Photo by Keith Allison, Flickr CC
Photo by Keith Allison, Flickr CC

A recent article in The New York Times highlights the complicated picture behind NFL suspensions, which can ruin many a fantasy-football Sunday. Often, players are suspended for legal issues such as domestic abuse or drugs. Considering the recent discussion surrounding head injuries in football, however, we may see suspensions for different reasons. As opposed to the current system of punishment through fines, suspensions deter players from doling out violent or dangerous hits during games.

Fines—as expensive as they can be—are often very minuscule in relation to an NFL player’s income. Taking players out of the line up on game day, however, could be a stronger punishment for athletes. Of course, even if this becomes the norm within the league, the transition won’t be easy. As explained by University of Minnesota sociology professor and TSP’s Doug Hartmann,

“[T]he league wants and needs to get rid of dirty plays and players, [but] they don’t want to take actions that compromise, or even appear to compromise, the actual contests themselves.”

In other words, preserving the quality of the game and the sport is important to the league, especially if they feel that viewership will drop if the games appear restrained. Whatever the future holds for suspensions and roughness in football, it’s sure to be a tight contest.

Photo by Rick Flores, Flickr CC
Photo by Rick Flores, Flickr CC

Japan is known for its stressful corporate culture where overwork is very common. At the same time, Japan’s population is on the wane as the birth rate continues to drop. A recent article in Seeker highlights new research by University of Illinois sociology professor Eunmi Mun that may be able to tackle both of these problems at once with an innovative, if straightforward, idea: expanding paternity leave.

As Mun explains, Japanese norms regarding commitment to your job, the division of labor, and gender roles — norms quite similar to those in the United States — are driving factors in the dynamics described above. Mun explains,

“Taking leave is definitely a violation of that work culture and ideology. Another aspect is the very strong gender ideology in Japan. There’s a very clear gender division of labor, so men do not really have a function in the household. Their function is basically the breadwinning function.”

Therefore, Japanese women are more likely to take parental leave when they have a child, and this absence can have negative impacts on their career. If paternity leave is expanded, however, perhaps more families can have children and parental leave can become less of a gendered practice. For Japan and other nations, paternity leave may hold the key to an egalitarian family life.

Photo by hardtopeel, Flickr CC
Photo by hardtopeel, Flickr CC

With the cost of tuition rising at many public universities and a scarcity of aid from federal and state agencies alike, it is difficult to obtain a college education without incurring a mountain of debt in the United States. Wisconsin Public Radio talked with sociologist Sara Goldrick-Rab about her research on student debt and the ways it hinders students from completing their degrees.

Despite receiving Pell grants or other forms of federal aid, half of the 3,000 students in Goldrick-Rab’s study had dropped out within six years, and only twenty percent had completed their degrees in five years. She argues that attrition occurs because these forms of aid do not cover the large majority of costs for either two-year and four-year institutions. Specifically, state sources of funding do not hold up their end of the deal, which leads to tuition hikes at many state schools. As a result, many students are forced to decide between basic necessities and continuing their education. As Goldrick-Rab notes:

“The cost of living in this country is substantial and some college students are going without their basic needs met. It is very clear that hunger and homelessness are not strangers to undergraduates now, and that’s pretty devastating.”

Goldrick-Rab suggests that a possible solution is to make two-year associate’s degrees free. That way “you know what you’re getting from it, before you get involved in the risk involved of using debt to finance it.” Higher education is foundational to the future of the United States, so we must start investing more in students instead of making them choose between their next meal and earning a college degree.

Illustration by DonkeyHotey, Flickr CC
Illustration by DonkeyHotey, Flickr CC

The continued mass dumping of Hillary Clinton’s personal emails by WikiLeaks makes one wonder about the fine line between transparency in government and violations of privacy. Recently, NPR spoke to UNC sociologist Zeynep Tufekci about this very issue. Tufekci acknowledges the importance of whistle-blowing, saying that items like Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speeches pass the public interest test. However, she goes on to explain that what is currently being done by WikiLeaks may go beyond simply exposing a politician’s attempt to keep secrets.  She explains,

“[T]here’s a lot of personal information that is being exposed. What this does – and this is what scares me – is that this method is going to be used in the future to any political organization – dissident organizations – that are trying to challenge power. And what they’re going to end up seeing is that their personal information is going to be dumped for the world.”

For Tufekci, it does not have to be all or nothing. Her ideal is that the hacks would go through journalists who could pass on things that are in the interest of the public. This method could help avoid having a flood of distracting information that makes it difficult for people to figure out what is important and what is not. Consider her response to the adage, “Never write an email that you wouldn’t be willing to see on the front page of the New York Times”:

“That, as a warning, strikes me a little bit like you shouldn’t wear miniskirts if you don’t want to be sexually assaulted, to be honest. It might not be – it might be something you take into account. But it doesn’t mean that if the hacking does occur, that it’s all fair game.”

For now, the debate continues — does being a public official mean you are no longer entitled to a private life? And what kinds of information should be deemed public interest and what should be kept private?  

Photo by Julian Mason, Flickr CC
Photo by Julian Mason, Flickr CC

From the Olympics in ancient Greece to modern extravaganzas like the FIFA World Cup, sport has been historically associated with the purest form of competition. Ingrained moral and ethical values drive the spirit of competition, which helps make sport a cultural phenomenon. Of course, there are those who take short cuts, and these ideals of “purity” in competition come to the forefront with every new doping scandal and the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) by athletes.

Jan Ove Tangen, a professor in the sociology of sport from Norway, has an interesting point of view when it comes to PEDs.  Tangen proposes that the natural solution for monitoring PEDs and the ever-increasing performance of athletes is simply to allow doping.

“Wherever the arbitrary limits of doping are drawn it is the nature of competitive sports to strive towards getting as close as possible to those limits to achieve perfection. Sometimes that will lead to ‘accidental’ breaches of the rules.”

Tangen says that by accepting PEDs, the penalization of athletes for larger institutional flaws will come to an end. It will also eliminate the hefty costs of monitoring and regulation of doping, which could lead to positive outcomes like proper medical attention for athletes. Plus, this helps fight the inevitable dynamic where a rule is set and athletes toe the line as close as possible, but invariably step out of bounds.

Photo by sashikag, Flickr CC
Photo by sashikag, Flickr CC

Based on the social media reactions to the final presidential debate, it’s safe to assume that most Americans are ready for this election to end. Yet, as we move towards November 8th, it is important to try to understand how Americans ended up with Donald Trump on the ticket of a major party.

Trump reminds many, such as Trevor Noah, of African authoritarian regimes. His love of authoritarian leaders and military generals echoes those of the late Qaddafi and Idi Amin, and his dislike of immigrants sounds eerily like South Africa’s Jacob Zuma. In a recent article in the Pacific Standard, research by Harvard Sociologist Bart Bonikowski and Princeton Sociologist Paul DiMaggio helps explain why the current state of American politics is not an aberration.

Bonikowski and DiMaggio argue that Americans can be divided into four nationalist camps, each with its own differing levels of patriotism and dislike of the “other”: Ardent Nationalists, Creedal Nationalist, Restrictive Nationalists, and The Disengaged. Trump disproportionately draws his support from the “restrictive nationalists.”

Even after taking into account their partisan affiliations, “ardent” and “restrictive” nationalists are both significantly more likely than other Americans to believe immigrants cause crime and take jobs away from Americans. Trump has exploited these beliefs, even as his anti-Muslim (and implicitly anti-semitic) statements have solidified his support with people who equate Americanness with Christianity. The researchers write,

“Trump’s campaign has used a particular vision of the nation that emphasizes the superiority of the American people, the moral corruption of elites, and dire threats posed by immigrants and ethnic, racial, and religious minorities.”

Trump’s rise is a result of his campaign tapping into a vision of nationalism that embraces white, heterosexual Americans’ manifest destiny and presupposed excellence. 

Photo by Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC
Photo by Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC

As the election edges ever closer, the question of how support for such a polarizing figure like Donald Trump even became possible is on many people’s minds.

An article in The New Yorker examines sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s new book “Strangers in their Own Land,” for answers to this Trump phenomenon. Hochschild set out to understand the emotional root of the Tea Party movement and the Trump euphoria. Hochschild spent five years conducting research in rural parts of Southern Louisiana, where the vast majority of the population are poor, uneducated, and white.  She found that Tea Party supporters often described American society with a single narrative of “cheaters” and individuals who “do not want to work.” The New Yorker describes this narrative, below:

“The line-cutters were African-Americans, promoted by affirmative action, she writes, but also ‘women, immigrants, refugees, public-sector workers—where will it end? Your money is running through a liberal sympathy sieve you don’t control or agree with.'”

Hochschild writes that Trump fuels this perspective, shaming “virtually every line-cutting group” as people who are just eating away at government handouts, but then failing to mention that blue-collar white men benefit from food stamps and Medicaid. 

“‘In this feint’—by making it seem that white people who accept welfare are only taking advantage of what everyone else gets—’Trump solves a white male problem of pride.'”

Photo by Devon Buchanan, Flickr CC
Photo by Devon Buchanan, Flickr CC

The now infamous conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush became a major talking point of this election cycle, as the former can be heard describing how he uses his stardom to grope women without consent. Since the tape surfaced, there has been a series of sexual assault allegations against the Republican presidential candidate. Trump himself has claimed that these accounts are fabrications planted by the Clinton campaign, and some of his supporters have dismissed these claims as false. In fact, many people coming to Trump’s defense assert that since these allegations (some of which date back decades) are only coming out now, they are likely false.

According to an article in New York Magazine, however, the opposite is the case. With a little help from Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan (who cites research by University of Texas sociologist Ari Adut), author Jesse Singal described the impact of collective knowledge in situations like this. Moral scandals and “collective and focused action” take root after an offense becomes well-known. As the article explains,

“There had been stories floating around about his treatment of women forever, many of them publicly reported. But the image of Trump as a predator didn’t fully stick until the release of that Access Hollywood video.”

Now that Trump is caught on tape, these women may feel more confident that people will listen to their allegations, or that they are more obligated to come forward because people are aware of Trump’s behavior. Considering the difficulties people face when reporting sexual assault in general, these women may feel more likely to be believed now that people see Trump in a different light. 

Photo by Denis Bocquet, Flickr CC
Photo by Denis Bocquet, Flickr CC

Want to avoid the left-swipe? According to Tinder sociologist, Jessica Carbino, the best way to secure a right-swipe is to include a profile picture that does not cover your face. In an article with Yahoo! Beauty, Carbino explains why you will want to avoid the sunglasses for your online dating profile.

In a process known as “thin-slicing,” we make judgements about the personality characteristics of others by examining their facial features. People often make these judgments unconsciously, but these initial impressions appear to be very important. Studies demonstrate that we can accurately predict the trustworthiness, extroversion, and even aggressiveness of an individual in a single-second view of their photo. Carbino says,

“[Making these evaluations] helps us categorize our life when we’re walking down the street. We’re trying to assess if somebody is like us, dangerous, what have you. In dating, it’s: Is this person compatible with us?” 

Online dating has its benefits, but it has specific challenges that come with it as well – you need to convey to your potential suitors who you are in a brief moment in time and with a single picture. So, if you want to be successful at Tinder and other types of online dating, show your true self and your future date can do the rest!

Photo by paul bica, Flickr CC
Photo by paul bica, Flickr CC

Bring on the sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes!  The time of year has finally arrived where jackets and boots become wardrobe staples and changing leaves capture the imagination. What exactly is it about the autumn season that people love? Kathryn Lively, professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, might have the answer.

In a recent Huffington Post article, Lively explains that people view fall as comforting. From a sociological perspective, individual’s emotions are tied to the meaning we give ourselves, others, and times of year.  For example, the emotional connection towards Thanksgiving and football season symbolizes what many believe the autumn represents. This coming together of joy and creating memories provides special meaning to this season. But perhaps the biggest reason for our infatuation with fall is that we have been socially conditioned to enjoy fall since we were children. The fall represents a temporal landmark where a clean slate can begin and new routines begin. As Lively explains,

“We’re conditioned from a very early age that the autumn comes with all these exciting things…As children, we come to associate fall with going back to school, new school supplies, seeing friends. It’s exciting, for most. We still respond to this pattern that we experienced for eighteen years.”

Whatever the case may be, enjoy the fall season, but remember to brace yourself – winter is coming.