Tag Archives: socialization

Do You Have to Learn How to Get High?

If you stop and think about it, alcohol is just the worst. Almost every one who drinks has experienced the pain of a mean morning hangover (at least once). Also, the experience of being drunk… why is that enjoyable? When drunk you slur your words, it’s hard to think straight, you’re liable to say or do something that will offend the people around you, and you can’t legally drive a car. Why does any of that sound like a good way to spend a Friday night?

To a sociologist, the reason people drink alcohol is that they have been socially taught to. That is, we like alcohol because we’ve been taught to overlook the negative side effects or we have redefined them as positive. If that’s confusing, don’t worry. Let’s talk about another drug people abuse (marijuana) and how the sociologist Howard Becker argues we socially construct getting high and being a stoner.

Becoming a Marijuana User

In 1953 Becker set out to answer what appears to be a simple question: how does a person become a marijuana user. After interviewing fifty marijuana users Becker (1953: 235) concluded that:

An individual will be able to use marihuana for pleasure only when he (1) learns to smoke it in a way that will produce real effects; (2) learns to recognize the effects and connect them with drug use; and (3) learns to enjoy the sensations he perceives. This proposition based on an analysis of fifty interviews with marihuana users, calls into question theories which ascribe behavior to antecedent predispositions and suggests the utility of explaining behavior in terms of the emergence of motives and dispositions in the course of experience.

The first point should be pretty obvious. You can’t get high if you don’t inhale when you smoke marijuana (like President Bill Clinton). So the first step to becoming a pot smoker is learning to properly smoke pot. Most often this takes place when an experienced smoker socializes (i.e. trains) a novice smoker in the mechanics of the task.

Becker’s second point might be harder to understand. Drugs inherently alter your physiology… that’s what makes them drugs. Being in a chemcially alterted state can be disorienting. But don’t believe me, watch this:

David, the little boy in the movie, had not been socialized to how anesthesia works. Similarly, when you ingest any drug you have to be taught to recognize the effects. So for marijuana maybe that would include heightened senses, food cravings, and possibly a sense of anxiety or paranoia. When you haven’t been socialized it’s easy to go into a panic or ignore the effects altogether.

For instance, around 2007 a police officer in Dearborn Heights Michigan stole marijuana from a drug arrest, baked it into brownies, and then consumed the brownies to get high for what he said was his very first time. He then called 911 because he thought he was dying. Becker would likely say that if he had been socialized and knew what effects he should expect, the police officer wouldn’t have likely freaked out and incriminated himself.

After you’ve learned to inhale properly, learned to recognize how the substance will alter you, then the last step to becoming a marijuana user is to redefine potentially negative experiences as positive. As we talked about above, smoking marijuana can lead to anxiety, paranoia, insatiable food cravings, hyper sensitivity, confusion, etc.

To see an example of this, we need look no further than the comment section under the video I just showed you.  What WeBeChillin420’s comment does is reframe a panic attack into a desirable thing. S/he seems to be nostalgic for his or her first time consuming freak out quantities of marijuana.

Becker and the scholars he inspired to research marijuana communities further point out that it’s common among smokers to say that “coughing gets you higher.” Actually, coughing after smoking is your body’s way of telling you that you inhaled something it didn’t like. It’s your body literally gasping for air. It seems just as likely that marijuana users could think of coughing as a bad thing or as a sign they inhaled too much. Instead smokers socially construct coughing as a positive and desirable thing.

All Drugs Are Socially Constructed

While Becker focused on marijuana, we can extend his ideas to every type of drug. For instance let’s look at caffeine. Coffee and Red Bull are said to be “acquired tastes.” Doesn’t this mean that you have to learn to like them? You have to learn to like to feel a slight jitteriness? What you can take from Becker’s research is that how we think about drugs, how we react to any drug or medicine we ingest, and how we feel about others who’ve used drugs are all social constructs.

Nathan Palmer, MA is a visiting lecturer at Georgia Southern University. He is a passionate educator, the founder of Sociology Source, and the editor of Sociology in Focus, where this post originally appeared.

Baby Conductor: Children Absorbing the World Around Them

13A few times on SocImages we’ve been tickled to highlight instances of very young children performing adult behavior.  In each (adorable) case, they were great examples of how children learn how to a culturally intelligible adult and particular kinds of ones at that.

Our favorites include the baby worshipper, baby preacher, baby Beyonce, baby rapper, and babies learn how to have a conversation. Seriously. Click on every single one of those links. You won’t be disappointed.

This one is of a little girl in a Baptist church in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan mimicking a choir conductor.  It’s fantastic.

I’m sure you’ll have your own favorite thing about it, but mine is her intensity. Maybe it’s an indication of just how seriously she takes learning.  At one time, and in a different way in the modern world, learning to copy adults was a matter of life or death. This must be part of what it means to be a human child even today.

But it may also be part of the mimicry.  Conducting tends to be a pretty serious business. Maybe she’s just performing seriousness as part of the game, like her heartfelt facial expressions.

Either way, it’s a pretty impressive performance and a wonderful example of children’s active involvement in their own socialization.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Children’s Books and Segregation in the Workplace

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

As children, many of us encountered Richard Scarry’s book, What Do People Do all Day?  A classic kid’s book, it uses animals to represent the division of labor that exists in “Busytown.”  The book is an example of a brilliant piece of analysis by sociologist John Levi Martin.

To oversimplify greatly: Martin analyzes nearly 300 children’s books and finds that there is a marked tendency for these texts to represent certain animals in particular kinds of jobs. Jobs that allow the occupant to exercise authority over others tend to be held by predatory animals (especially foxes), but never by “lower” animals (mice or pigs).

Pigs in particular are substantially over-represented in subordinate jobs (those with low skill and no authority), where their overweight bodies and (judging from the plots of these books) congenital stupidity seems to “naturally” equip them for subservient jobs. Here, see this additional image from Scarry’s book, showing construction work being performed by the above-mentioned swine.

In effect, Martin’s point is that there is a hidden language or code inscribed in children’s books, which teaches kids to view inequalities within the division of labor as a “natural” fact of life  – that is, as a reflection of the inherent characteristics of the workers themselves.  Young readers learn (without realizing it, of course) that some species-beings are simply better equipped to hold manual or service jobs, while other creatures ought to be professionals. Once this code is acquired by pre-school children, he suggests, it becomes exceedingly difficult to unlearn.  As adults, then, we are already predisposed to accept the hierarchical, caste-based system of labor that characterizes the American workplace.

Steven Vallas is a professor of sociology at Northeastern University.  He specializes in the sociology of work and employment.  His most recent book, Work: A Critique, offers an overview and discussion of the sociological literatures on the topic.  You can follow Steven at the blog Work in Progress.

Cross-posted at Work in Progress.

Tough Guise 2: The Ongoing Crisis of Violent Masculinity

Screenshot_1In 1999 Jackson Katz headlined a documentary that powerfully revealed the mask of masculinity, a pretense of stoicism and readiness for violence that many men feel compelled to put on, at least part of the time.  The film, Tough Guise: Violence, Manhood, and American Culture, became a staple in classes on gender across the country.

Today marks the release of Tough Guise 2 and SocImages was given the honor of debuting an exclusive clip from the new film.  In the segment below, Katz explains that men aren’t naturally violent but, instead, often learn how to be so.  Focusing on socialization, however, threatens to make invisible the socialization agents.  In other words, Katz argues, men don’t just learn to be more violent than they otherwise would be, they are actively taught.

He begins with the fact that the video game and film industries both take money from companies that make firearms to feature their products.  The U.S. military then uses the video game Call of Duty for recruitment and training.  It’s no use arguing whether the media, the military, or the gun industry are responsible for rates of violence, he observes, since they’re in cahoots.  These extreme examples intersect with the everyday, mundane lessons about the importance of being “real men” that boys and men receive from the media and their peers, parents, coaches, and more.

This update of the original will tell the compelling story about manhood and violence to a new generation and remind older ones of the ongoing crisis of masculinity in America.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Does Positive Stereotyping Explain Asian Academic Success?

In the 3-minute video below, sociologist Jennifer Lee explains her research on “stereotype promise,” the idea that being viewed through the lens of a positive stereotype can act as a performance booster and enhance outcome. You can imagine how it might be applied to African Americans and certain sports like track or basketball, or how it might facilitate men’s acquisition of math ability.

Lee’s research is on Asian Americans and academic performance. Asians, she explains, are stereotyped as “smart, high achieving, and disciplined” and this might help explain why they are so academically successful.

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It can also, however, have harmful effects.  She discusses the way that some young Asian Americans will say that an A- counts as an “Asian fail,” an example of how much pressure stereotype promise can bring.  She also notes that Asian Americans are often disadvantaged in college admissions because of an assumption that a school can have “too many” Asians and, accordingly, accept only students with the most extraordinary academic credentials.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Men Throwing “Like a Girl”: Separating Nature from Nurture

Screenshot_5One of the few genuinely large observed differences between men and women involves throwing ability.  Men, on average, are much stronger throwers than women.  Hence the phrase “throws like a girl.”

That we observe a difference, however, tells us nothing about where that difference comes from.  Figuring that out is much more difficult than simply measuring difference and sameness.  We know that the difference emerges at puberty, suggesting that sheer size might have something to do with it.  But the fact that boys and men, on average, get much more practice throwing than women might also play a role.  How to test this?

Well, here’s one way: compare men and women throwing with their non-dominant hand.  Muscle memory doesn’t transfer from one side of the body to the other.  Accordingly, since most people have a lot of practice throwing only with one hand, comparing the throws of men and women using their non-dominant hand might tell us something interesting.

I don’t know that that study has been done, but an enterprising videographer has captured video of a set of men throwing with the “wrong” hand. What I like most about the video is the men’s facial expressions.  You can see them laughing at themselves, suddenly reduced to a beginner thrower.  Though we still don’t know how much of it is biological and how much social — though, this is the wrong question anyway – it reveals that, no matter what the answer, men’s throwing ability is strongly related to practice:

A big thanks to Reynaldo C. for sending in the video!

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Language, Culture, and Color: A Visit with the Himba

Earlier this week I wrote a post asking Is the Sky Blue?, discussing the way that culture influences our perception of color.  In the comments thread Will Robertson linked to a fascinating 8-minute BBC Horizon clip.  The video features an expert explaining how language changes how children process color in the brain.

We also travel to Namibia to visit with the Himba tribe.  They have different color categories than we do in the West, making them “color blind” to certain distinctions we easily parse out, but revealing ways in which we, too, can be color blind.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The “Baby Producer”

Over the last couple of years, we’ve collected a number of awesome examples of kids illustrating socialization into particular types of interaction or performance. We had the toddlers expertly mimicking the cadences of a conversation; we had a 2-year-old rapping; there was the baby worshipper; and finally, the baby preacher, who has the gestures and rhythms of a certain type of preaching down pat.

Thanks to Stephanie V., now we’ve got another example. This 4-year-old has not only figured out how to rap using different cadences and tones, he accompanies himself on a keyboard and drum machine, and has a pretty excellent grasp of song construction. Enjoy!