Photo by Helen Alfvegren, Flickr CC

Veganism is a common practice in countries like France, Israel, and the U.S., and a recent article in Harvard Magazine looked to Nina Gheihman to detail how recent shifts in rhetoric surrounding veganism are taking place in each of these countries. Gheihman—a vegan herself and president of the Harvard Vegan Society—describes how the narratives and norms associated with veganism are culturally specific and constantly evolving. 

In the U.S., Gheihman describes, veganism was originally rooted in activism and debates surrounding animal rights, particularly in the face of modern agricultural practices and the worsening conditions for livestock. These ideas have shifted, however, and now veganism in the U.S. is promoted not just for animal rights’ sake, but as a healthier lifestyle choice in general. This has meant a noticeable shift away from debates about the ethical treatment of animals towards conversations about health and the body. Furthermore, we are seeing a transformation of the images associated with veganism, including messages of veganism as macho and masculine. Consider that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady—a prominent vegan himself—is involved with a meal-order shipment service that mails vegan meals to your home; this service, known as Purple Carrot, advertises better physical performance on the football field as one of the benefits of the vegan diet.

Gheihman finds that the meanings of and motivations for veganism are different across the globe, and her research promises to uncover some of the ways veganism has evolved in different contexts. 

We all make mistakes, but what if one of your biggest mistakes was published online for all the world to see? Many who are arrested in the United States face this reality, as mug shots are now a common facet of the internet. A new article from 
The Marshall Project outlines the history of these images, tracing the historical trajectory of mug shots from their creation by criminologist Alphonse Bertillon to their skyrocketing numbers in the digital age. The article also draws from research by Rutgers sociologist Sarah Esther Lageson to explain the impacts these images have on arrestees.

Booking images of arrests are often plastered all over the web, including the websites of local police agencies and city newspapers. Privately-run databases also house these images, and in some cases, are described as exploitative schemes that charge exorbitant fees to have the images removed. Digital mug shots are not only a profit machine for some websites, but appear to have dire consequences for the people who are depicted. In her interviews with 27 people at a Minnesota expungement clinic, Lageson found that online arrest photos impacted job and housing prospects for some respondents, even if the images were decades old. These collateral consequences of arrest, and in many cases not even a conviction, complicates the notion that “innocent until proven guilty” remains a lynchpin of the American criminal justice system.

For more on the problems with public mug shots, see this Roundtable conducted by TSP alum Sarah Lageson.

Photo by Marion Doss, Flickr CC

In light of the recent attacks in Manchester and Kabul, National Public Radio talked to sociologist Charles Kurzman about the ways Americans perceive the threat of terrorism. Kurzman addressed how Americans focus heavily on every terrorist attack and how we often pin this on Islam, but he explains that Islamic extremism is a rare phenomenon.

As described in his book The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists, Kurzman’s research shows that Americans’ perceptions of the dangers posed by radical Islam are vastly overstated; though we focus on it at great length, violent extremism is relatively rare. Furthermore, it is disingenuous to claim that Islam or Muslim faith is driving this phenomenon. In addition, as Kurzman describes, Americans overstate the likelihood of dying at the hands of violent extremism:

Here in the United States, we have about 15,000 murders a year, and of those, a tiny proportion are from violent extremism. So when we focus just on that tiny proportion, even if we were to bring that down to zero, which we can unfortunately never count on doing, it’s not going to make a huge dent in the threat to public safety that we experience each year.”

Photo by ResistFromDay1, Flickr CC

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, the presence of social movements and protests has grown substantially. Most notable among this phenomenon have been large marches, such as the Women’s March and the March for Science. And according to an article in the Washington Post, these movements are showing no signs of slowing.    

Sociologist Dana Fisher, Director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, investigates what has motivated people to more actively participate in democracy.  In the article, she explains that this shift to more collective and vocal action is to ensure people are heard, especially in light of the current administration.  According to Fisher,

“Most people used to be content to vote every four years and then disengage from politics … but many Americans no longer feel like their concerns are being heard just by voting.”

The protests have also been more ethnically diverse than is typical, and Fisher’s research shows that the rates of bachelor’s degrees among the protesters is higher than the general US population. Perhaps the most significant shift is the variety of issues in which participants are protesting. At the Women’s March, 60 percent said they were protesting for women’s rights, 36 percent indicated they were there for the environment, and 35 percent for racial justice. Fisher explains,  

“Since the inauguration … the resistance has become the umbrella for a suite of issues that used to have their own individual movements … They are not just coming out for the one issue that is their big issue. They have a much more intersectional sense of an identity as an activist.”

Photo by Global Panorama, Flickr CC

Summer is just around the corner, and in the U.S. that means not only warmer weather but an abundance of music festivals. From Lollapalooza to Austin City Limits, millions of people flock to these events each year, fueling the growth of a massive “festival industry” over the past decade. Recently, however, major festivals like Bonnaroo have seen a decrease in attendance rates. In an article in the Washington Post, sociologist Johnathan Wynn explains how growing commercialization and consolidation may diminish the quality of the musical experience for festival-goers.

Wynn outlines how  major festivals have relied on corporate interest to promote their brands. In 2014 alone, corporations spent $1.3 billion toward sponsoring festivals, tours, and music venues. Despite a growing corporate presence, most festival attendees in Wynn’s interviews were unphased by this increasing commercialization, viewing it as a trade off for low ticket prices. However, with this burgeoning success also comes the problem of consolidation — or putting numerous festivals under the purview of a few major live music conglomerates. Many popular shows are now owned by a single company. For example, Live Nation, one of the largest world music promoters, runs over 60 music festivals each year. According to Wynn, this “institutional isomorphism” leads to uniformity in the lineups of festivals:

“Sure enough, with only a couple of promoters organizing the biggest festivals, the same artists seem to be performing at the same ones. Twenty of the 103 performers at AEG’s Coachella this year are among the 166 acts playing at Live Nation’s Bonnaroo. That means that one-tenth of Bonnaroo’s lineup and one-fifth of Coachella’s lineup are exactly the same. Consolidation and uncertainty beget monotony.”

The combination of corporatization, consolidation, and uniformity may lead to what some are calling “festival fatigue,” but Wynn points to smaller productions such as the Newport Folk Festival as a beacon of hope. Shows like Newport are attempting to break the mold of commercialization by offering a more local and eclectic experience to their attendees. So music festivals have come a long way since Woodstock, but as Wynn suggests, it may not be for the better.

Photo by Sharon Wesilds, Sherry Photography. Flickr CC

As wedding season approaches, many of us are getting together our wedding outfits and ordering our wedding cakes. But things may be a bit quieter in Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love,” however. Philadelphia has the highest rate of adults who have never been married out of all the major American cities. A study by the Pew Charitable Trust group found that nearly 52 percent of Philadelphia’s adult population have never been married, which is significantly higher than the national average of 33.5 percent. 

Judith Levine, a professor of sociology at Temple University, believes that high rates of poverty could be the reason for Philadelphia’s low marriage rates, as Philadelphia’s 26% poverty rate is much larger than other large U.S. cities. Levine explains,

“It’s no coincidence that the one with the highest percentage of people who have never married is also the one with the highest poverty rate. We’re really in this period where there’s just this huge class divide in who gets married …  [Many individuals] see marriage as a point along the transition to adulthood that happens after certain other things happen, like education or being able to buy a home.”

The Walk a Mile in her shoes program is a domestic violence awareness program. Photo by David Rizzico, Flickr CC

Generally, domestic violence is something we think of as linked to, and limited by, the boundaries of the home. The recent tragedy in San Bernardino, however, makes us rethink such notions, as the attacker shot his wife — an elementary school special-education teacher — at the school, killing an 8-year old student in the process. Incidents like this highlight the ways that domestic violence not only affects the domestic sphere, but also the community at large.

In an article on Angelus, sociologist Silva Santos of the Social Security Institute in Uruguay discusses how, out of all the homicides that occur among people who know each other in the United Nations, 79 percent of the victims are women. This phenomenon is reflective of a general social trend wherein women are already treated unequally in public spaces. As Santos describes,

Domestic abuse is based on gender violence, as well as in other types of violence that society chooses to ignore. For example, street bullying, or within the work environment are behaviors that society overlooks, but they who bully grow accustomed to seeing women as their property or as objects with which they can do whatever they wish.”

In essence, the gender discrimination and harassment women face on a routine basis forms the foundation from which domestic abuse is enacted, a platform wherein women are already treated like second-class citizen in the general community. This is mirrored by incidents such as the shooting in San Bernardino, where domestic violence spills out of the home and affects the community at large. Moving forward, it will be important to consider how issues of gender violence and domestic abuse are interconnected.  

An actual Black Lives Matter protest. Photo by Johnny Silvercloud, Flickr CC

A few weeks ago, Pepsi released an advertisement with Kendall Jenner wherein the young celebrity takes a stroll through a crowded protest, sodas in hand. The commercial received a lot of criticism and was taken off the air almost immediately. In an article in The Ubyssey, University of British Columbia sociologist Rimal Wilkes describes some of the issues with the commercial, particularly how it misrepresents the nature of protests.

To begin with, the commercial sports a diverse set of protesters, but that makes it difficult to imagine what exactly they’re protesting — Racial inequality? Environmental issues? Furthermore, the crowd in the ad looks like people who are quite privileged, which goes against what protest is about. As Wilkes explains, Kendall Jenner—as a famous fashion persona—is unlikely to share in the same risks or dangers associated with protesting or the issues which drive it. Wilkes explains, 

“It’s too overtly politically correct. The diversity doesn’t look right … This ad is about protest as a way of expressing coolness. Those aren’t the people we should be celebrating. We should celebrate the people who are putting in so much work and whose lives are on the line.”

Further, an advertisement like Pepsi’s glorifies a pro-capitalist corporation and ethos, which also goes against most protest and resistance mentalities. Wilkes argues,

“I can’t think of too many [protest] movements that are pro-capitalist. Real young people in a real protest simply wouldn’t rally around a product like the way they do in this ad. Pepsi’s goal, then, is about branding. They want you to think, ‘I’m like these people! I’m young and good looking and cool!’ … This kind of insidious branding is everywhere. This commercial is getting picked on, but there’s an element of randomness to that. This isn’t the first commercial to have problematic representation.”

Photo by Christian Schnettelker, Flickr CC

The recent media attention surrounding Fox News and accusations of sexual harassment are high-profile examples of the everyday experiences that many victims of sexual harassment face in the workplace. An article in the New York Times explores research on the factors that discourage people from reporting harassment, citing work from University of Illinois sociologist Anna-Maria Marshall and others.

Sexual harassment often goes under-reported, especially in male-dominated settings with rigid hierarchies like the military and large corporate companies. Sometimes victims are uncertain of what qualifies as illegal harassment — one meta-analysis by Remus Ilies and colleagues found that reports doubled when asked about specific behaviors rather than just using the term “sexual harassment.” Many women also fear retaliation for pursuing formal action, or at the very least disbelief or inaction from their employers. These fears appear to be well placed, however, and one study found that two-thirds of workers reported retaliation from their employers after reporting mistreatment.  

While many startup companies do not have human resource departments to handle sexual harassment issues, Marshall’s research demonstrates that even organizations with official harassment policies and procedures create hurdles that keep legal action from being taken. Marshall finds that policies on paper are much different in practice, and that managers often interpret policies to protect the interests of their organization, and not the employee. Marshall explains,

“Companies put [policies and procedures] into place as mini litigation defense centers … The way employers deal with it is to prepare to show a court or jury that they did everything they could, rather than to protect women in the workplace.”

Photo by dion gillard, Flickr CC

Recently, a video showing a United Airlines passenger being forcefully dragged out off the plane after refusing to give up his seat went viral. The airline had double-booked the seat, a common occurrence, but this passenger was not persuaded by the standard incentives offered and tensions escalated quickly. The New York Times recently discussed the history of these airline practices and looked to sociology to help explain what happened on that United flight. 

As the article explains, the government controlled airfares and routes before the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. From then on, airlines have diverged in terms of prices, accommodations, and business practices. Due to fears surrounding 9/11 and tighter wallets due to the global recession of 2008, airlines began to ramp up their practice of double-booking flights in order to guarantee that planes are always full and to maximize profits. 

This business practice may make sense to the airline, but it is not typically appreciated by its clientele. Elizabeth Popp Berman, a sociologist at the University at Albany, explains that there is well-documented research that could have predicted the United incident. She states,  

“There is a lot of research in organizational settings that suggests perceptions of unfairness lead to anger, hostility and spiteful behavior … When an airline’s decision to remove passengers is seen as unfair because it does not conform to expectations about passengers’ rights or the airline’s obligations, it is not surprising that passengers will become less compliant.”