I feel like I have done something meaningful. That I have, in some small way, shaped our country. Even though I know the numbers and how much my one vote probably doesn’t much matter, I hang on to that sticker for weeks (sometimes longer) with a weird kind of pride. For the past few years, however, many states (33) have been passing bills that will restrict many Americans from getting their sticker. What this amounts to is disenfranchisement — the loss of a right to vote — for certain groups of Americans and is a new form of institutional discrimination.

Institutional discrimination occurs when normal practices results in different outcomes for different groups of people. Think about that. Normal practices. What does that mean? Basically, when things are going the way that they are supposed to, the way they are designed, legislated, bureaucratized and a group of people are hurt by these practices — that’s institutional discrimination. Some current examples of how this works can be found in the Supreme Court health care decision, my previous discussion of the housing market, and in the prison system. Continue reading

Sociology at a Baseball Game Part 2: “I Feel Like a Rich Person”

What does it mean to be rich? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath talks about what social class has to do with baseball.

This is the second installment in a three part series on my most recent attendance at a baseball game. In the first part, I talked about racial stratification and segregation. In this installment, we are going to talk about social class.

My family and I try to attend at least one Major League Baseball game each year. We typically buy tickets that are somewhere in the middle- or low-end price range and our the tickets we have bought the last several times have been dependent on coupon restrictions. Each time we attend, we think that next time we will buy all-inclusive tickets. The all-inclusive tickets range in price and options, but all include food and drinks of some sort. This year, I managed to get some coupons to make all-inclusive somewhat affordable. (Does this make me an extreme couponer?)

Our tickets included an assigned outdoor seat with unassigned indoor (and air conditioned) seating, too. These tickets included an all-you-can eat and drink buffet and drinks (with and without alcohol). The buffet included three stations with someone there to serve you. One man was making gourmet macaroni and cheese, another was grilling brats and other sausages, and a third was carving roast beef. You could go to bar for drinks, but servers also came around to take drink orders. Continue reading