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.
Photo by Emily Baxter from “We Are All Criminals”
What separates those with a criminal record from the rest of the population? According to lawyer Emily Baxter, not a whole lot. Baxter’s new project “We Are All Criminals,” highlighted in a recent StarTribune article and a post on Public Criminology by Chris Uggen, examines the illegal activities committed by people without a criminal record. In Minnesota, 1 out of 4 residents has a criminal record, but Baxter’s project, she says on her website, is about the 75% that “got away, and how very different their lives may have been had they been caught.”
By emphasizing the crimes of the unconvicted, Baxter blurs the lines between criminal and noncriminal and draws attention to the detrimental effects that a criminal record has on the lives of those who are convicted. Many of the undocumented and unpunished transgressions confessed through her project were committed when the perpetrators were juveniles, many of whom are now lawyers, doctors, and professionals.
Executive director of the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis Michael Friedman is intrigued by the project, saying:
“I don’t think I’ve come across anybody who has not committed crimes as a juvenile,” Friedman said. “Allowing society to use juvenile criminal records as a marker for someone’s potential success, or risk for employment or opportunity, is not scientific. It’s dangerous and discriminatory.”
The most intriguing part of her project lies in its look at society as a whole. Imagine if we had all been prosecuted for every crime we committed, even as a juvenile. What would the crime rate look like then?
Photo by Jeff Kubina via flickr.com
With Illinois poised to become the fifteenth state to legalize gay marriage (when Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill into law on November 20), the tide of public opinion about legal rights for same-sex couples seems to be changing at a rapid rate. In a recent NY Times article, Ross Douthat argues that this trend is also evident in other cultural debates, including attitudes toward the legalization of gambling and marijuana.
Since 1990 when casinos were isolated to Nevada and Atlantic City, almost half of states have legalized and developed commercial casinos. Rather than a Hangover-style bachelor weekend in Las Vegas, for many people, casino-going is a much more mundane experience, a regular weekend excursion.
Additionally, the public opinion ratings about marijuana legalization have grown at the same rate as approval for gay marriage. Indeed, in addition to the recreational legalization of pot in Washington and Colorado, twenty other states have already legalized medical marijuana.
Douthat uses late sociologist Robert Bellah’s concept of “expressive individualism” to explain these attitudinal and legislative changes. Expressive individualism refers to the notion of being free to express oneself through rich experiences and feelings without restrictions. For Douthat, expressive individualism highlights “the rise of a live-and-let-live social libertarianism, the weakening influence of both religious conservatism and liberal communitarianism, the growing suspicion of moralism in public policy.”
However, in the midst of this growing support for individual choice and freedom, Douthat cautions against the social consequences of some of these new policies. He argues,
Previous societies made distinction between liberty and license that we have become loath to draw—because what seems like a harmless pleasure to the comfortable can devastate the poor and weak.
Photo by Jefferey Turner via flickr.com
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 Matthew N via flickr.com
As urban growth has swelled over the past decades, rural regions are gradually being hollowed out. Small towns have seen their populations shrink, economies suffer, and development slow as more and more people are flocking to metro areas for the economic and cultural opportunities that city-living offers.
But some people are attracted to the rustic quiet that can only be found on a front porch in a tiny town or to the appeal of living in a community where everyone knows your name. Scholars, in particular rural sociologists, are wondering what can be done to save these pockets of small-town America.
In a recent article, Bill Reimer, a professor emeritus of sociology at Concordia University in Montreal, suggests that if small towns want to endure, they’ve got to diversify and adapt. He
Surviving communities will be those that look at all of their assets – the social, cultural, environmental, not just the economic – and work at building their capacities at all of them.
He suggests, among other things, that towns should welcome immigration and build a strong infrastructure like schools, hospitals, and recreation centers. It’s kind of a “Field of Dreams” approach – if you build it, they will come (and also, in this case, stay). By taking a few of Reimer’s suggestions, small towns have the potential not only to survive, but thrive.
Credit to Michael Whitney via Flickr.com
Sociologist Frances Fox Piven is one the most dangerous people in the world (at least, Glenn Beck thinks so). So why would Salon sit down with her? She’s also an expert in social movements. Reporter Josh Eidelson goes in depth with Fox Piven on the continued power of the Tea Party, the Occupy Movement, and the power of youth.
One of Piven’s most interesting points regards the power of disruptive movements. She discusses the Occupy Wall Street Movement and its offshoots, asserting that two of its most successful strategies were flamboyance and the ability to disrupt business. These strategies have yielded success for Occupy, but also for a larger ambition for social change. Indeed, as Piven points out, Occupy influenced the rhetoric of American politics and helped show that the grassroots power of other decades is far from gone. She even believes working outside the system is now the most effective path to progress:
“Going to Washington is largely a waste of time. But causing trouble is not.”
Photo by Shardayyy via flickr.com
October is breast cancer awareness month in the U.S. Pink ribbons, 5k races, and educational events mark the campaign to educate the public about the disease and push for more research to find a cure. We hold fundraisers and portray survivors as heroes and positive role models. A number of sociologists and other academics have analyzed and critiqued the U.S. breast cancer industry, including Gayle Sulik, Sabrina McCormick, and Stefano Puntoni.
In other parts of the world however, breast cancer is silently killing women. For one, the disease still carries a stigma that keeps women from accessing treatment. New York Times blogger Denise Grady discusses this stigma towards the disease in developing nations, particularly African countries, as well as the many additional barriers to treatment. These barriers include scarce resources, shame surrounding the disease, corruption, and the real constraints of economic and family responsibilities, all of which make for a deadly combination. Grady states,
Survival rates vary considerably from country to country and even within countries. In the United States, about 20 percent of women who have breast cancer die from it, compared with 40 to 60 percent in poorer countries. The differences depend heavily on the status of women, their awareness of symptoms, and the availability of timely care.
Although it is not new knowledge that diseases disproportionately affect poorer countries and individuals, cancer treatment and education has been neglected in developing nations. It has been overshadowed by other diseases like malaria and AIDS, and due to a lack of public awareness on both the national and international scales, it has been underfunded by governments and foundations. Research from PRI indicates that “cancer kills more people in low- and middle-income countries than AIDS, malaria, and TB combined.”
Photo by miss_millions via flickr.com
Over the past few years, Oklahoma has locked up its place as the state with the highest rates of female incarceration. In a recent article for The Oklahoman, Andrew Knittle interviewed University of Oklahoma sociologist Susan Sharp about the state’s “mean” laws that lead to this trend.
Sharp explains that Oklahoma has tough-on-crime sentencing guidelines that cause offenders to serve abnormally lengthy terms in prison. Sharp points specifically to overly punitive drug laws for these high incarceration rates. Possession of small amounts of drugs, which in most states would have little to no punishment, can lead to some serious jail time in Oklahoma. Sharp argues against
drug traffickers being forced to serve 85 percent of their sentences when drug rehabilitation would do more good at a lower cost to the state. “It’s the way we define drug trafficking (in Oklahoma) … if you’re arrested with five grams of crack cocaine, you can be charged with trafficking,” Sharp said.
Sharp also explained that women generally enter into a criminal lifestyle after going through one of three “pathways”:
coming from a poverty-stricken background, being in relationships with men who engage in criminal behavior, and suffering from a long history of abuse.
On a side note, the prison mentioned in this article is the same one featured in the documentary, “Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo.” Links to the film can be found at the TSP documentary page at http://thesocietypages.org/specials/documentaries/ !