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It’s been well documented that religion played an important role in the 2016 presidential election, as well as recent state elections. recently contributed a new analysis of this relationship, highlighting preliminary research from a number of sociologists on the role of “Christian nationalism” in President Trump’s victory. Their findings indicate that the belief that America is a Christian nation may both predict support for Trump and be connected to intolerant views of other groups.

Sociologists Andrew Whitehead, Samuel Perry, and Joseph Baker found that Christian nationalism was “strongly and positively associated with voting for Trump,” and they emphasized that Christian nationalism is not simply another measure of religiosity. Whitehead told ThinkProgress,

“For this study, when we look at a lot of the normal ways we measure religiosity, at the end of the day, none of them really predict a vote for Trump except Christian nationalism. It didn’t matter if you were evangelical or mainline [Christian], it didn’t matter if you went to church a lot or a little, what mattered was whether you think America is a Christian nation.”

Whitehead notes that an important part of this research regards findings about the ways Christian nationalism interacts with other ideologies, and ThinkProgress reached out to sociologist  Penny Edgell for further development of this connection. Edgell’s ongoing work with Evan Stewart and Jack Delehanty indicates that support for “public religious expression,” a variable that measures the belief that religion should be an integral part of public life and deliberation, is associated with intolerance against a variety of groups. Edgell emphasized the need for more analysis of white Christian nationalism, especially its role in propagating ideologies like Islamophobia and xenophobia. She told ThinkProgress,

“Certain white Christian institutions house and foster and bundle these attitudes all together, and link them to politics in systematic ways.”

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Where does Washington D.C. get its policy? For nearly a century, think tanks have churned out the research that drives the political agendas of the day. Often hiring specialists from universities, we think these organizations bring the facts to politicians who, of course, can add the spin.

But recent shakeups in the think tank world call this narrative into question. NPR reports on a controversial decision at the New America Foundation to close a project studying monopolies. Critics allege that funding from Google swayed the decision, but blatant bribery isn’t necessarily the whole story. Sociologist Thomas Medvetz traces bigger structural changes in think tank organizing over the years that make these groups more susceptible to partisan interests, because they aren’t just doing research. From the article:

[Medvetz] said think tank experts now need skills not commonly found on college campuses: “Skills that one would use in a PR firm, for example, or a lobbying firm, as an aide on Capitol Hill, as a scholar, or a journalist.”

This is a key sociological insight about organizations: when groups have to draw on a wide variety of skills and resources to survive, there is a higher chance that conflicts of interest will arise even without explicit corruption.

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Over a year after 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, protests in the NFL spiked dramatically after President Trump attacked players who followed Kaepernick’s example. In recent weeks many more players knelt, locked arms, or stayed in the locker room during the anthem in response to Trump’s speech and series of tweets. During the flurry of media attention on the NFL, scholars Rashawn Ray and Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve wrote an Op-ed for NBC News about not losing sight of the original purpose of the protests.

Instead of focusing on the political implications of the president’s tweets or changes in protests over the past week (such as owners joining their players on the field), Ray and Van Cleve reiterate research on the violent repercussions of racial bias in policing. They emphasize that black athletes, even NFL stars, are subject to the same dangers of racial profiling as all other African Americans. In an MSNBC spot discussing the Op-ed, Ray told the panel,

“We really have to reorient the narrative. This isn’t about someone standing or sitting, this is about the fact that black lives matter. This is about the fact that football players, basketball players, baseball players, once they leave those stadiums they are black and brown men. And unfortunately in our society it doesn’t matter if you are affluent or less affluent, unfortunately you might be actually profiled by the police, and unfortunately that particular profiling can turn deadly.”

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Ambiguity from the Trump administration about the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program puts the current lives of many immigrant youth and young adults in a state of limbo — nearly 1 million people could face the loss of legal protection or even deportation. In a recent piece for The Globe Post, Stephanie Canizales outlines what the abolishment of DACA could mean for both the current DACA-recipients, or “Dreamers,” and others who may have qualified for the program in the future.

Beginning in 2012, Canizales conducted in-depth research with hundreds of now long-settled undocumented young adults. These young adults, now aged 18 to 31, arrived as unaccompanied minors to the United States between the ages of 11 and 17. Her research shows that upon arrival, and without parental support, many of these youth entered the workforce immediately, taking jobs in industries marred by deplorable working conditions and wages. These jobs were often extremely detrimental to mental and physical health, and forced many youth to work exceptionally long hours for menial pay.

Work permits under DACA appear to have helped alleviate these exploitative workplace conditions, and many Dreamers are now enrolled in college to further their careers. Canizales’ work demonstrates that the loss of DACA could also negatively impact young adults at work even if they aren’t deported. She concludes,

“Removing legal protections for immigrant youth and young-adult workers risks further increasing the exploitation of immigrants in the workplace, as well as poverty and marginality in their communities.”

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Surveillance technology dominates policing in many major cities, and software companies continue to develop tools that allow law enforcement to collect and analyze data on traffic violations, citizen complaints, and even license plate photographs. A recent CNN Tech article highlighted sociologist Sarah Brayne’s research on the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of one such data collection software, Palantir.  Brayne’s findings suggest that while the utilization of big data in policing facilitates communication, it also raises some major concerns of privacy and potential bias.

With the help of Palantir, LAPD officers use a point system to measure the risk of individuals with extensive criminal records, awarding points for a variety of law infractions and police interactions. However, Brayne found that individuals from low-income communities of color are more likely to have their risk measured — she cautions that such systems can be cyclic, with more points leading to more police contact, and vice versa.

Another potential problem is that of privacy. Palantir has improved location tracking abilities and allows law enforcement to gather and connect more information about individuals than ever before, but this often includes information on individuals without police contact. Certainly there are clear benefits; sharing data can help connect related crimes and more information helps police to work more efficiently and effectively. But challenges arise as technology develops. Brayne warns,

“I’d caution against the thinking that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. That logic rests on the assumption of the infallible state. It rests on the assumption that actors are entering information without error, prejudice or discretion.”

For more on the biases behind surveillance technologies, check out this TROT on computer code as free speech.

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America’s economic elite has a long been criticized for being ostentatious or showy, assumed to be constantly flaunting their wealth through fast cars, big houses, and lavish lifestyles. But a recent article in The New York Times by sociologist Rachel Sherman debunks some of these generalizations. Through interviews with 50 rich New Yorkers about their consumption patterns, Sherman found that most of her interviewees took steps to hide their wealth, like planning housing decisions and vacations in order to come off as “normal.” Sherman uses this study as a new window into economic equality in the United States, writing,

“The ways these wealthy New Yorkers identify and avoid stigma matter not because we should feel sorry for uncomfortable rich people, but because they tell us something about how economic inequality is hidden, justified and maintained in American life.”

Sherman’s interviewees often expressed a need to feel “ordinary,” even though their wealth enables a much more lavish lifestyle. Some went to surprising ends in an attempt to portray this normality, such as removing price tags from food, clothes, or furniture to ensure their employees could not see the cost. Some went even further — one interviewee changed her mailing address so her penthouse location would not be identifiable. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the super-rich appear to be extra careful to avoid the “moral stigma” attached to their spending. Due to this stigma, some of the interviewees referred to themselves as “middle-class,” minimizing their financial situations in comparison to the even wealthier. Sherman notes that this distancing has broader implications,

“Ambivalence about recognizing privilege suggests a deep tension at the heart of the idea of American dream. While pursuing wealth is unequivocally desirable, having wealth is not simple and straightforward. Our ideas about egalitarianism make even the beneficiaries of inequality uncomfortable with it.”

Sherman’s work shows how discomfort around inequality permeates throughout American society. While acknowledgement of privilege is a key first step in addressing these issues, tensions lie deeper than ambivalence or confusion about one’s status. Sherman’s work suggests that it is essential to address not only ignorance, but also society-wide silence, in efforts to lessen inequality.

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Music festivals are a popular part of the summer experience and can often last days at a time. As the seasons change and real life comes crashing back, however, some people find themselves feeling depressed after leaving their favorite festival atmospheres. Vice’s Noisey talked to Lindfield College’s Rob Gardner, a sociologist who has studied music concerts, festivals, and traveling fans extensively, about why post-festival blues are not an simply an individual phenomenon, but a social one.

As Gardner describes, music festivals are about more than simply the music or the atmosphere — they provide a sense of community for a lot of people from different walks of life. Gardner says,

“We may be incredibly connected to people via social media, but there’s something missing there. That intimate, visceral experience of sharing the same physical space with another human being, or thousands of human beings is something that’s missing from our daily lives … I think that there’s something that people are trying to get back in touch to, whether consciously or unconsciously, through that festival experience.”

These spaces provide a unique opportunity for individualism, expression, and freedom from mundane, everyday life. So, when someone leaves the festival environment and returns to constraints such as work, school, and family, it’s unsurprising that they hit a low note. Gardner notes,

“I think it has a lot to do with the structure of these events. Because festivals create this temporary community that is physically, socially, and experientially separate from our daily lives, when we enter them they allow us to do things and meet people we wouldn’t otherwise encounter. When we leave and re-enter our normal lives, it throws certain features of our lives into relief.”

Be sure to check out the full interview in which Dr. Gardner discusses other aspects of festival-going, including drugs, crowd dynamics, and partying on ships!

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Following food shortages and civil unrest in Venezuela, President Trump has vocalized the possibility of US military intervention in the South American country, and has also taken steps to impose harsh sanctions on Venezuela as part of a general critique of Venezuela’s President Maduro. In an article in The News Observer, Tulane sociologist David Smilde explains how the costs and benefits of sanctions aren’t just economic, they are also social  — a large part of the Venezuealan story involves Maduro’s supporters’ ability to rally the general populace against perceived enemies. From the article:

David Smilde, a Tulane University sociologist who has spent decades researching Venezuela, said blanket economic sanctions that cut off the government’s cash flow and hurt the population are likely to strengthen Maduro in the short-term.

“They would bolster his discourse that Venezuela is the target of an economic war,” said Smilde.

However … action from an increasingly concerned international community represents the best chance of reining in Maduro, he added.

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Americans’ views on race and racism have changed in many ways from those during the Civil Rights movement in the Jim Crow era. Today, most Americans agree that racism is not acceptable, and social norms have generally dictated that racist ideologies should not be part of the mainstream of American culture. Social norms are supported by institutions and leaders, however, and recent controversies over organized white supremacist groups call their stability into question. In The New York Times’ Upshot blog, sociologists Tina Fetner and Sarah Sobieraj describe how quickly these norms can change, especially amid criticism that the Trump administration has been slow to condemn white supremacist groups. From Fetner:

“It’s not because all of a sudden there is more racism now than there was a few weeks ago. It’s that the absolute condemnation of those most abhorrent views is crumbling away…”

And from the article:

“When norms of acceptable behavior and speech start to shift, it can disturb the shared beliefs, values and symbols that make up our culture.”

Leaders and institutions have the power to respond to controversy or to ignore it. Either way, their actions can change whether ideas appear to be part of the mainstream or the fringes of a society.

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Companies like use DNA samples to educate people about their genetic ancestry. This relatively new service is used by a growing number of people, and a recent article on STAT explains how has caused some uncomfortable moments for white supremacists who learn of their non-white ancestry. The article covers research by Aaron Panofsky  and Joan Donovan who studied posts on Stormfront, a white nationalist website, wherein users discuss their genetic ancestry results.

While one might assume that white nationalists would avoid posting their non-white ancestry online, Panofsky and Donovan found that members of Stormfront are quick to support each other in the face of genetic testing results which show non-white heritage.

“Instead of rejecting members who get contrary results, Donovan said, the conversations are ‘overwhelmingly’ focused on helping the person to rethink the validity of the genetic test. And some of those critiques — while emerging from deep-seated racism — are close to scientists’ own qualms about commercial genetic ancestry testing.”

Users discuss the potential failings of genetic testing, or posit that individual knowledge of one’s history is more useful than some findings in a remote laboratory. In other cases, individuals were told that they could remain in Stormfront so long as they didn’t “mate” and spread their non-white genes, and others even claimed that a sprinkling of non-white ancestry bolstered the community’s “diversity”. In sum, though genetic ancestry testing undermines the narratives that white supremacists utilize, users on Stormfront are negotiating their community boundaries with each new genetic test, and “rethinking who counts as white” in the process.