Sociology Focus

Tag Archives: Social Construction

Is Fall a Social Construction?

#PSL #4Life, y’all! Apparently, Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte has its (her? his?) own twitter account, complete with over 93,000 followers. What IS it about the pumpkin spice latte that creates such a frenzy? How does a beverage featuring a member of the squash family signal fall scarves and thick sweaters to us? In this post, Ami Stearns risks being socially ostracized for suggesting that the pumpkin spice latte creates an imagined community of fall-loving consumers who are primed to start spending money during the coming holiday season by making itself a scarce, once-a-year, valued commodity. Drink up!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Sign

I recently moved to the deep, deep south. If fall has started here, I only have two indications. One, it’s slightly less incredibly hot than it was a few weeks ago. Two, pumpkin spice ads (for lattes, puddings, cakes, cookies, and cheesecakes) are everywhere. In a place where the leaves aren’t changing and nobody is cuddling up in their chunky knit scarves in front of fireplaces, I can at least count on Starbucks to alert me to the change of seasons.

During the fall, Starbucks estimates that its famous eleven year-old beverage receives about 3,000 tweets daily. Estimates put sales at 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes (PSLs) since the drink’s inception. Starbucks, of course, does not have a monopoly on pumpkin this time of year, but it certainly has kickstarted a pumpkin craze that is absolutely everywhere (one popular meme features a Game of Throne character and the words, “Brace yourselves. Everything pumpkin flavored is coming”). Believe it or not, there is now even a PSL controversy . Spoiler alert: apparently there is no pumpkin in a pumpkin spice latte- who knew? Continue reading

How Time is a Social Construct

What time is it? Social Construction time. Sociologists are always trying to get people to see how everything in our world is a social construct. Okay, not everything’s a social construct, but almost everything. In this piece Nathan Palmer shows us how even something as basic as time is a social construct.

Sociologists are always pointing out how nearly everything is a social construct. It can be tricky to precisely define a social construction, but I’ll give it my best. A social construction is something that a group of people create and maintain. It may help if we take a step back and talk a little about symbolic interaction.

Symbolic interactionsts argue that we use symbols that have shared meaning to communicate with one another and create reality. That might sound complex, but it’s really not. For instance, think about language. The noises we make with our mouths are symbols that communicate ideas. The only reason language works is that you and I understand English (or put another way, language works because we know the shared meaning each word in the English language is trying to communicate). As a society we work very hard to document/maintain our language (the Oxford Dictionary says hi) and pass our language on to the next generation (all of your English teachers also say hi).

Okay, so it might be easy to see how language is a social construction, but what about time? Is time a social construction? Not too long ago I would have said no, but it looks like I’d have been wrong. But don’t take my word for it. Dr. Demetrios Matsakis, Chief Scientist for USNO’s Time Services, is the man who makes time. Dr. Matsakis maintains the atomic clocks at the U.S. Naval Observatory that broadcasts the time that you see on your cell phone. He is the official keeper of time for most of the world and in his own words, “I don’t know exactly what time is, but I can tell [people] exactly what a second is.” Wait, Mr. Time doesn’t know what time is? Let’s watch the video below and see more about how time is made.

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What *Does* a Fox Say?

What does a fox say? The silly, but catchy, song by Ylvis has become an international hit and YouTube sensation. While the song seems more interested in mocking the insincere emotions in electronic pop music, it does actually ask an interesting sociological question. What does the fox say? In this article Nathan Palmer will answer this question and ask you to think about how we socially construct the natural environment.

  • Dog goes “woof”
    Cat goes “meow”
    Bird goes “tweet”
    And mouse goes “squeak”
    Cow goes “moo”
    Frog goes “croak”
    And the elephant goes “toot”
    Ducks say “quack”
    And fish go “blub”
    And the seal goes “ow ow ow”
    Still there’s one sound that no one knows,
    What does the fox say?

My daughter and I sing this song as loud as we can as we drive home from school everyday. And while this song might seem completely non-sociological, it actually shows us how the natural environment and how we conceptualize it, is socially constructed. For instance, did you know that in Czech a dogs say “haf haf” (Capek 2008)? What’s going on here? Well, to answer that question, first we have to discuss why the natural environment is a social construction.

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How to Construct the Perfect Penis!

The “perfect penis” recipe = 1 cup of history, 2 tablespoons of stereotype, a dash of Asian male emasculation, add a liberal helping of the fear of Black males. In this post, Bridget Welch sees how men in different racial groups measure up. WARNING: Untrue, offensive, and just plain wrong racial stereotypes ahead.

“How have you not been fired?”

This is a question my husband regularly asks when I tell him what we talked about in class that day. The question was asked yet again today.

“It was relevant. It was!” is my usual standby (but no less earnest) reply.

“Penis size is NEVER a relevant class topic,” he retorts.

But it is. Oh, how it is.

Flash back to class today. I just finished talking about how sociologist Evelyn Nakano Glenn argues that racial and sex identities are social constructions that are relational. In other words, the meanings attached to each normative social position is constructed in opposition to a social position that is demeaned. In this way, white womanhood is constructed as virtuous and normalized through its inherent rejection of black womanhood. Heterosexual is constructed in opposition to the aberrant homosexual. And, as we will discuss in this post, white masculinity is positioned as the optimal manhood in its placement between two extremes — Asian and black masculinity. Prior to explaining how this operates we will first explore how masculinity itself is constructed as the opposite, the repudiation, the rejection, of the feminine.

Men constantly police themselves and each other to make sure that they are acting masculine – in ways that are not “sissy” or “feminine” in anyway. As Michael Kimmel argues, “Our efforts to maintain a manly front cover everything we do. What we wear. How we talk. How we walk. What we eat. Every mannerism, every movement contains a coded gender language.” The reason for constant policing, for avoiding any type of behavior that is “feminine” is simply that to be “sissy” is to chance being labeled gay (see C.J. Pascoe’s discussion of the “fag discourse”) and consequently emasculated. Continue reading

How to be Social Even When You’re Alone

Do you do things like sleep or jog or read alone? Did you know that even when you do these things by or with yourself you are engaged in human social behavior? In this post, Sarah Nell explains the sometimes subtle ways we are connected to others, making nearly everything we do, social behavior.

I often start off a new sociology course with the reminder that sociology is the study of human social behavior. Sometimes it can be hard to see how our behaviors are social. In fact, when I ask my students to give me examples of social behavior, they often don’t have much to say other than things related to social occasions like parties. So I usually get the class to give me examples of behaviors that are NOT social to get us going. I start with this so we can weed out some of the things we’re NOT talking about. When I ask my students for examples of non-social behavior, I get examples like this:

  • Jogging alone
  • Reading
  • Breathing
  • Sleeping
  • Showering
  • Studying alone
  • Eating alone

After we get a good list going of so-called non-social behaviors, I select a few of the easier ones to show how they are, in fact, social.


Lance Armstrong, PEDs, & “Controlling The Narrative”

Lance Armstrong finally came clean to Oprah this week about his use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Armstrong admitted to playing the media, manipulating those close to him, and every other trick in the book to “control the narrative” surround his image. In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses how Armstrong’s “controlling the narrative” is an example of the social construction of reality and asks us to think about how we socially construct PEDs.

Lance Armstrong

Last week was a huge one for ESPN and the entire sports journalism complex. Oprah Winfrey announced that Lance Armstrong, the famous cyclist and seven time Tour De France champion, would finally admit to using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). This was a complete 180 for Armstrong who had vigorously defended himself against such accusations in the past; going so far as to sue his former friends for saying he doped. As Armstrong said himself to Winfrey he was a Bully who was trying to “control the narrative” surrounding his success and it’s integrity. Built on top of his house of lies, Armstrong personally made millions, became a world renowned philanthropist raising millions for cancer research through his LiveStrong charity, and a mega celebrity.

So who is the real Lance Armstrong? Is he the hero many of you reading this thought he was when you were rocking that yellow LiveStrong bracelet? Is he the villain that the sports media is painting him out to be now? Just who is he?

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The DSM-IV & The Medicalization of Behavior

The American Psychological Association is revising the DSM-IV. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores why changes to the DSM-IV are of interest to sociologists.

Grieving Woman

The American Psychological Association is revising the DSM-IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The DSM-IV is the manual psychologists (and other medical professionals) use to diagnose mental disorders. This manual provides the parameters for distinguishing unproblematic sadness from problematic depression.

If a condition is listed as a mental illness in the DSM, then an insurance company is more likely to cover some of the treatment costs. The government may use the manual to determine if an individual should qualify for government services. For example, children may qualify for accommodations in schools due to a diagnosis based on the DSM.

Why might a sociologist be interested in this revision?

As a sociologist, this revision process illuminates the medicalization of human behavior. Continue reading