Black Friday shoppers at WalMart
The holiday season is officially upon us as thousands of individuals woke up early on this Black Friday to score the best deals of the season. This time of year brings joy to the hearts of many, but also exposes one of the greatest contradictions in American society. Along with the excitement of holiday shopping and purchasing a 50 inch TV for half-price, this time of year is also supposed to be about giving. From Thanksgiving through Christmas more people volunteer and donate food and/or money than any other time of year. In 2012, to combat the popularity of consumption during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, more and more people are participating in Giving Tuesday (the day after Cyber Monday), a day to give to those in need. While we can certainly see the merits and benefits of giving a toy to a child who has none or a coat to someone who is cold, we should also ask ourselves why charity is needed in the first place and why charity is so intimately linked with consumption. (more…)
Elizabeth M. Lee’s article Elite Colleges and Socioeconomic Status (Lee, 2013) in September’s Sociology Compass is a sophisticated exploration of why elite colleges’ demographics remain “largely homogenous across generations”. The UK also exhibits this symptom of a malfunctioning meritocracy.
Former Prime Minister Sir John Major described Britain’s lack of social mobility as “truly shocking” and the current Foreign Secretary called it “disturbing” . It’s easy to see why; the upper echelons of our politics and culture are dominated by alumni from our two elite universities – the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge. The leading members of the government; the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary himself and the Deputy Prime Minister are ex- Oxbridge. So too are many of the politicians responsible for holding the government to account; for example the leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband and the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. Our prominent writers, journalists and commentators such as the Independent’s Owen Jones, the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, her editor Alan Rushbridger and our most popular political satirists including Jimmy Carr and David Mitchell (who work together on the UK’s version of Saturday Night Live, 10 O’clock Live) are also Oxbridge alumni. Even our new technological elites, digital entrepreneur Baroness Lane-Fox and the man who ultimately made this blog possible, inventor of the http protocol that facilitates the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, are Oxbridge. The message is clear: if you want to be member of our elites get yourself to Oxford or Cambridge. (more…)
The recent contention over the United States budget has pitted the Democrats against Republicans and in doing so has hardened political ideologies for many but has also opened the minds of many to the hypocrisy of Congress. One central narrative in this battle is whether citizens should continue to receive entitlement programs such as Social Security or be allowed to get health care under the Affordable Care Act. The right considers anyone in poverty as lazy and handouts as a disincentive to work. Narratives were abound regarding individuals who are perceived as undeserving of healthcare and that people need to work for a living in order to receive healthcare. Fox News went so far as too post a horrifically misrepresented graph suggesting that more Americans receive benefits than work. Of course the graph is extremely flawed with contradictory measures for those that receive benefits and those that work, and the Y axis makes the difference appear greater than what it is. The notion that Americans can pick themselves up by the boot straps and make something for themselves is a sensationalized myth at this point in time. The reality is that it is difficult to win the economic race when you are not even allowed on the track. The 99% moniker of the Occupy movement is indicative of the gap between the rich and the poor, and the difference between the rich and the poor cannot be whittled down to work ethic. Rather, income inequality is a product of social structures that exploit the working class. (more…)
Despite such clubs being banned elsewhere, the student pole dancing club was recently soliciting new members at my university’s freshers’ fair. The toxic effects on gender relations of pole dancing’s explicit objectification of women have been extensively discussed elsewhere – see the Object campaign for example. Despite such critiques, pole dancing has been adopted into the body-sculpting repertories of fitness clubs and become an option for students to earn money by dabbling in the sex industry. (more…)
Recent California statistics by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation expose a contradiction plaguing weight loss initiatives in the United States. More and more Californians are exercising, but obesity rates are rising across the state. Between 2001 and 2011, all of the counties in California saw an increase in rates of exercise. The increases were particularly dramatic for women; the rates of women who completed a sufficient amount of physical activity in a week rose from 50.7% in 2001 to 59.25% in 2011. Given the link between exercise and weight loss, increased activity should be related to a decrease in the number of obese people. Yet, this is not what researchers observed. Instead, the Health and Metrics Evaluation study found that obesity rates are on the rise: rates have increased in every county in California. Despite more exercise, Californians are not necessarily maintaining a healthy weight. The researchers concluded that Californians, like many people throughout the United States, are consuming more calories than they lose through activity. Diets and caloric intake are still too high, meaning individuals hold onto or even gain weight, rather than losing it through exercise. (more…)
A few weeks back, I contributed a post highlighting possible explanations for the rise of criminal justice based practices within schools. Although these strategies have become popular for managing school crime, growing evidence suggests they are often overly excessive and may produce a host of unintended consequences. Serving as a sort of a Part II, this essay outlines the effects of what has been termed the “criminalization of school discipline” (Hirschfield & Celinscka 2011). As discussed below, the evidence stands against the school criminalization when considering its effects on: social equality, school performance, school crime, and other disciplinary strategies. (more…)
In the most recent issue of Sociology Compass, Lisa Wade contributed an article, “The New Science of Sex Difference,” about the relationship between biology and social identities and inequalities. The debate about socialization usually boils down to two seemingly opposed positions: nature versus nurture. Historically, biologists, and other fans of the life sciences, contended that natural forces in the body, like hormones, genes, and brains, determine the development of an individual. On the other hand, sociologists refute the claim that human behavior and identity can be reduced to biological phenomena; instead, our social environment, and how we are nurtured within that environment, constrain and enable our actions, life outcomes, and sense of self.
Yet, Wade cautions against this false dichotomy. Many biologists and sociologists now recognize the importance of social structures and experiences on the actual fabric of the body. That is, the issue should not be nature versus nature, but instead both nature and nurture. Wade points to numerous scientific and sociological studies that begin to bridge the gap between two previously polarized sides: these scholars show how our hormones, our brains, and even our genes are structured, and at times restructured, by our social experiences and encounters. (more…)
Hanauer discusses the perceived wisdom or false premise that tax cuts for the rich creates jobs.
Source: Gordon Incorporated
Over the past 400 years, the Western criminal justice system (CJS) has greatly evolved. Like virtually all social institutions, its evolution has been highly impacted by the wider social environment. Along with the arrival of new technologies, philosophies, and aspirations, the Western CJS has altered its policies and practices. One very important change that has taken place over the past few centuries has been the birth of the modern prison system. Strongly inspired by factors related to capitalism, the prison system has continuously oscillated between focusing on incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution. Beyond economic reasons, part of this fluctuation has taken place because of the West’s increasing desire to punish offenders mentally as opposed to physically as well as its vacillating theories regarding the true “nature of man.” In response to such ideas, it is important to consider exactly where and how the modern prison was born as well as what factors contributed to its creation. (more…)
Sociologists frequently note that individuals – in effort to understand the social world – construct boundaries and make distinctions (Zerubavel, 1991). That is, in efforts to make sense of the world and its reality, individuals cut up, carve out, and make meaningful distinctions. Distinguishing one from another, that is “masculine” from “feminine”, “affluent” from “deprived”, “strong” from “weak”, and “right” from “wrong” provides an avenue for meaning and reality materialize.
However, the same boundaries that construct a reality for individuals, groups, and cultures, also establish points of conflict. Consequently, the social world endures ongoing transformations as it encounters friction and opposition between sources of authority. Individuals, much like culture, “struggle over what significant symbols mean and who has the authority to project public definitions” (O’Brian, 2008). Whilst boundaries help individuals define their social environment and navigate its complex terrain, they often create areas of contested space in which contradictions and power play out. (more…)