Category Archives: Culture

The Marathon and Gender Equality

By Richard Smith from Bowen Island, Canada (Chicago Marathon – the start) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Last week marked the first installment of the Boston Marathon after the horrible terrorist acts of 2013. Although the world-renowned event will forever be linked to these atrocities, there are also acts of positive social change linked to its. Most famously, the 1967 Boston Marathon saw Kathrine Switzer become the first woman to enter the race as a numbered runner (there had actually been other women run the race unofficially before) by registering as “KV Switzer”. Her run and the attempt by a race official to remove her from the race show how sports can become an arena of progressive social change. Moreover, the history of marathon running over the past half century can also serve as a teaching tool to challenge myths about the supposed fundamental differences between men and women.

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Grunge, Britpop, and the end of mass cultural movements

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/seattle-history/article/Kurt-Cobain-suicide-scene-previously-unpublished-4410890.phpPhoto: Mike Urban/Copyright MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection

This year marks twenty years since 1994, a year that saw two key movements in western youth culture – the end of US grunge, marked by the suicide of Nirvana’s singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain, and the start of the Britpop, marked by the release of seminal albums Parklife by Blur, and Definitely Maybe by Oasis. Although these start/end points are rather arbitrary, the media love to create and discuss an anniversary: it is something they can plan for with ease, cobbling together old footage, re-releasing articles, obituaries and reviews to a guaranteed audience of people who were ‘there’ lapping up every opportunity to be transported back to their youth. Myself included.

Is there any sociological value in looking back to the music of the early nineties? I would argue that grunge and Britpop were perhaps the last two real, cohesive movements in popular music culture before the rise of the internet and the subsequent fragmentation of tribalism in musical culture. This anniversary need not just be an excuse for nostalgia, but is also an opportunity for taking stock of the social, technical and cultural changes which have slowly crept upon us over the last two decades. (more…)

Teaching Feminism 101

Source: Ms. Magazine. 2009.

Source: Ms. Magazine. 2009.

 

For many people, the “feminist label” is a problem.  For some, the term is stigmatized.  For others, the phrase is outdated.  And many young people reject being identified as a feminist, fearing the label is so dominating it will minimize the multiplicity of their other social identities.  Thus, despite the support film stars, musicians, and even the President of the United States, feminism is still problematic for many men and women today.

In a previous posting, I described my surprise in interviewing female artists (who all produced work that critiqued and challenged gender expectations and asymmetry) when these women refused to label themselves or their work as feminist.  As I concluded that project I found myself left with more questions than answers.  I asked if there was a possibility that the fight for gender equality could exist on a feminist continuum as some scholars in women’s and gender studies have suggested?  And would allowing those who do not identify as feminists to be recognized under the umbrella of feminist ideology improve the fight for an egalitarian society or would it further stigmatize those who work for gender equality across the globe?

These questions have returned to the forefront of my mind as I’ve transitioned from a student of sociology of gender to an instructor.  Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak in depth with undergraduate students about gender and feminism in the United States today.  Similar to my discussions with female artists, I found undergraduate women, even those deeply committed to social justice and universal equality, were hesitant to identify as feminists, frequently arguing that the label was too limiting in contemporary society.

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Understanding Society through Soccer? Fan Cultures, Identities and Politics

[By Porcielcrosa [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.]

Although soccer (or ‘football’ as it is known in most places globally) still lags behind the four ‘major’ sports of American football, basketball, baseball and hockey as a speactator sports, it does have a sizeable and growing following in the US. A recent interdisciplinary conference at Hofstra University explored the importance and meaning of soccer in society – beyond (but including) economics and market shares – and made the argument that soccer (and sports more generally) should be treated as a serious topic of academic study, a phenomenon worthy of our attention and a lens through which society can be understood. One sociologically relevant topic is that of fans, violence, politics and identity in soccer.

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Nudge yourself better: how to become your own Choice Architect

switch

By: Adam Gault
Collection: OJO Images
http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/

My PhD research is about changing people’s behaviour  – how to make people lead better, greener, more sustainable lives. A key part of my outlook is how insights from so-called ‘Nudge’ theory might be used to foster change in individuals. Who better to use as an individual case study, than myself?

The basic premise of Nudge is that we can improve people’s behaviour not just through the old-fashioned interventions of the State like taxing things or making things illegal: ‘shoving’ people to comply; but by subtly ‘nudging’ people to make better choices, whilst still allowing them the freedom to make bad ones. The book titled ‘Nudge’ by Sunstein and Thaler has become a bestseller since it was published in 2008, and Nudge (also known by its fancier academic name of ‘Libertarian Paternalism’) has quickly become a mainstream policy discourse in many western countries. In the UK’s coalition government it seems to have found an especially receptive audience.

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Avery Gordon’s “Ghostly Matters” and the Haunting of Sociological Research

 

Source: Ghostly Matters by Avery F. Gordon

Source: Ghostly Matters by Avery F. Gordon

I recently stumbled upon a unique analysis of the construction of social reality.  In Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters, haunting is a method of sociological research.  She argues, “To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it” (7).  Ghostly Matters is her attempt to understand the complexities of social life through an analysis of the hauntings surrounding Sabina Spielrein, the desaparecido of Argentina and the lingering impact of racial slavery during the Reconstruction period in the United States.  Her book might be a conceptual call within the field of sociology to understand that which it represses, but her approach is truly interdisciplinary, in that she seeks to create a something “that belongs to no one” (ibid).

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The School-to-Prison Pipeline and the Minority Educational Gap

Retrieved from Getty images.

Retrieved from Getty images.

In a recent Sociology Lens post, Markus Gerke detailed the problem associated with President Obama’s rhetoric of individual responsibility for increasing opportunities for Latino and Black men. One component to President Obama’s initiative is to increase educational opportunities for these populations and Gerke correctly notes that the focus on individual responsibility ignores the structural barriers that limit these populations. Research suggests that a major factor in the educational achievement gap is the presence of the school-to-prison pipeline and the punishment of minority students at greater rates than white students. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education notes that 5 percent of white students in the United States are suspended compared to 16 percent of black students.  Furthermore, researchers have documented racial disparities in school punishment for over 40 years with African-Americans accounting for 34 percent of suspensions nationwide, despite making up only 17 percent of the population (Browne, 2003).

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The Spectacle and Politics of Globalized Sports

The Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo

This month the 22nd Winter Olympic Games began in Sochi, Russia. The spectacle of the event has captivated persons from around the world to tune into watch their favorite sport or favorite athletes. Russia spent over $50 billion to prepare for the Olympics by building hotels, roads, stadiums, and to bring in artificial snow into the Southern resort town.  The Sochi Olympics are the first mega-sporting event to occur this year, but will likely be trumped by the upcoming World Cup in Brazil over the summer. Brazil’s price tag for hosting the World Cup is considerable less at around $9 billion dollars. Nonetheless, the cost of both of these events and the emphasis by the respective countries to show the world the capabilities of their nation reveal the increasing globalization of these world sporting events. The Olympics and the World Cup are two global sports spectacles that have considerable cultural and economic ramifications, and are a product of intense politicking to bring the events to one’s national home.

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“Normative” Marriage in the Fourth Grade Classroom

Source: The Telegraph

Source: The Telegraph

When I picked my friend’s nine year old daughter up from school last week the first thing she said to me was, “We had to do something really weird in class today.  The teacher paired all the girls with a boy and we had to be a married couple.” It turns out the teacher was having her students work on writing dialogue and since it was right before Valentine’s Day she thought it would be cute for them to write dialogue about love and marriage.

“Not all girls want to marry a boy.  It was so lame,” my friend’s daughter told me.  ‘Lame’ was not really the word that came to my mind; I was more thinking about heteronormativity and how it is reproduced through our social institutions.

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Valentine’s Day and the (sociological) Power of Love

In case you were the only person who didn’t realise, last Friday was Valentine’s Day. I hate Valentine’s. Its’ ever increasing prevalence, its’ cloying, creeping appearance that infiltrates perfectly normal looking things and makes them red or pink, and the way the world suddenly becomes full of people perpetually and disgustingly in love, or stressed, or miserable and alone, or a combination of all three. If I sound bitter, please know it is definitely intentional. I am bitter, but not for the reason you’d think.  (more…)