In this piece, Nathan Palmer asks us to consider how the non-material aspects of our culture can be seen in the material objects of our culture.
“Can you drop me off at the front door, I can’t walk in these shoes?” my wife asked on the way to a recent wedding ceremony. As we sipped drinks during the reception that followed, my wife told me she was cold. I offered her my suit jacket, draped it over her shoulders, and wrapped my arm around her. At the end of the night, I offered to pick her up at the door so she could avoid the walk and the cold outside.
This routine, which my wife and I have enacted many times, is mundane. However, by “seeing the familiar as strange” and critically thinking about the mundanity of our daily lives, we can uncover the influences that society has on our individual lives. Believe it or not, this mundane routine can help us see how the non-material aspects of culture manifest themselves inside the material objects of our culture.
The Two Sides of Culture
Every culture contains material and non-material elements. The ideas, beliefs, values, ideologies, and rituals are the central non-material elements of culture. These are the aspects of culture that clearly live inside our minds. Material culture, on the other hand, exists outside of our heads. This would include, the clothing, foods, tools, and every other object common to the people of a particular culture.
Non-Material Cultural Aspects of Gender Performance
An ideology central to many cultures contends that men and women are distinct and separate categories (Blair-Loy 2003). From this mindset, the differences between men and women lead to differences in how each behaves. Masculinity is a collection of personal characteristics and behaviors that our culture teaches us to associate with males. Likewise, femininity consists of the characteristics and behaviors we assign to and expect of females. As we’ve talked on this site before, both the distinction between males and females and the corresponding expectations about masculinity and femininity are social constructions. They are not inevitable facts of nature, but stories our culture teaches us (Ridgeway 2011).
When a sociologist visits an art museum, what do they see? In this instance, Stephanie Medley-Rath connects the racial composition of the place to the artwork on display and the photography behavior of the patrons. In particular, what are the norms of selfie-taking?
I recently visited the Art Institute of Chicago. I went with the purpose of seeing the Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibit. While the Van Gogh exhibit was interesting and very crowded (too crowded to be enjoyable IMO), I also explored some of the other highlights of the museum. I did not tour the whole museum due to limitations on time and the stamina of the seven-year-old with me. My observations are limited to only those exhibits I saw on a Saturday afternoon Easter weekend of 2016.
One thing that immediately struck me at the art institute was how race mattered in the museum space. Among the visitors, I saw a sea of mostly white faces and bodies. Among the museum protection staff (i.e., security officers), I saw nearly all black faces and bodies. The museum protection staff are to remain mostly invisible. They are there to protect the art. They are quick to gently remind visitors to not use flash photography or stand too close to the art. Otherwise, they stand in place and do not interact with the patrons. The racial composition of those working in the museum and those visiting the museum was similar to my observations at a St. Louis Cardinal’s game in 2012. In other words, it is hardly noteworthy because the racial difference between those who are serving and those being served is normative in cities that are highly racially segregated like St. Louis and Chicago (which is the third most segregated city in the nation)….
Pokémon Go has been lauded for getting people outdoors, walking, socializing, and learning. But where do players draw the line between the game and their real world? In this piece, Amanda Fehlbaum explores the phenomenon of Pokémon Go using Jean Baudrillard’s concepts of simulacra and simulation.
You may have seen them in your neighborhood – people walking around, their eyes glued to their smart phones. Suddenly one exclaims, “Hey! There’s an Abra over here!” Another one talks about needing to walk to hatch their eggs. You wonder if aliens have invaded or if you are in some sort of social experiment, but the truth is both mundane and bizarre: people are playing Pokémon Go.
Pokémon Go is a free smart phone application that grew in popularity virtually overnight. As of July 11, 2016, people have been spending more time on Pokémon Go than on Twitter and it has been installed on more devices than Tinder. If you are old enough, you may recall the popularity of the Pokémon cards, television show, and video games. Pokémon are creatures that are fought, caught, collected, grown, or evolved into stronger forms.
Prior to the release of Pokémon Go, the interactions that took place were relegated purely to the virtual world and one’s imagination. In other words, if you caught a Pokémon, it was from getting a card in a pack or playing a video game. With Pokémon Go, people are sent out into their neighborhoods to find Pokémon “in the wild.” Granted, you can only see the Pokémon around you if you are using the Pokémon Go app; otherwise, you are oblivious to the Pikachus and Psyducks around you in parks, offices, police departments, gyms, churches, backyards, city streets, and some strange places. Users can also collect Pokémon eggs within the game that require users walk a certain distance in order to hatch….
It’s June, the month of love… and expensive weddings. Chances are you have been to a June wedding, you were married in June, or you know that June is a popular month for nuptials. In this post, Ami Stearns examines the increasing costs of wedding ceremonies through the “big three” sociological theories: conflict, functionalism, and symbolic interactionism.
June is still one of the more popular months for weddings, either because June is named after the Roman god Juno and his wife, Jupiter, who reigns as goddess of marriage and childbirth, or because June was the one month centuries ago that people smelled really good.
Weddings, in our culture, are extremely significant. The significance can be shown by examining the cost of an average wedding, which continues to skyrocket. However, simultaneously, the desire to wed has fallen. Why is this? How can we explain the seemingly contradictory practice of exorbitantly priced nuptials with the decreasing importance of marriage itself? Sociology can give us a few hints (you knew I’d go there, right?), especially when examining the reason for these skyrocketing prices for a couple of “I Do’s.”
If you’ve been married recently, you may already know this. The rest of you need to hang on to something as I tell you this. The average cost of a wedding is $32,641according to a recent CNN report. That money would buy a brand new car, provide a 10-15% down payment on an average house purchase, or contribute substantially to a future child’s college education. Some couples elect to take out loans to pay for their wedding, while some rely on parents to pitch in. Frugal and DIY weddings are definitely a trend, but we’re still talking in the realm of $5-6 grand, by some estimates. Clearly, spending over $5,000 on a few hours’ activity indicates there is a huge importance placed upon the exchange of vows in our society. (This dollar amount, by the way, is before taking into account the cost of a honeymoon)….
In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses how students having their names mispronounced by their teachers can affect their learning and academic success.
What makes Key and Peele so funny is how they turn racial privilege inside out. Middle-class white students rarely have to endure the indignity of having their names mispronounced. With 81.9% of all teachers identifying as white, these students can walk in on the first day of class and expect to be educated by someone who shares a similar cultural background. The pronunciation of a students name may, at first glance, seem trivial, but a growing body of research suggests that it is anything but.
Names Matter, So Get Them Right
Names are important. Your name is one of the first words you learn as a baby. Parents name their children to pass on their family’s culture, to honor loved ones, or to carry on family traditions. Our name is a central part of our identity and naming customs are a central part of any culture.
Schools are one place where names matter a lot. As Kohli and Solórzano (2012) found in their research many students with uncommon or non-anglo names are forced to suffer the indignity of having their names butchered by teachers over and over again. Worse yet, teachers often laugh off their inability to pronounce their students’ names, or they ask the student if they have a nickname that is easier for the teacher to pronounce….
In this post Nathan Palmer explains why increases in sales of athletic clothing haven’t corresponded to increases increased participation in athletics by discussing Veblen’s theory of the leisure class.
When I was a kid, the saying was, “if you leave your house in sweatpants you’ve given up on life.” My how things have changed. Today sales of athletic clothing have been booming, celebrities like Kate Hudson and Beyonce have their own athletic fashion lines, and wearing your workout clothes outside of the gym is increasingly become the norm.
The days of wearing $8 Hanes drawstring sweats are over . Today, many customers will gladly pay over $100 for a pair of Nike sweatpants. Sweat pants have even gone “high fashion” with runway models strolling down the catwalk in $800 sweatpants(!).
Ready to say, “no duh”? Well, here you go; most of the people buying these athletic clothes aren’t exercising in them. This fashion trend is often called athleisure, because these athletic clothes are often worn by people who aren’t working out. For instance, in the Wall Street Journal Germano found that sales of yoga apparel grew approximately 45% in 2013, but yoga participation that same year only grew 4.5%. In many social circles, it has already become the norm to wear athleisure clothes in everyday situations, and some journalists have suggested that wearing sweatpants at the office or yoga pants in a board meeting may soon become the norm.
Athleisure & Symbolic Fitness
Symbolic interaction is a sociological theory that examines how we use symbols to communicate with one another who each of us is and what each of us thinks is going on at the moment. Dramaturgy, which is a more specific theory within symbolic interaction, argues that every second of the day we are performing our identities. We use costumes, props, settings, and movement to perform for one another. From this perspective, our bodies are like walking billboards that tell those around us who we are and where our place is within social hierarchies.
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 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….
In this piece April Schueths looks at waist trainers, people who work to shrink their waists with corsets, to invite us to think about how we all modify our bodies in one way or another.
It happened again. I was on Facebook and got sucked into reading something I am not proud of: Twelve Times the Kardashians Made Us Cringe by Wearing Waist Trainers. Apparently the Kardashians have been a part of the waist training corset craze. Kim Kardashian first posted a picture of herself on Instagram in a tight corset, touting that this device can help make your waist smaller and into a feminine hourglass figure. There’s even a group of people, called tightlacers, some who wear their corsets nearly 24 hours a day. My first thoughts were pretty judgmental.
I found myself thinking that waist training seemed incredibly painful and probably dangerous. Then, I began to look at this practice with more nuance.
We all make changes to our bodies, depending on what we can afford. Do you have a body piercing? Have you ever gotten a haircut, shaved, or colored your hair? Do you or anyone you know, have a tattoo? You likely answered yes to at least one of those questions. You might not have even considered that these are all forms of body modification.
“But these are not the same as extreme forms of changing your body, like waist training or surgery,” you might be thinking. Isn’t there a difference between getting your hair colored and getting major surgery? Surgery has many risks, including infection and even death.
As I’ve discussed in a previous Sociology In Focus post, people in the U.S. spend billions of dollars on plastic surgery each year. In 2015, there were nearly 16 million elective plastic surgery procedures in the U.S. Of those, 1.7 million were surgeries, with breast augmentation, being the most common. Labiaplasty, a surgical procedure to decrease the labia, has become quite popular in recent years. Labiaplasty went from 5070 in 2013 to 8075 in 2015, a 72% increase.
In this essay, April Schueths discusses how death rituals, and every other type of ritual, can change over time.
“Have you seen those pictures on the internet of dead people posing? Like, that guy on a motorcycle?” asked someone I know recently. I hadn’t, but of course, I rushed home to do some googling. If you haven’t seen the pictures (and feel comfortable viewing them), click here and here.
This trend is said to have started in 2008 at the Puerto Rican funeral of Angel Luis Pantojas, conducted by the Marín Funeral Home. The young man had earlier told his family that he wanted to be displayed on his feet rather than in a casket. During the viewing, he was fastened to a wall in his family’s home, and his funeral was referred to as “El Muerto Parao” or dead man standing. Since “El Muerto Parao,” similar funerals have taken place in Puerto Rico and the United States.
But How Can People Make Light of Such an Important Ritual?
People around the world use different rituals, that is, “scripted collective activity that employs certain cherished symbols” (Marwell and Murphree 2013: 391). Rituals, whether sacred or secular, delineate important transitions and provide meaning to the people involved. Rituals include things like graduation ceremonies, holiday traditions, and even interaction patterns, such as the way we greet one another. Check out this webpage for more on the sociological roots of rituals.
Death rituals, such as funerals, offer the grieving a structured and culturally appropriate way to part with their loved ones. Taking part in ritual may:
“Assist in acknowledging the reality of death, provides social support, encourages the expression of emotions, and helps in converting the relationship with the deceased from presence to memory. Ritual also draws the bereaved back into the presence of family and friends; this reconnection with community decreases the social isolation that may develop as a result of the death and facilitates healing” (Kobler, Limbo, and Kavanaugh 2007: 290).
On Tinder, you are given very basic information and have to make a decision to swipe left (reject) or swipe right (accept) the person on your phone screen. In this essay, Amanda Fehlbaum investigates how men perform their masculinity on this notorious dating app.
Last weekend, I went on a date. I did not meet this person while browsing at the grocery store or partying at the club. My friends did not set me up on a blind date, nor was he a friend of friends. I did not even connect with this man on a dating site like Match or eHarmony. We connected on Tinder.
Tinder is described in the Apple App Store as “a fun way to discover new and interesting people nearby,” noting that over 10 billion matches have been made using the app. The way it works is this: You sign up using your Facebook profile and your Tinder profile is populated with some photos, your name, age, location. You have the option of including where you went to school and your occupation as well as the option to write a 500 character-length description about yourself.
You are then presented with the photo, name, age, and information of people within a set radius of your location. Because the app is covertly linked to your Facebook, you can also see if you have any friends in common with that person. You do not get to filter matches beyond sex, age, and location. In other words, you see every person who fits just those three criteria….