Photo by Michael Glasgow via flickr

Sometimes, when we were editing Contexts, Chris and I would set out to try to arrange an issue around a given theme. More often, though, we simply found that, as the issue started to come together, it also started to coalesce around a topic or two and take on a life of its own. That would be how we found ourselves thinking of the issues as “Oh, you know, The Aging Issue,” or “The Problems Issue,” or, well, “The Sexy-times Issue.” As it turns out, that’s starting to happen on The Society Pages, too.

Right now, it’s religion that’s caught our eye. As I got ready to post an aside here on the incredibly interesting Huffington Post piece “If Tim Tebow Were Muslim, Would America Still Love Him?” by the clearly poetic environmental policy consultant Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, it dawned on me that, just this morning, our own wunderkind Alex Casey had just put up a Citings & Sightings post on an in-depth Salt Lake Tribune article about new research on the gender gap among Utah’s Mormons and why some other social scientists are arguing with the conclusions (though not the data). And of course, last week, I’d written about my own work and new Canadian research on Americans’ lack of trust in the Atheists among us. All of a sudden, religion was becoming a mini-theme here on The Society Pages.

And no wonder: religion’s hard to talk about, but often on our minds. For many, it’s the grounding of their every day, of the ways they try to move in society, and so understanding–or attempting to understand–others’ religions is both essential and tricky. Questioning their faith or the dogmas of their faith is, in many ways, questioning another’s place in the broader society. It seems to me that these sorts of “diversions” are what The Society Pages is all about.

I’m always impressed with teachers who blend established knowledge with shifting social currents, bringing it together in ways that students can understand and appreciate. My pubcrim colleague Michelle Inderbitzin seems to do this every year in her classes at both Oregon State University and Oregon State Penitentiary.

This fall, her Inside-Out Prison Exchange students combined a social fact (that 1 of every 100 American adults is incarcerated) with a new social movement (the We are the 99 Percent cry of the Occupy movement) , photographing prisoners and the people around them holding signs that shared their stories. The result is We are the 1 in 100, a class project and tumblr site that shows an important side of the American incarceration story.

 As a professor who works and teaches in this area, I rarely come across materials that render the lived everyday reality of prisons in such a clear, human, and intimate way. You can read Michelle’s account on pubcrim or visit and add to the archive with your own photos and stories. It takes courage and trust — and an impressive amount of  work, in a 10-week class — to bring these private moments and messages to light.

A couple of weeks back, I posted on some of my various dealings with the media as a specialist in sport sociology. I’ve had a few more such experiences over the last few weeks, including two that appeared in Star Tribune stories over the weekend. The first was a fairly somber story in the Sunday Variety section on how sports can provide cover for sexual predators and abusers. That one was a fairly in-depth follow-up on the Penn State interviews I talked about a few weeks back. “Sport in America has always been celebrated for touting high ideals and making great contributions [to society]. Those ideals make it difficult for people in authority to acknowledge and deal with problems that show cracks in their integrity and honor–and that provides a cover for people who are corrupt to take advantage.” I don’t know that I actually said all that in exactly that fashion, but I was gratified to see that the writer had taken our conversation seriously enough not only to quote me but to use my contribution to help situate and frame the entire story.

Photo by Arvee5.0 via

The other media moment was a much lighter take in the Saturday paper on the challenges of being a fan of a losing team like the Vikings. I’ve had a lot of these kind of interviews in Minnesota over the past few months, so it wasn’t really  hard for me to comment on. But one aspect of the story did remind me of the challenges and risks of being quoted in the public record.

During the interview I told the reporter about a documentary in which I served as a talking head last year. It was called “Skol: The Documentary.” (“Skol, Vikings!” is one of the favorite cheers of fans of the local squad.) I told him how one quote from the documentary ended up being used out of contexts in the publicity materials: “…[Y]ou can change your wife or your religion more easily than you can change your football team.” (To watch the trailer, click the link above)… and, as you might be guessing, here’s how the reporter quoted me in this weekend’s paper: “There have been studies that show it’s easier to change a religion than a football team.”

That line got a lot of laughs from my colleagues and students, and I worried that they were laughing at me more than with me. Indeed, I quickly tried to explain that I thought the quote had been taken out of context–that even in the movie I had really been talking about European football (soccer) and quoting from research and writing out of Europe, and in the paper I was just relating an anecdote about the film.

And about the film, I needn’t have worried. When I finally saw the documentary, the full context of my quote was indeed used. Not only that, my interview was featured prominently throughout the documentary, spliced in to help audiences make sense of the various Vikings fans and fanatics that were the focus of the film. It was actually a fun and rewarding experience. I received great accolades from those in attendance at the “Skol!” premiere (and others since who have seen the film), and I actually feel that the editing of my various quotes and comments gave my thinking more structure, coherence, and focus that I probably exhibited in the interview itself. It just goes to show, you have to put yourself–and your knowledge out there. Occasionally, it won’t work to your advantage, but sometimes it’ll be really gratifying and you’ll feel very much like you’ve done your job.

Even in the most diverse cities, marathoners see mostly white legs and faces at the starting line. At Citings and Sightings, Suzy and Hollie point to a new Runner’s World piece, which asks “Why is Running so White?”

This issue also arose at a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation meeting this year, when James Jackson noted that African American neighborhoods often provide few safe places to run, but ample outlets for fast food and alcohol. While both running and junk food can relieve stress in the short-term, their long-run health effects will differ dramatically. There are other reasons for race differences in running, of course, and the Jay Jennings article touches on everything from hair to role models.

In running, as in other sports, strong stereotypes persist about race and athletic ability. I once shared a starting line laugh with a fellow middle-aged, middle-of-the-pack runner … who happened to be from Kenya. He said he was a slooooow runner but people seemed to make the assumption that all Kenyans must be faster than all Americans. Some were so convinced of his abilities they’d invite him to join the elite runners at the start of the race — which, when you think about it, is actually a pretty horrifying prospect for middle-of-the-pack runners like us.

Speaking of running, I was resplendent in Minnesota colors at this year’s Twin Cities marathon. This brought a few inquiries about exactly where one buys maroon shoes with gold swooshes and aglets. I fibbed that I had them specially commissioned, but these are really just “Nike Livestrong Air Pegasus +28,” which can still be had for about $69 online. Fair warning, though: the kicks make for controversial office attire. Ann Meier, our Director of Graduate Studies, told me that they were not acceptable — and most definitely not acceptable when one is bedecked in a maroon sweater and gold shirt.

(All photos are the model’s own!)

Photo by LHG Creative Photography via

A new post over at Sociological Images is not only fascinating (Siskel and Ebert, in 1980, giving a feminist critique of a horror flick), it can’t help but bring to mind an article (Andrew Welsh’s 2009 Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture piece) that Sarah Lageson covered in Contexts‘ discoveries section back in Summer 2010. Both of these are worth checking out, even if the latest slasher film’s not worth the ticket price.

I received an e-mail from one of my colleagues at Minnesota State University-Mankato just yesterday, and couldn’t help but think of the current Office Hours episode in which our own illustrious Sarah Shannon (who seems to conjure more hours in the day than most) interviewed Walker Art Center curator Bartholomew Ryan about the recent “Baby Marx” run at the Walker (you can listen to the interview here or check out more on the Baby Marx project, including video of Baby Marx visiting Occupy Wall Street, here). Still, what Steve Buechler was writing about was actually the  one-man play “Marx in Soho,” written by Howard Zinn and currently being performed by Bob Weick in conjunction with Iron Age Theatre. Steve’s got a performance of the play scheduled–mark your calendars–for the MSU-Mankato campus on Oct. 23, 2012, and is hoping to both get the word out and let everyone know that, if you’d like to see Weick take the stage and bring Marx to your Minnesota (or Midwest) community, this is a great chance.

Writing about the production for the Iron Age website, Steve said in 2007: “This production does several different things with great skill, subtlety, and professionalism. The audience will encounter a Marx who remains passionate about injustice, critical of inequality, and combative with his rivals… but also a Marx who is loving toward his family, saddened by their poverty, and willing to rethink some of his ideas. Bob Weick is a gem of a performer, taking the audience on a whirlwind tour of different moods, attitudes, and ideas. Whether you’re a novice undergraduate, a Marxist scholar, a social justice advocate, or an interested citizen, you will find much of value in this production.” Steve can be contacted at

Finally, in one last Marxist moment, I’d like to point readers to author Mary Gabriel’s new Hachette tome, Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution. While I haven’t tucked in, our associate editor Letta Page has been delighted thus far and seems pretty close to adding it to her list of exemplary books for social scientists who hope to reach public audiences (and be explicable to those audiences at the same time).



Just a quick post that might seem a little too “insider baseball” for many of our readers, but Karl Bakeman, W. W. Norton’s sociology editor, has brought another online gem to our attention: OrgTheory’s post “One way of specifying the agency problematic.” Here’s a sample from the welcome return of Omar!

The lesson? Agency means many things. One obvious thing that it means is freedom. Yet, a curious quirk in the history of social theory linked “freedom” to cognition or thought (Kant)… [S]ocial-construction types of debates are so predictable: on the one side you usually have somebody vigorously stomping his/her feet and saying that there are objective features of the world (e.g. and by “objective” the foot-stomper means features of reality that demand that they be conceptualized in ways that leave no freedom for alternative construals). Let’s call these features non-negotiable features. On the other side you have social constructionists carefully denying that such non-negotiable features exist (or more precisely, claiming that they might exist in a neutral ontological sense but they don’t really constrain thought in the way that the non-constructionist claims that they do; i.e. they are epistemically indeterminate). For the (strict) social constructionist everything that the non-constructionist claims is non-negotiable could be construed otherwise, and that’s why culture is autonomous and people have agency.

Heady stuff, to be sure, but I’d encourage those with the interest to dive on in. Be sure to check out the comments section!

A few days ago the Vancouver Sun ran a story about new Canadian research on the topic of prejudice against atheists in North America. The article’s lead author, Will M. Gervais, told the Sun, “The only group the study’s participants distrusted as much as atheists was rapists.”

The newspaper story implies this is a new finding, but the paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, builds off an article I published with my colleagues Penny Edgell and Joe Gerteis a few years ago in the American Sociological Review. In that paper, part of our ongoing American Mosaic Project, we found that atheists were the least trusted on a long list of racial and religious minorities that we asked about in a representative national survey of Americans. It might not have been the first time this result was reported, but it seems to have been the first and fullest treatment of the anti-atheist phenomenon in the post 9/11 era. (It also resulted in what is perhaps the proudest citation of my scholarly career–and certainly the one my teenagers are most impressed with: p. 62 of Stephen Colbert’s I Am America (and So Can You)!. Colbert compares atheists with homosexuals, whom he says rate higher because at least we trust them with our hair. Okay, so we aren’t as funny as Colbert and weren’t mentioned by name, but the point is to get the work out there, right?)

Anyway, this new JPSP article, co-authored with Azim F. Shariff and Ara Norenzayan, not only confirms our initial findings about the level of anti-atheist sentiment, it takes the research further to explore the social psychological underpinnings of this bias. One important point they make is that anti-atheist bias is not just dislike or distaste, it is active distrust. And, using a series of survey questions designed specifically to probe these mechanisms, the authors are able to show that religious belief is one important factor that seems to be driving this phenomenon. North Americans, it would seem, believe that people behave better if those people think there is a god watching them.

None of this is to say that this is actually true, but, it does seem to be what regular folks think. My hope, as expressed in the original piece with Edgell and Gerteis, is that this work will stimulate better thinking and research not only on atheists, but on the role and significance of religious belief and practice–or lack thereof–in contemporary society.

*Photo by Eric Ingrum via (click for original)

Okay, so we’re not in the habit of quoting facts from the mainstream media nor, for that matter, of trumpeting the work of economists (who already have a pretty solid status in the media, at least as far as social science disciplines go), but the Dec. 5th issue of Newsweek published some facts about work in the United States that seemed important for folks who believe the American work ethic is a thing of the past. These include:

Americans have the fewest guaranteed vacation days and holidays of any major industrialized country;

Americans work more weeks per year than any industrialized country except Japan;

Americans workers work more hours per year on average than workers in any other Western nation;

And the productivity of American workers is top notch–second to none on many important measures.

Published under the title “Who You Calling Lazy?”, these were culled from a report recently published by the Economic Policy Institute.  Perhaps the more general lesson here is that important information comes in all forms and formats—and anything we can do to help get it out there is part of our mission.

Because our department always seems to be celebrating something, Dean Jim Parente often asks, “What manner of Bacchanalia goes on in Sociology this week?” Well, it wasn’t exactly bacchanalia (that’s Izze’s sparkling clementine juice, I’ll have you know), but the denizens of the society pages enjoyed a fine party Wednesday at Wing Young Huie’s supercool gallery, The Third Place.  It was the perfect space and moment to thank our friends, commemorate our final Minnesota issue of Contexts magazine, and to begin turning the (society) page.

We were honored to feature a sampling of Wing’s photographs in our final issue, which nicely punctuates a line tracing the sociological imagination of great artists, social entrepreneurs, and cultural observers — Sebastião Salgado’s photography; the art of Anne Taintor and Harvey Pekar; and, the wit and wisdom of rock critic Chuck Klosterman, humorist Dylan Brody, and magazine entrepreneur Eric Utne. Editing Contexts was always intellectually stimulating, but it was positively thrilling to engage such work with the sociological enterprise.

As for the party, we had a great turnout, tons of fun, and a fitting tribute to a project that brought together so many good people in so many capacities the past few years.* Doug, Letta, and I feel humbled and grateful to have worked with so many brilliant contributors and colleagues at Contexts, the American Sociological Association, and around the world. We only wish we had the budget to fly you to beautiful Minnesota for an enjoyably brisk winter’s night. As you can probably guess, though, it won’t be too long at all before we’ll have another big announcement, celebration, and (yes) some measure of bacchanalia to share with the new TSP crew. Just drop us a line if you’d like an invite.

*If you squint real hard you can see folks like Linda Henneman of ThinkDesign (who did amazing work putting our pages together); national board members and contributors like Monte Bute and Andrew Lindner; undergrad students like Sweet Al Casey; grad board alums such as Wes Longhofer, Hollie Nyseth, Suzy McElrath, Jesse Wozniak, Sarah Shannon, Kyle Green, and Kia Heise; good university friends like Elizabeth Boyle, Rachel Schurman, Michael Goldman, Teresa Swartz, Ann Miller, Alex Rothman, Ann Meier, and Mary Drew; and, plenty of family and friends, including Harper Inea, 2051-2054 Contexts editor.