Sarah Ford

Sarah Ford

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When (not) to Talk About Money

In this piece, Sarah Ford examines the process of socialization in to norms about money.

Recently I was at dinner with my family and a friend’s family. During our weekly family dinner date, my daughter’s friend Mister T[1] crowed,

“… and my grandma also gave me fifty dollars!”

His mother glared at him. He, like a typical nine-year-old, was oblivious until she asked him, “Why am I upset with you?”

He hung his head. “Because I was talking about money.”

“That’s right. It’s not polite to talk about money. We don’t do it.”

Inside this little mother-son exchange we can see a lot of socialization taking place.

Socialization and Developing Your Generalized Other

Socialization is the process through which we learn our culture’s values and norms (the ways that we translate those values into behavior). The process of socialization begins at birth, if not before, and goes on throughout our lives. The first “agent of socialization” that we come into contact with is our family, and they take primary responsibility for making sure we can get along in society.

Many of the lessons of social interaction that we learn from our families and other early agents of socialization are relatively concrete. We learn not to hit people when we don’t get our way, we learn basic table manners, and even infants understand turn-taking in conversation.

According to George Herbert Mead, one of the key components of socialization is learning to “take on the role of the other”. This means that we learn to see situations from the perspective of other interactants, and to anticipate and respond to their interpretations of our actions. When we teach children not to hit each other, for example, we make this explicit by pointing out to them that hitting hurts their friends and asking whether they would like to be hit in a similar situation….

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Your Socialization is Crippling Your Sociological Perspective

In this post, Sarah Michele Ford examines the ways in which American culture and values  make it challenging for sociology students to develop a “sociological perspective”.

One of the greatest challenges for the introductory sociology student is learning to approach questions from a societal, not an individual, perspective. In fact, American culture has stacked the deck against the easy development of a sociological perspective. Most American students are indoctrinated into the dominant American values of individualism and hard work long before we are ever exposed to the field of sociology, and in many ways those values are antithetical to a sociological perspective.

Cover of Ben the Luggage Boy by Horatio Alger

We see this disconnect most often when we consider issues of social class inequality. American culture and values teach us that the best way to achieve (or maintain) middle- or upper-class status is to work hard (and maybe get a little lucky). This attitude is often framed in terms of the 19th century American author Horatio Alger, whose books told the stories of young people starting out poor but rising to middle- or upper-class status thanks to nothing but their own efforts and perseverance. (A number of Alger’s books are available as free downloads at Project Gutenberg.)

The moral of these stories is that upward mobility is available to those who are willing to work hard. This line of thinking is also called the “myth of meritocracy”, in which “[g]etting ahead is…based on individual merit, which is generally viewed as a combination of factors including innate abilities, working hard, having the right attitude, and having high moral character and integrity” (McNamee and Miller 2004). The myth of meritocracy, you may have noticed, gives all credit for social mobility (and all blame for failure to be upwardly mobile) to the individual. A sociologist, on the other hand, approaches the question of social class status from a societal perspective – that is, they look at what systemic factors play a role both in broader patterns of social class inequality as well as in any individual’s social class status.

To better understand the differences between the individualistic and the societal explanations, let’s look at two of the factors most often associated with social class status: education and income….

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Social Control and the Hunger Games (Part 2)

In part two of this series, Sarah Michele Ford continues to look at the ways in which social control plays out in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, focusing on the second half of Catching Fire and the third book in the series, Mockingjay. The second half of the trilogy allows us to compare the types of social control that are used in multiple socio-political contexts. As with the previous post, SPOILER ALERT!

At the end of our previous examination of social control in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy , Katniss Everdeen had just learned that she would be going back into the arena for the third “quarter quell” – the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hunger Games. As in the previous year, she is joined in the arena by Peeta, but this time the stakes are higher. Katniss knows that she’s the symbol of the resistance and knows that her performance during the Victory Tour has failed to quell that resistance. She knows that President Snow feels more than ever that the Games are a necessary display of social control and that he also will be planning to eliminate her as a symbol of the rebellion, hopefully quashing it altogether.

As with the previous Games, though, things don’t quite go according to Snow’s plan. As it turns out, the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, has been involved in the resistance movement and the Games end when Katniss and several of the other tributes are broken out of the arena. After the breakout, they are whisked away to District 13, which the Capitol had supposedly destroyed during the previous rebellion. It had long been rumored, though, that the population of Thirteen had simply been driven underground, which turns out to be true.

Upon learning that she has been rescued by Thirteen, Katniss asks why they rescued her but not all of the other tributes (including Peeta). Heavensbee tells her, “We had to save you because you’re the mockingjay, Katniss… While you live, the revolution lives” (Catching Fire, p. 386). Shortly after her arrival in Thirteen, Katniss insists on visiting her old home in Twelve, which the Capitol had bombed into oblivion immediately after the escape from the arena. While there, she discovers what she knows to be a message from President Snow – a white rose in her bedroom in Victor’s Village. He knows she’s alive; knows that she’s in District Thirteen, and continues to threaten her even once she’s out of his direct control….

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Social Control & The Hunger Games (Part 1)

In the first post of a two-part series, Sarah Michele Ford examines uses The Hunger Games to examine the implications of totalitarian governments and the concept of social controlIn the interests of full disclosure, this post is being written based on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books, not the movies. Oh, and in case you haven’t picked up on this yet, SPOILER ALERT.

In order for society to work properly, its members must adhere to the accepted norms of behavior. In many cases, norms are enforced informally and the ones that the society has agreed are really important are codified into laws and are enforced by the government. In totalitarian political systems, however, the government itself decides the norms and maintains control by any means necessary.

Hunger Games Books
Photo by Flickr User GoodNCrazy

This, of course, brings us to the Hunger Games trilogy. In the dystopian future imagined in Suzanne Collins’ books, the country of Panem is divided into twelve Districts which are ruled by a totalitarian government located in The Capitol. Every year, each of the districts (but not the Capitol) is required to send one randomly selected boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the media spectacle that is the Hunger Games. After a short training period and a fanfare-filled televised introduction to the rest of the country, all twenty-four “tributes” are placed together in an arena, and in the first book the winner of the Hunger Games is the teenager who outlives all the others. It goes without saying that the games, which had their origin in the aftermath of a rebellion against the Capitol, are required viewing for all citizens of Panem, and are an explicit reminder of the Capitol’s power over the Districts….

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Impression Management at an Academic Conference

Academics love conferences. It’s where we present our research and as you’ll see, present ourselves. In this post, Sarah Michele Ford examines the ways in which we all engage in impression management in professional – and really all – situations.

I spent the end of last week at an academic conference – the annual meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers. It’s a gathering of researchers from a wide variety of academic disciplines, countries, and perspectives. It’s also a gathering that I have often described as a very intellectual high school reunion.

Photo by Hayal Oezkan | CC: By-SA

While the conference is very fun, it’s also a multi-day exercise in impression management. Impression management is a key component of symbolic interaction theory, arguing that, in all of our interactions with other people, we are using our self-presentation to influence their opinion of us. These attempts are sometimes conscious, but in many cases they are not. Everyone has a number of tools with which to engage in impression management; we can influence opinion through our dress, through our interactional behaviors, through our adherence to social norms. Impression management is also very much tied to the various social roles that we all inhabit; the self that we present in a professional environment may be very different than the self that we present when we are at school or when we are with our friends or family. This all comes back to the dramaturgical perspective advanced by Erving Goffman.*

While we all engage in impression management in every interaction, there are times when we are more aware of it than others. I personally become especially aware of it in the conference setting because I find myself in the position of being a researcher, a graduate student, a teacher, and a friend all at once….

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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. Due to legal reasons we couldn’t post the photos here. Sorry for the slight inconvenience.]

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?…

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Harry Potter and the Nature versus Nurture Debate

“There’s not a witch or wizard that’s gone bad that wasn’t in Slytherin.” In this post, Sarah Michele Ford uses the world of Harry Potter to examine the question of nature versus nurture. Is everything about us determined by our genetics, is social contact the only force shaping us, or is there an interaction between the two that sets each individual on their path?

The Sorting Hat
The Sorting Hat by ~sahinduezguen

In the world of Harry Potter, one of the first experiences students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have is the “sorting”, in which a sentient, talking hat decides which of the four school houses each student blonds in. Each house has its own character – Gryffindors are said to be brave, Ravenclaws smart, Hufflepuffs loyal, and Slytherins power-hungry. Enormous weight is put on which house a student is sorted into; they are told that while they are at school, their house will be “like family”. For those of us who have spent the last 15 years immersed in J. K. Rowling’s fantasy world, this all makes perfect sense. Those of you who have managed to avoid the media juggernaut might be shaking your heads and wondering how on earth this could possibly relate to sociology.

Underneath the trappings of wizards, witches, and magic, the Sorting Hat taps into a fundamental question that both sociologists and psychologists ask about human beings: what is the relative influence of our genetics versus the influence of our social environments on things like our personality, intellect, etc.? This argument, known as the “nature versus nurture debate”, has been ongoing for decades. As the hat is placed on each new student, it assesses what’s “in their head” and uses what it sees there to decide which House will be the best fit….

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The Many Statuses of Oscar Pistorius

In this post, Sarah Michele Ford examines how South African runner Oscar Pistorius can help us understand the sociological concept of status, including ascribed, achieved, and master statuses.

The headlines when we in the Western Hemisphere woke on Valentine’s Day were surprising.

“A Nation Reels as a Star Runner is Charged in Girlfriend’s Death”

“Olympian Oscar Pistorius charged with murder”

“‘Blade Runner’ Athlete Charged with Murder of Girlfriend”

Never fear, this isn’t going to be a blog post about yet another famous athlete gone bad. Instead, it’s about the adjectives used before his name. In these news articles, and many others, you find Oscar Pistorius described using terms like “Olympic and paralympic runner”, “BladeRunner”, and “Olympian”. Before Reeva Steenkamp’s death, and before the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, he was known as the double-amputee track star, the man who fought to prove that his carbon-fiber prosthetics didn’t give him an unfair advantage over runners relying on flesh-and-bone limbs. He was the guy who “lost” a race against a five-year-old girl wearing her own version of the legs he races on.

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Subcultures & Within-Group Hate Crimes

What exactly is a hate crime? And while we are at it, can a person commit hate crime against someone who is the same race, gender, religion, sexual orientation etc.? In this piece Sarah Michele Ford answers both of these questions by exploring the recent case where 16 Amish men and women were convicted of hate crimes against other Amish men and women.

Last month, sixteen Amish men and women were convicted of committing a series of hate crimes. While this already conflicts with the conventional image of the Amish, the details of the case are even more surprising. The victims of these crimes were also Amish, and the attacks took the form of home invasions followed by the forcible cutting of the victims’ hair and trimming of their beards. The attackers are members of a breakaway Amish sect led by Samuel Mullet.

This case has received significant media attention not only because these events fly in the face of our stereotypes about the Amish, but also because it challenges the conventional definition of a “hate crime”. The 2009 Shepard-Byrd Act, under which the attackers in this case were charged and convicted, ” criminalizes willfully causing bodily injury (or attempting to do so with fire, a firearm, or other dangerous weapon) when: (1) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, of any person or; (2) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person, and the crime affected interstate or foreign commerce, or occurred on federal property. ” The prosecutors in this case were able to convince the jury that Samuel Mullet and his followers had, in fact, been motivated by the victims’ religion, although to “the English” (Note: This is what the Amish call non-Amish Americans) world, they all appear to belong to the same religious subculture.

So the question becomes, can we hate our own?…

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My (socially-constructed) tale of woe.

“My cell phone doesn’t record HD video!” “My parents only pay half my car payment!” “It’s really hard to to find designer clothes that fit me!” In this post, Sarah Michele Ford uses jokes about “first world problems” to examine the concept of the social construction of reality.

Sometimes life is hard. In the past month, I laundered my cell phone and then promptly left its replacement in the seat-back pocket on an airplane. The replacement’s replacement was defective so now I’m on my fourth phone in a month. There’s a somewhat snarky term for my complaints about this particular chain of events, and even a blog or two devoted to such things. We call these first world problems. Yes, there’s quite a bit of judgement in that term, with the implication that if this is all we have to complain about, our lives can’t be all that bad. And yet… for me, much like the folks who are mocked on White Whine and First World Problems, this was a real problem (not least because my cell is my only telephone).

By examining these varying definitions of “problems” we can begin to see evidence of what Berger and Luckmann called the “social construction of reality”. Put quite simply, social constructionist theory tells us that something is significant because society believes it to be significant. Social constructionist theory grew out of the sociology of knowledge and has come to be applied to a wide variety of social phenomena….

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