The New York Times recently published an article about one of Norway’s maximum security prisons, Halden Fengsel – i.e. the “world’s most humane” prison.  The article doesn’t seem real.  Flowers, barley, open fields, live cows.  Since 1998, Norway’s sentencing has focused on rehabilitation.  This particular prison model – one that is designed from its inception for rehabilitation – was the first of its kind in Norway.  Even I, with my bright-eyed naiveté and mid-20s progressive agenda can’t help – just for a moment – think that the stars just aligned for Norway.  Maybe things are just different in Norway?

The reality is that’s just not the case.  Magic justice dust was not sprinkled on Norway.  Similarly, America is not too heterogenous or too populated or too developed (and therefore crime-ridden).  It is simply is too broken.

Make no mistake, Norway still faces serious crimes.  Extremist Anders Behring Breivik set off a bomb that killed eight people and systemically hunted down and shot sixty nine others, many teenagers at a summer camp for the Labor Party.  He was sentenced to the maximum 21 years in prison.

Compare Breivik’s story to that of Kalief Browder.  The New Yorker followed Browder’s story to its tragic end.  Mr. Browder was arrested ten days before his 17th birthday for allegedly stealing a backpack.  Since he was unable to pay bail, he spent the next three years at Rikers Island in New York awaiting trial.  The trial never happened and he was released after the government dismissed the case.  During those three years, he spent two in solitary confinement.  In 2015, only 22 years old, Kalief Browder committed suicide in his parents home.

Mr. Browder’s story is not an anomaly.  The extent to which this happens, the number of people to which it happens, its disproportionate racial impact on black Americans, and its disproportionate economic impact on the poor is unique to the United States.  I’m not telling you anything you probably don’t already know.  With all of the publicity, change in America’s prison infrastructure has seemed imminent for years, but something seems to be holding back the floodgates.

Policy questions regarding prison reform often focus, first, on money, and then, on balancing rehabilitation and punishment.  However, even before issues of punishment and rehabilitation, there are fundamental hurdles to overcome: what do human beings deserve from the State?  Do prisoners qualify for these entitlements?  Do prisoners deserve something less?  If so, what?  There are of, course, some nuances that warrant consideration depending on the nature of the crime, but let’s start with the basics.

It seems to me that the issue of prison reform distills down to two essential questions:

  1. Once a person does something “criminal,” does that diminish that person’s status as a human being? and/or
  2. What is the bare minimum that a human being is entitled to by the State?

The second question is more complicated, but easier to answer.  We’ll start there.  The caveat with this question is that it requires us to think about we need, regardless of whether we commit a criminal act.  Barring protecting the safety of others or the safety of ourselves, no matter what we do, what resources should we be entitled to as human beings?

Ethical theorists have been ruminating over what human beings need – not what we want, but what we need.  What is the bare minimum that a human being is entitled to?  In its contemporary iterations (and the ones I’d like to apply to prison reform in this post), this conversation has centered around international development.  Two theorists who have changed the face of this field are Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen with their separate works on the “capabilities approach.”  To simplify, they have both argued that human beings are entitled to certain “capabilities” or “functionings.”  A person is entitled to more than just food, water, and shelter but also an environment that enables productivity, creativity, and – dare I say it – happiness.

Their work was revolutionary, not just because it increased international pressure for aid and nation-state funded welfare but because it redefined human dignity.  People deserve to be happy.  It is a matter of human dignity.

The capabilities approach is only one of many frameworks that may be applicable to prison reform efforts.  It certainly resolves some of the inhumane practices present in American prisons.  However, jumping to considerations of rehabilitation/punishment without first addressing the bare minimum that each prisoner is entitled to may result – and I would argue, has resulted – in an inefficient use of resources and slow, scattered policymaking.  Though not a fixture, this concept isn’t foreign to the American criminal justice and prison system.  Correctional facilities have culinary programs, professional certifications, and arts programs.  However, these programs rely heavily on outside funding and volunteers; they are often not a part of prison infrastructure.

Next, once a person does something criminal, does that diminish that person’s status as a human being?  First thing’s first:  If committing a criminal act does diminish a person’s status as a human being, then perhaps it doesn’t matter what resources you give it or how you treat it. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that male prison guards watched female inmates while they showered, a 17-year old boy hung himself with a blanket in solitary confinement, or mentally ill inmates were so brutally abused that one was kept in solitary confinement for 2491 consecutive days and another left in his own feces and vomit until he died of a heart attack.

Of course, each of these stories is deeply unsettling.  They can only be written off as a case of mishandling by someone else (much less ethical, much less competent than any of us would ever be) so many times until we must confront the uncomfortable reality that our world – one that we cannot disclaim responsibility for (try as we might) – doesn’t treat human beings as such.  Status as “criminal” and “human being” though perhaps not mutually exclusive are certainly at odds to some degree, enough that the stories I’ve mentioned above are not a mere handful.

Though there are nuances of sentencing and resource allocation to be handled in policy meetings, thoughtful prison reform will remain a distant goal until uncomfortable confrontations are made.  Confrontations about how how our courts and our prisons treat people who commit crimes in terms of (1) their status as human beings and (2) what capabilities and/or resources those individuals are entitled to.

The importance of these preliminary issues is paramount.  The consistent to failure to confront them has left a broken prison system that has harmed our friends, families, and communities.  Behind the cages of America’s prisons are human beings just like you and me.  People who are entitled to our respect and, indeed, their own happiness.

Future Readings


Amandla Stenberg, an activist and an individual who has considerable reach amongst the masses used her platform as an actress to speak out against cultural appropriation when she responded to a post on the Instagram of a celebrity teen socialite in early July. Many replies to Stenberg’s response of the original poster demeaned Amandla for making an argument about race as many bystanders were convinced that the original Instagram post was meant to be a fun fashion statement. The subsequent comments have a false sense of logic behind them however, and it is clear that most responders did not understand the argument that Amandla was making. This argument was further convoluted given that is was a response to the derogatory hashtag #whitegirlsdoitbetter; a twitter hashtag meant to spread hate and racism by implying that women of color are unworthy. Her reply has since been deleted but I would argue that Amandla’s reply has everything to do with race, fashion, and hair, all which comprise culture. She later posted another reply which provides more detail about black femininity and cultural appropriation. A person stating that her original reply is about anything less is simply blind to the structures of power and dominance that are at play and is the reason why these issues will continue to be perpetuated so long as their diminishment is condoned by overarching forces such as mass media.

Cultural hegemony is the control of culture through domination of social groups via social institutions. Simply put cultural hegemony is a type of hegemony that serves to police society in a way that is unnoticeable to the dominant group and is perpetuated as the parameters of what to think and how to think about it. Most importantly cultural hegemony serves the interests of the hegemony, the dominant class. When discussing race in America the dominant class refers to White people and minority groups of races and ethnicities are considered subordinate groups. While it is a fact that not all White people have the power and means to establish and carry out this dominance, it is true that all White people benefit from being a part of this dominant class. Culture is comprised of many things to include race, gender, religion, sexuality, class, etc. I aim to focus on race and gender as these are the topics that are at the root of Amandla’s Instagram reply which became viral. more...



Sexuality is, still, something seen as taboo, and deemed not appropriate for everyday conversation. Society assumes men and women will marry, procreate, and in time, create their own family: where their children will repeat the process. However, people do not always adhere to the model: some will live within the “deviant” parts of society. There are people who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, Queer), SM (Sadomasochism), and many more. One identity, out of the plethora, that many people have problematized is the identity of SM. Those who participate in the SM scene proscribe SM as their primary identity. Previously, there has not much research done on the SM community: but, that has changed. more...

Source: Claus Rebler via Flickr, CC-BY-SA 3.0
Source: Claus Rebler via Flickr, CC-BY-SA 3.0

At the time in which I write this, I have been sick for eight days. I’ve gone through 5 boxes of tissues. Two packs of medicines. Had a fever. Called off a day of work. Gone to the doctor. Slept more than I have probably all year long. Needless to say, this is quite the summer cold. Being sick is no fun, and I’m one to remind everyone around me that it is as such. I complain, I play the victim card, I am essentially helpless. I pretend like I’m going to die, probably because it feels that way. Being sick is no fun because we are not our “normal” selves, we are not healthy, and we are not able to do the things we usually do, at least not the way that we usually do them.

But in a moment of clarity, I wonder to myself, being sick is okay. Maybe our bodies need to be sick in order to rest from the pressure and constraints we put on it everyday to be “healthy.” What is healthy anyways?


Photo Source: Sociology Lens Media Library
Photo Source: Sociology Lens Media Library

When we here at Sociology Lens decided to dedicate July to posts about teaching, I had so much excitement. After all, graduate student advice month had gone over so well, why wouldn’t another themed month that is also relevant. I mean, is teaching not a significant part of what we do as sociologists? But there was one problem… I’ve never taught before. What could I offer in my posts?

Really. I had a very difficult time thinking of something, of anything, to offer. I’ve never even been a teaching assistant! Being in the classroom, beyond one or two guest lectures, is something that baffles me. On top of that, being so young (no more than 2 years older than some college seniors) and fresh out of college myself, how I could I really be considered an authority on being the teacher?




In patriarchal societies, men tend to take advantage of their power, and privilege. This privilege comes so easily because it is invisible to them, which makes men blind to their control over society. Besides, the concept of privilege is based on its omnipresent invisibility. The affordances of privilege cost many people, more so women, relegation to the outliers of society, and nearly incapable of controlling power. At times, certain men have an inclination to enforce, and monopolize, on their power in the workplace; i.e. make sexual propositions, or sexual innuendos, at their female-identified coworkers. The majority of sexual harassment cases stem from the workplace, so what happens when these situations happen in the general public? Furthermore, what happens when sexual harassment, whether physical, or verbal, occur between those of the same gender?


I’m no teaching expert, but I am fortunate that I’ve had plenty of practice in it. Thanks to a sympathetic professor at my old University I was given the chance to do some seminar teaching when I was just 23, and I ended up doing it for five years, during which time I also completed my Masters. I then went to Korea and taught ESL for two years. Now I’m doing my PhD and I lead some sociology seminars. So somehow I’ve accumulated over seven years (!) of experience in a variety of environments, and I’ve attended plenty of teaching workshops and completed a month-long CELTA course in ESL teaching. Teaching is a challenge but I find it very rewarding and character-building. It’s also a good way to brush up on new (and old) topics – “the best way to learn is to teach” is a cliché, but there’s a lot of truth in it. more...

This is a guest post by Jenny Dick-Mosher. Jenny is a doctoral candidate at Virginia Tech studying Sociology, Health, and Women’s and Gender Studies. Jenny just recently accepted a position as a disability rights advocate at the Disability Law Center of Virginia. 

Sociology Lens News Editor Megan Nanney (mnanney) saw Jenny present on this topic at a departmental symposium and felt that this important information should be shared with those looking to teach courses and for general knowledge in daily life. Thank you, Jenny, for sharing!

Source: Sociology Lens Media Library
Source: Sociology Lens Media Library

Being a self-identified disabled feminist in academia means a lot of people come to me for advice in how to make their disability accommodation statements on their syllabi. For many, the accommodation statement can be as awkward and perplexing for the non-disabled as it can be to interact with disabled people in real life. I’ve had countless interactions with non- disabled people who perform linguistic gymnastics to avoid the word disability and seem to be unclear about how or if to address the crippled elephant in the room.


Photo credit:
Photo credit:












For the first time in the history of FIFA’s 2015 Women’s World Cup, the competition is being played on artificial turf. Consequently coverage leading up to the first match between home team Canada and China tended to focus less on predicting outcomes of the game and more on the material of the pitch. Players and their supporters raised objections in an effort to express discontent and to attempt to change FIFA’s new and to-many-puzzling policy much like a social movement might engage in framing. This comparison is appropriate because a hierarchal, non-democratic institution handed down the policy, leaving no built-in space for discussion or recourse. Appealing for change in this instance is very much like petitioning a government.

Framing theory is a dominant thread of social movement research that may help us understand how the players and others who advocated in their stead approached challenging FIFA’s decree. Collective action frames name a problem (“diagnostic framing”) and endorse a particular solution (“prognostic framing”) but they also serve to mobilize the affected and their sympathizers (“motivation framing”)(Snow and Benford 1988). I will argue those who have questioned FIFA’s turf decision have employed all three of these strategies to varying degrees of success.

First we must identify who has petitioned for change. Abby Wambach, illustrious forward of the reigning champions and holder of the international record for goals scored of any gender, has lead the charge but she is flanked by teammates and members of rival squads alike. Sports journalists have been vocal and male allies from a variety of backgrounds have raised objections as well-Tom Hanks, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Howard among them. There is also a precedent for understanding sports as “space for politics” in which soccer fans have agitated for changes they would like to see implemented.

In general, the women’s framing has taken a shotgun style approach-throw everything at the wall and see what will stick-but three frames which combine empirical evidence and appeals to emotions have been consistently employed.. The first two-legalistic unfairness and undue predictability in game play-have been predominantly raised by affected players while the third-potential for injuries-is popular with both players and external parties.

Last fall, a group of women players representing at least a dozen countries attempted to sue FIFA in the Human Rights Tribune of Ontario for alleged violations Canada’s Human Rights Code which guarantees equal access to facilities . The legal suit represents claimants’ attempts to classify the decision to play on turf as a symptom of gender inequality targeting women. The second frame blends with the third at the edges. Turf requires a different style of play due to the inability to anticipate the way the ball will bounce compared to grass fields. This unpredictability has also lead to women being more reserved for fear of destroying the resource that enables them to play the game- their bodies.

Numerous sports journalists, medical professionals and players have highlighted the increased potential for injuries . Sydney LeRoux Dwyer, another forward for the United States’ team, posted a graphic picture to Twitter displaying her resulting injuries.

Collective action frames are not pre-packaged beliefs but meanings and narratives produced over time that tie together facts, assumptions, and intent. Social movement actors and organizations-or in this instance, women soccer players and their sympathizers-make framing choices-both deliberately and incidentally-that affect how they present their claims about reality, particularly what they identify as their locus for change and their beliefs about how to secure it. Any singular conception of a problem that is presented is interwoven with assumptions about the origin and nature of the conflict, which can preclude the applicability, marketability, and even identification of potential solutions. In this instance, for example, the perception that playing on turf disproportionately affects one gender guided the players’ decisions to pursue legal action. Moreover, the latter two frames are undergirded by assumptions that sporting competitions should be fair and minimize harm to their participants.

Borrowing from extant cultural scripts with which audiences are already acquainted can be one means of garnering credibility and salience (Spillman 1995). Conversely, previously conditioned scripts may also act as a barrier if social movement claims counter existing assumptions. Accordingly, the relative powerlessness of individual women soccer players, cultural norms that diminish the value of women athletes relative to men athletes, the United States’ lack of national investment in the sport, and the few other professional options available for women players could prevent the success of their framing efforts. To boycott FIFA’s decision by abstaining from playing in the World Cup, as was suggested in the wake of the failed lawsuit, would be to forfeit the rare time and energy devoted to women’s soccer on the international stage. Furthermore, while one’s role obviously affects one’s perspective on the turf, but it may also impact audience reception of claims. While many seem receptive to criticisms of FIFA’s decision, plenty of Twitter commentary suggests otherwise, casting outspoken women players as ‘whiny babies’ who should ‘man up.’

Despite the popularity of framing attempts, their multiple approaches to framing were unsuccessful in changing the turf for this year’s Women’s World Cup. The legal suit was rejected and FIFA held firm. Unlike in the past when sports teams have attempted to procure public funds to implement changes perceived as necessary, several private companies have offered to pay to install grass. FIFA claims their reticence to change was because Canada’s original bid for the Women’s 2015 World Cup specified field turf. FIFA’s recalcitrance may be an issue of the absence of a financial incentive. As of June 14, the 2015 Women’s World Cup had seen a 30% increase in ticket sales from the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany.

Recent revelations of rampant corruption in FIFA’s operations may provide a political opportunity to prevent turf from being relied upon in the future. On one hand, FIFA officials’ impropriety reflects poorly on the organization as a whole and casts doubt on their internal calculus. Their decision-making processes being called into question in one realm could generate a public relations kerfuffle that discourages the organization from making contested decisions in the future. On the other hand, the hubbub surrounding the men’s 2022 World Cup to be held in Qatar may deflect attention away from the issue women players have furiously tried to make central. If FIFA’s poor management does not spark change for future Women’s World Cups, the outcome of this year’s competition may serve as a lesson. If major outliers are removed, this World Cup’s games have averaged half a goal less from 2011. For a sport notoriously beleaguered by long periods of inaction, declines in exciting plays may be a relevant future consideration for its governing body.


Snow, David A., and Robert D. Benford.1988. “Ideology, Frame Resonance, and Participant Mobilization.” International Social Movement Research 1(1): 197-217.

Spillman, Lyn. 1995. “Culture, Social Structures, and Discursive Fields.” Current Perspectives in Social Theory. 15(1): 129-154.





The concept of the “closet,” linguistically, served as the foundation, and means, to identify as a homosexual, or LGBTQ. Within her text, The Epistemology of the Closet, Kosofsky Sedgwick offers numerous ways to define the “closet.” However, there are two definitions pertinent to our understanding of the “closet.” The first definition of the “closet” is described as, “a room for privacy or retirement” (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008d: 65) and the second, more appealing, definition of the “closet” has an added word before it: “skeleton in the closet (or cupboard): a private or concealed trouble in one’s house or circumstances, ever present, and ever liable to come into view” (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008e: 65). To have something, or to be, in the “closet” points out something that is hidden or kept private from others, never to be discerned. It, also, points to a power relation, or antagonism, between sexualities, and sexuality known as knowledge. Currently, it is common for individuals of the LGBTQ community to ask one another if they are “out of the closet.” Yet, to ask someone if they are “out of the closet” is to pry into their secret: they are asked to elucidate, or bring to life, the sexual identity one feels they must hide and fear. more...