Photo by Francis Storr, Flickr CC

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently suggested that panhandlers are scamming well-meaning passersby. In a recent article from The Conversation, Columbia economist Brendan O’Flaherty and CUNY sociologist Gwendolyn Dordick describe their research on panhandling in downtown Manhattan. In doing so, they provide important context to the Mayor’s concerns and propose an unconventional solution.

O’Flaherty and Dordick’s findings suggest that there is not a huge spike in panhandling following increases in pedestrian traffic during different times of the day, indicating that the people panhandling are not targeting the busiest times with the highest potential for cash. This would indicate that notions of people dressing up in costumes to go scam innocent pedestrians out of their money is overstated. In other words, the research suggests that people panhandling actually need the money. The researchers explain,

“We also counted the number of people who panhandle at a time in downtown Manhattan. Teaming up with some of our students, we found an average of eight to ten panhandlers actively asking for donations at any given time during peak summer hours. Despite de Blasio’s concerns, that’s not a lot, considering that this small area generates as much economic activity as the state of Wyoming and includes some of the world’s richest pedestrians.”

Of course, de Blasio is far from the first person to suggest that people looking for alms on the street are up to something sinister or are going to great lengths to deceive others and make a quick buck. In response, O’Flaherty and Dordick offer an intriguing new approach: credentials for panhandlers. In order to receive these credentials, which would be easily displayed by the panhandlers and verifiable by pedestrians, someone would have to work with non-profits or other groups to prove that they need them.

“These worn items would include ID numbers that potential donors could verify, and a system could be established to report counterfeits. These ID numbers might also make way for cashless panhandlingas Sweden now allows, and they might also assist in reporting and discouraging ‘aggressive panhandling.'”

Such a policy would likely cause a stir from both sides of the aisle, as it would simultaneously expand bureaucracy while policing the poor. Nevertheless, it does raise the question of what it means to live in a society where we often donate to charities, churches, or political organizations but are quick to accuse panhandlers of just pretending to be poor.

Photo by Steve Baker, Flickr CC

The 2018 mid-term elections are seeing more women than ever before expressing interest and taking steps to run for office. Some people suggest that this is the result of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, as well as a response to the numerous ways that President Trump has been criticized for his sexist behavior. One might think that this means that women will vote for female candidates in droves, but sociologists Leah Ruppanner of University of Melbourne and Kelsy Kretschmer of Oregon Sate University, along with political scientist Christopher Stout of Oregon State University, caution against such sweeping predictions in a recent article for RawStory.  

Using data from the American Election study to describe relationships between marriage and behavior at the polls, the researchers find that white and Latina women who are married are less likely to see their own fates as tied to that of other women. By contrast, single white and Latina women, and black women in general, are more likely to see themselves and other women as interconnected. As a result, women who are married and feel less connected to other women are more likely to vote for conservatives, while single women and those who feel more connected to other women are more likely to vote for liberals. The researchers explain,

“Some married women perceive advances for women, such as lawsuits to mitigate pay discrimination, as coming at the expense of their male partners. In part, this captures the shift in married women’s alliances from the individual to the marital union. Women who depend on their own income are more supportive of feminist issues such as abortion, sexual behavior, gender roles and family responsibilities, which widens the political gap between single and married women.”

They discuss how marriage has been shown to alter people’s behaviors and beliefs, and they suggest that married women can think less about women’s issues such as abortion and gender norms than single women do. However, an important caveat to their findings is that they did not observe significant differences between married and single black women. The researchers warn,

“Don’t assume that married women will connect to other women based on a notion of shared womanhood. Rather, feminist messages of discrimination and sexism may be more compelling to women who shoulder disproportionate levels of inequality, poverty and job insecurity – single, divorced and black women.”

Photo by Alex Indigo, Flickr CC

As described in an article from The Miami Herald, a recent video from the inside of a doctor’s clinic in Ontario has gone viral. In it, a woman can be seeing yelling at hospital staff, patients, and visitors, demanding that she her son sees a “white doctor without brown teeth.” In the video, the woman insists on a white doctor “who speaks English,” and gets upset when others confront her over this discriminatory attitude; in fact, she claims that people there are attacking her for being white rather than because of her behavior.

Sociologist Cheryl Teelucksingh of Ryerson University told the Herald that everyday racism like this is starting to become more common in Canada. In the current political climate, people feel more emboldened to assert their whiteness in public spaces. For nonwhite professionals, this presents a difficult situation in which they have to prove their credentials, education, and training for high-skilled jobs more than white professionals would. Teelucksingh explains,

“I think people are feeling that there’s a little bit more space now to question who’s in positions of power, who’s actually getting the jobs, those sorts of things.”

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.