Sociology Focus

“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas…”

Does it snow where you live on Christmas? The likelihood of a white Christmas is not high, yet the pull of a white Christmas remains strong in our culture. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how we lump and split weather with the seasons. 

During mid-November it snowed. A couple of days later, we were taking shelter from tornado threats (for some in Central Illinois, the threats were real). Two days ago, it was 63 degrees and today there is a skiff of snow and ice on the ground. In Illinois, we occasionally experience more than one season in the same week and sometimes in the same day (thanks to the 40 degree drop in temperature from time to time).

Wait a minute. Go read that last paragraph. Do you see it? I said that “we occasionally experience more than one season in the same week.” How can that be? What I really mean to say is that we experience weather more commonly associated with other seasons out-of-season.

But why? Why do we associate certain weather patterns with certain seasons?

We tend to associate certain weather patterns with certain seasons even when our own weather pattern deviates from the dominant narrative. We lump together cold and snowy days as winter days. Hot days are lumped together as summer days. So for those living in warmer climates, everyday is summer. When I lived in Atlanta, I used to describe the weather as “summer and later that summer when it got cold one day” because once the temperature reached 90 degrees, it stayed there until October. To my Midwestern mind, it can not really be winter until it drops to at least 40 degrees and ideally snows. And when the temperature conflicts with our expecations, we simply split it off as exceptional. Continue reading

What You Talking ‘Bout Sustainability?

Environmental sustainability is a growing concern around the world. Issues like global climate change and the loss of biodiversity have grabbed our attention and brought the topic of sustainability into an international discussion. In this post Nathan Palmer takes a hard look at how we are thinking about sustainability and asks us to think about what we hope to sustain in the sustainable future we envision.

Sustainability is a big buzz word right now. Seems everyone, especially on college campuses, is concerned about becoming sustainable. Before we go any further let me say, as an environmental sociologist I think it’s a good thing that we are concerned about the impact human actions are having on the planet. But with that said, let me ask you a question. What is the goal of sustainability? That is, what are we hoping to sustain indefinitely?

Do you mean that we want to sustain every living thing from single cell organisms to mammals? If this is the case, then we may need to reduce our human population a little. I mean, to support the 7 billion humans currently in our population we have to destroy ecosystems and species of animals almost everyday. So, if you’re for sustainability, then you wouldn’t mind a government policy limiting how many children you can have, right? If you’re like most people, you find the idea of limiting human reproduction horrible[1] and oppressive. But what this little thought experiment shows us is, when we say sustainability what we mean is human sustainability. The great fear of sustainability is that human actions will change the ecosystems we depend on so greatly (either through pollution, consumption of natural resources, global climate change, etc.) that we will not be able to survive. Or simply put, sustainability is a movement to prevent humans from committing ecological suicide.

Anthropocentrism, Sustainability, and Nature

So what? What does it matter if humans are concerned with human sustainability? I mean that does seem completely rational, right? I think the answer to this question can be found in a quote often credited to Albert Einstein: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”[2]

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Why do People Pose Next to Dead Animals?

One way to “think like a sociologist” is to look at the unremarkable “normal” things of everyday life as if you’ve never seen them before. Put another way, sociology often asks you to look at the familiar as though it were strange. For example, have you ever seen a picture of a hunter standing next to an animal they just killed? While this is a common practice, if we look at it from a critical point of view we can see a whole lot of sociology going on. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath shows us the deeper meaning behind the norms of death pose/hunting success photographs to explore the meaning behind the photographs.

Two years ago I wrote about some of the reasons people deer hunt. Last week, the website Sociological Images shared images of the death poses animals are placed into after a successful hunt. The author, Lisa Wade, posed this question,”Why do they do it?” Wade goes on to say:

  • Maybe it had something to do with the relationship to nature that hunter culture endorses. Instead of a destructive, violent relationship to nature that would be represented by picturing animals in their death poses, these pictures suggest a custodial relationship in which humans take care of or chaperone a nature to which they feel tenderly. That is, they don’t destroy nature with their guns, they tame it.”

Since my initial post on deer hunting, I have conducted research on Christian deer hunters to learn why they hunt. On the surface, it seems that hunting could be understood as not Christian because it involves killing. What I have learned, however, is that the Bible lends support to hunting. Though condoned by the Bible, the Bible does not give an unrestricted hunting licence. My research supports Wade’s interpretation of these hunting photos in that they do reflect a hunting culture that works to take care of nature rather than destroy nature.

Thus far, this interpretation fits nicely within the symbolic interacationist theoretical framework. Recall that symbolic interactionism focuses on how people act based on the meanings people have of the situation, which in turn shapes social interaction. In the case of death pose or hunting success photography, what is the meaning behind this particular style of photo? Continue reading

How We Make Health Decisions

Every season of the hit T.V. show Dancing with the Stars, fans tune in to see famous faces learning complicated routines. Over the past few years, it seems that fans and the media are intrigued with more than just the fox-trot, merengue, and the waltz. There is also a growing fascination with the physical transformation of some of the stars. Watching many of the celebrities lose weight has become one of the major highlights of the show. Americans are often fascinated with stories of celebrities improving their health. Sociologists are interested in what it takes for a person to make the decision to improve their health and actually follow through with that decision.

This season, the Dancing With The Stars winner and Glee actress Amber Riley has had countless interviews that focused on her health and weight as much as her winning dancing moves (‘Dancing With the Stars’ Champ Amber Riley Talks Winning and Weight Loss). Riley discusses how one of her main motivations for participating in the show was to improve her health, not to win. “When we first started, that wasn’t the goal — it really wasn’t,” she told Us Weekly. “I was like, ‘OK, this will be cool. It’ll be great exercise, I’ll gain confidence, and I’ll learn dances’.”

The Health Belief Model in Sociology can help explain what motivates some people to take charge of their health, and what prevents others from doing the same. According to this model, there are four conditions that must be met in order to take care of your own health.

1. You must believe you are at risk.

Throughout my college life, I did not accept my strong family history of heart disease. I ate McDonalds for breakfast, Burger King for lunch, and Taco Bell or Pizza Hut for dinner on a near-daily basis. Seriously. I knew I had a high risk for heart disease because both my maternal and paternal grandfathers died of heart attacks at an early age. I knew high blood pressure and high cholesterol plagued many of my family members. Yet I still did not accept that I personally was at risk. Continue reading

Why I’m Okay with Being Eaten by a Bear

Ever read a news story about a killer bear or a “man eating” shark? They almost always end with an announcement that the bear/shark was found and killed by authorities. In this post Nathan Palmer says that if he’s eaten by a bear he’d like you to let it live and then he uses the theory of the treadmill of production to illustrate how all of us are in a constant flow with nature.

If a bear is eating me, please don’t kill it. I mean if it’s got my hand in its mouth, shoot that sucker dead, but if it’s eating my throat or brains, just let it finish. While this might sound bizarre/horrific to you, it only seems fair to me. In my years as a meat eater I’ve left a trail of dead animals so massive it would have astounded my ancestors. So with that in mind, turn about seems like fair play. Also, the idea of turning into bear poop sounds awesome to me. So… are you confused, grossed out, or disturbed yet? Give me a second to tell you about the environmental sociology theory called the Treadmill of Production and I think it will all make sense.

Withdrawals, Additions, and Humans

The Treadmill of Production theory was coined by Allan Schnaiberg in the book The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity. The idea at the base of the theory is humans are dependent upon a constant flow of energy from nature and that each of us is in a constant state of interaction with the world around us. We are constantly taking in the natural world through food, water, air, etc. and likewise constantly releasing it back into the ecosystem (e.g. via feces, urine, exhaled breath, etc.). In this process humans create withdrawals, which are the extractions of raw materials from nature, and similarly create additions, which are the waste and by products created through the production of human consumed goods. Many additions like nuclear waste, toxic chemicals, and greenhouse gasses create profound ecological disruptions.

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