Photo by Jason Toff via flickr.com
You don’t have to carry your pet around with you in a purse for the special animal in your life to be like another member of the family. For those of us with pets, it is easy to forget that your furry friend is actually animal, rather than human.
Given our deep attachments to our pets, University of Warwick sociologist Nickie Charles encourages fellow social scientists investigating kinship and community to seriously consider humans’ relationships with their pets. Drawing on 249 qualitative responses regarding pets, she writes, “People turn to animals for companionship and intimacy; pets provide the ontological security which is no longer forthcoming from relations with humans, which are fragile, fluid and contingent.”
Beyond the role that pets play in the lives of their owners, examining these human-animal relationships may lead to a deeper understanding of the ways humans form relationships with one another.
Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov via flickr.com
University of Connecticut sociologist Bradley Wright has developed SoulPulse, an app that asks research participants twice a day about their activities, thoughts, and feelings.
Wright, working with pastor and author John Ortberg, hopes to enroll 10,000 people in the study over the next three years, to gain a better understanding of how people – believers and atheists and everything in between – define spirituality for themselves.
“Everyone – well, almost everyone – is spiritual or religious. Now, we have an app to find out, what do they mean when they say that,” Wright said in an interview with the Washington Post.
This study implicitly draws from the late Robert Bellah’s argument that liberal Protestantism has declined even as it’s been successfully incorporated into mainstream spiritual and secular values and discussions. The individual experiences of spirituality reported by the SoulPulse app combined with the appearance of liberal Protestant doctrine across many belief systems makes for an intriguing sociological link between the public and the private in 21st century American spirituality.
Photo by Melissa Roy via flickr.com
Liberal Protestantism is a victim of its own success, according to the late Robert Bellah, a sociologist who specialized in religion. In a process that he calls “Protestantization,” liberal Protestant values have influenced secular humanism to the point that they are indistinguishable.
This apparent victory is also a defeat, suggested Bellah. He argued that such widespread success simultaneously diminishes liberal Protestantism’s distinctiveness, at the same time that it dwindles the congregation size of churches. He observed,
There is more than a little evidence that most Americans, for example, would assent to unmarked liberal Protestant beliefs more often than to unmarked orthodox alternatives, and that this would be true not only for most mainline Protestants but also for most Catholics and even most Evangelicals.
From Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his controversial raids on and detentions of immigrants to Rush Limbaugh and his rhetoric about “feminazis,” some white men, those sociologist Michael Kimmel terms “angry white men,” are resisting perceived challenges against their masculinity and historical experiences of privilege.
In his new book Angry White Men, Kimmel has interviewed white men across the country to gauge their feelings about their socioeconomic status in a sluggish and globalizing economy as well as the legal and social advances made by women, people of color, GLBT individuals, and others. Kimmel has coined the term “aggrieved entitlement” to describe these men’s defensiveness and aggravation that both “their” country and sense of self are being taken away from them. Kimmel writes in the Huffington Post,
Raised to believe that this was ‘their’ country, simply by being born white and male, they were entitled to a good job by which they could support a family as sole breadwinners, and to deference at home from adoring wives and obedient children…Theirs is a fight to restore, to reclaim more than just what they feel entitled to socially or economically – it’s also to restore their sense of manhood, to reclaim that sense of dominance and power to which they also feel entitled.
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Reminiscent of The Proclaimers’ 1988 hit about walking 500 miles, William Helmreich, a sociologist at the City College of New York, has been taking it to the streets for the past four years. During that time he has walked all 120,000 city blocks across New York City’s five boroughs, and he is sharing the knowledge gained from his observations, experiences, and conversations in a new book called The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City.
His work illustrates the utility of ethnographic research as a means of public sociology. In addition to observing the social world around him, Helmreich engaged people he encountered on questions ranging from the best parks in the area to their opinions on social issues such as immigration and gentrification
Both the diversity of the terrain and the outspoken character of the people he encountered likely contributed to the depth of Helmreich’s research. A New Yorker, he says, “is gruff, fancies himself to be knowledgeable, and cannot resist a challenge of answering, on the spot, in a wisecracking type of way, a spontaneous question.”
Photo by JC i Núria via flickr.com
Cul-de-sacs, long the scourge of urban planners and often imagined as markers of suburbia, social isolation, and, well, bowling alone, may actually increase social cohesion among neighbors. That is the conclusion that Thomas Hochschild, a sociologist at Valdosta State University, draws from his research on 110 homes in demographically comparable Connecticut communities.
He conducted interviews with sets of homes around bulb cul-de-sacs, dead end cul-de-sacs, and through streets and found that people living around bulb cul-de-sacs are more likely to know their neighbors, spend time with them, and borrow or lend food or tools to them, even when controlling for such variables as income, number of children in a household, and the length of time that a family had lived there.
It may be that the features of cul-de-sacs which so aggravate civil engineers – the decreased walkability and the lack of efficient traffic circulation through neighborhoods – are just what promote neighborliness among the people living there. It’s just easier for people to gather outdoors or let their children play outside without cars whizzing past.
Hochschild suggests that, if designed with urban planning considerations in mind, cul-de-sacs will be a critical part of improving the livability of communities. “I’m concerned about the breakdown of community and of society… I wouldn’t claim that cul-de-sacs are a panacea, a cure-all for community problems we’re facing. However, I think that it’s a piece of the puzzle.”
Photo by Lena Wood via flickr.com
A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that more dads than ever are staying home full-time with their children. In families consisting of married couples with children where one spouse worked at least 35 hours per week, roughly 3.5% of those households include a stay-at-home dad.
This study, led by University of Illinois sociologist Karen Z. Kramer, attaches solid data to perceived changes in family gender roles over the past few decades. Today, roughly one-third of families consist of a stay-at-home mother, down from one-half during the 1970s, and families where both mom and dad work at least 35 hours a week has increased from 46.1% to 63.2% during that time.
This study provides many openings for further research, such as changes (or lack thereof) in gender equity in the workplace and the home. For example, families with stay-at-home dads earned about $11,000 less than those with stay-at-home moms. How much of this difference is attributable to the gender pay gap? Or do breadwinning mothers differ from breadwinning fathers in areas such as educational attainment and job prestige?
With this study as a point of departure, social scientists interested in such areas as gender, the family, and the life course, as well as many others, will have plenty of material to work with.
Does loneliness leave us less civically inclined? Photo by Jacques Nyemb via flickr.com.
Election year or not, questions about voting behavior are rarely lacking among political pundits. Face it, they need stuff to talk about. Who will turn out in next year’s mid-term elections? How will the “Obama coalition” break in 2016? Social scientists are also posing questions. For example, why don’t people vote after the death of a spouse?
A study of 5.86 million Californians before and after the 2009-2010 statewide elections showed that “11 percent of people who would have voted if their spouse were alive failed to make it to the polls even a year and a half after the death.” The research found that immediately after the death of a spouse, people were less likely to vote, and while widows and widowers slowly return to the polls over time, they did not vote as often as they did before.
One possible explanation draws upon a central theme of sociology—the interplay of personal and public life. This study suggests that a personal tragedy leads to a withdrawal from public life. As Emma Green writes in The Atlantic, “If that’s at least somewhat true, that public life seems less important when private life collapses, then it’s also worth looking at the inverse: Do strong relationships and stable private lives make people better citizens?”
The important insights on social life that may come out of extensions of this research into wider elections, different geographic areas, socioeconomic effects, and longer-term studies, may well give the pundits and commentators something to talk about until 2016.
At least it’s not a favorite *kid*! Vintage ad via JBCurio, flickr.com.
A new study from Purdue University lends weight to the idea that, emotionally, children do not always grow up in the “same” home. Research by Professor Jill Suitor and graduate student Megan Gilligan builds on this with a bit of sibling rivalry: siblings are likely to be more bothered by perceived favoritism from fathers than from mothers.
Other work has shown moms who picked “favorites” had caused sibling tension, but studying the influence of both parents was a novel approach. Revisiting 2008 interviews (from the Within-Family Difference Study) with “Baby Boomers” whose parents were still alive, the authors spotted the difference. Karl Pillemer of Cornell University, who has worked with Suitor and Gilligan on this data previously, commented in a HealthCanal article:
We often think of the family as a single unit, and this reminds us that individual parent and child relationships differ and each family is very complex. Favoritism from the father could mean something different than favoritism from the mother. We suggest that clinicians who work with families on later-life issues be aware of this complexity and look for such types of individual relationhsips as they advise families on care giving, legal, and financial issues.
Suitor also offered an explanation:
Mothers are often more open and affectionate with their children, whereas fathers have sometimes been found to be more critical, leading offspring to be more concerned when fathers favor some children over others.
From families to gender, culture, and the lifecourse, scholars are sure to take up this new angle on household dynamics.
Photo by Fotologic/Jon Nicholls via flickr.com.
…The more they stay the same. That is one conclusion University of Maryland sociologist John Robinson draws from the results of the 2012 American Time Use Survey. Despite the global economic downturn in 2008 and subsequent elevated levels of unemployment in the U.S., the breakdown of how Americans spend their time has changed little over the past five years.
In 2007, Americans reported working an average of 7.6 hours per day. Five years later, in 2012, employed people worked for 7.7 hours each day, while dedicating two hours to chores and five to six hours to leisure (approximately half of that leisure time is spent watching television).
Robinson explained the similar time use as social inertia:
We went through the biggest recession in history, we went through the most economic turmoil. And yet we see very little decline in the time that people spend working.
Other notable statistics include the growing parity in how much time men and women spend more equal amounts of time working, doing housework, and taking part in the leisure activities than they did 50 years ago. Additionally, U.S. citizens are found to be increasingly sedentary. Between leisure time spent in front of the television and sedentary work environments, Americans use little of their time in physical activity.