This weekend I was at the annual conference for the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, where they held a memorial for sociologist Peter Berger. I thought of Berger and Luckmann’s classic The Social Construction of Reality in the airport on the way home. Whenever people say ritual is dying out, or socially constructed things “aren’t real,” I think of airport lines.

There are always two lines, but rarely any separation other than a sign like this. If you’re lucky, you can catch the gate agent making a big show of opening the “general boarding” lane, but everyone ends up at the same scanner right past the sign (usually only a minute or two after the “elite” passengers). From Berger and Luckmann (the Anchor Books paperback edition):

The developing human being not only interrelates with a particular natural environment, but with a specific cultural and social order which is mediated to him by the significant others who have charge of him (p. 48).

The symbolic universe orders and thereby legitimates everyday roles, priorities, and operating procedures…even the most trivial transactions of everyday life may come to be imbued with profound significance (p. 99).

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

On the Data is Beautiful subreddit, a user going by the name fencelizard recently took a look at gender differences in full-time staff salaries in the last four U.S. Presidential administrations. This is only a quick descriptive picture (notes on the methodology below), but it highlights an important point about organizations: inequality doesn’t always neatly align with ideology.

Both the wide and the narrow median pay gaps are bipartisan. While the Clinton and the early Trump administrations have the widest gaps in median earnings, the George W. Bush and Obama administrations were the closest to gender parity (the gap was not statistically significant in the Obama years).

Of course, these gaps mean different things in different administrations. The parity among Bush staffers looks like it came from pay cuts on both sides, with more men remaining in a higher salary range, while the Obama administration had a much more even distribution across men and women. Part of the pattern for the Trump administration could be due to understaffing in general.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how the salary distribution for women staffers has remained relatively consistent and lower than fluctuating salaries for men. Sociologists know that inequality can be embedded in the day-to-day operations of institutions like schools, prisons, and government offices. Bias certainly can and does play a role in this process, but the ideological support that we often associate with such biases—like political preferences—doesn’t always have to be the deciding factor for whether inequality happens.

Some background on the analysis from fencelizard:

Salary data was sourced from white house press releases for Trump (PDF tables; FML) and Obama (UTF-8 csv’s; thanks Obama), and from the Washington Post for Bush (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/administration/whbriefing/2004stafflistb.html) and Clinton (https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1993/11/01/salaries-at-clintons-white-house/9c96f5b6-02c5-4888-87ee-dc547d8d93f0/?utm_term=.aa70a4af1649). Supposedly full salary data for Bush I exists too, but I couldn’t find it anywhere online.
I cleaned up the data in R, used the ‘gender’ package to guess staffers’ gender from their first names, and made the plots with ggplot2 and gridExtra. I used a Wilcox test to compare the distribution of salaries across genders for each president. Asterisks in the figure above indicate significantly different distributions.

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

Cosmopolitan is a highly influential fashion magazine, the 15th highest circulating magazine in the United States. Its covers matter, seen by 18 million readers a month and many more at checkout and newspaper stands across the country. Who are their covers representing, and have they become more racially diverse?

I did a content analysis of Cosmo covers, randomly selecting a sample of 214 between 1975 and 2014. Since the 1970s and 2010s have fewer years represented, about half the number of covers were examined during these decades as compared to the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Following sociologist Mary Nell Trautner and Erin Hatton’s study of Rolling Stone covers, I coded each image for race. Since the cover models are well-known, I could double check race codes with accessible biographical information about them.

Overall, only 8% of the covers featured a person of color, including eight Hispanic women, four African-American women, four Middle Eastern women, and one Asian woman. The figure below shows that representation did increase over time. Among the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s covers together, just 3% represented minorities, while the 2000s and 2010s covers together pictured minorities 16% of the time.

What accounted for the increase? I posit that it had less to do with an interest in diversifying Cosmo’s cover models, and more to do with a shift in focus. In the late 1990s, Cosmo began using celebrities and pop culture icons on their covers instead of models, a trend which continues today. It was in this same time span that minority representation had the largest increase.

This fits Mavrody’s (2014) study that there are lower numbers of models of color in the industry, at about 19%, and there is no action being taken to change this representation. What may be changing, however, is the representation of minorities in the entertainment industry. Movie and television stars shown on magazine covers in the most recent few decades include many more people of color than were seen when strictly models were on the covers.

Despite little change in the modeling industry, the entertainment industry has begun to work toward more equality in representation. In television, while there are roles that have been written just for people of color, there has also been a trend of mandating the inclusion of minorities. It seems as though this industry knows their audience and what they desire, and they are actively trying to diversify all shows, not just those that solely represent minorities and the minority experience. This work toward inclusion would bring about more fame for minority actors and actresses, which would explain their higher representation in the media, as well.

Alyssa Scull graduated from The College of New Jersey with a BA in Sociology. She is currently a MSW student at Columbia University, focusing on family, youth, and children in the practice and programming track. 

The Washington Post recently covered a leaked email exchange from the University of Maryland in which the school’s Mock Trial team assistant coach lamented the “mediocre” to “poor” performance of Latinx students and asked if any of them had to be included to satisfy diversity requirements for the makeup of the team. While an embarrassing situation for both the students and the authors of the e-mail exchange, this event reflects recent research in law and society that addresses questions of race, gender, immigrant background, and inequality in the legal profession and among law school students.

While law firms put a high value on American law school training, not everyone gets the same benefits from a legal education. Students of color who are the children of immigrants earn less after graduating from law school. Implicit biases can also determine who gets hired at elite jobs and exert pressure on these students while they are in school. This recent incident at Maryland shows how these patterns affect minority students’ everyday experiences in law school.

Our analysis emphasizes the persistent inequality in the median income level among lawyers in the United States. There are sizable differences in earnings across race and gender. We have found that, while immigrant status alone is not always negatively associated with income, it does compound the income disadvantage of immigrants when combined with race and gender.

Prepared by the authors. Source: U.S. Census and American Community Survey 1970-2010. All values are in 2010 U.S. dollars. These charts refer to individuals who were in the labor force, employed in the legal profession, and worked in the legal services industry.

One issue that has come up in the course of our study is the question of whether law school matters. We considered that the first generation of immigrants is likely educated abroad, whereas the second generation is potentially educated in the U.S. Although we do not have a direct measure of whether the immigrants in our sample have received their law degree from an American or a foreign law school, previous research has found that age at immigration is a valid proxy measure for place of education.

We do find a slight income advantage for those educated in the United States. However, as the incident in Maryland might suggest, education alone may not determine future professional success as a lawyer. Because the law school environment emphasizes network building and socialization through extra-curricular activities, such as moot court or mock trial, students who are not selected for these opportunities (especially on the basis of race!), may be additionally disadvantaged when looking for a job as well as in the marketplace.

Alisha Kirchoff is a PhD student and Associate Instructor of sociology at Indiana University. Her research is in law and society, political sociology and comparative sociology. She is also currently working as a digital content producer for Contexts Magazine.

Vitor Martins Dias is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University-Bloomington. Prior to leaving Brazil to pursue his LL.M. at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, he received his LL.B. and LL.M., respectively, from Centro Universitário do Pará and São Paulo Law School of Fundação Getúlio Vargas. He is broadly interested in the areas of development, the legal profession, law and society, political economy, political sociology, and inequality.

The harrowing mass shooting in Las Vegas this week is part of a tragic pattern, and it raises big questions about how we deal with such tragedies in public life. In the face of such horror, many people rightly turn to their deep convictions for comfort and strength, and their leaders are no different. Referencing religion is a common choice for politicians, especially in troubling times. Experimental evidence shows these references draw voters in, but lately it seems like the calls for comfort may have gotten a little…rehearsed.

For a growing number of Americans, calls for “thoughts and prayers” ring especially hollow. About a fifth of the U.S. population has no religious affiliation, and new experimental research shows we may be drastically underestimating the number of atheists in the population as well. Despite these trends, we don’t often seen direct challenges to religious beliefs and practices in policy debates. Healthcare reform advocates don’t usually argue that we should keep people alive and well because “there probably isn’t an afterlife.” While the battle to legalize same sex marriage discussed the separation of church and state, we didn’t see many large advocacy groups arguing for support on the grounds that biblical claims simply weren’t true.

In lieu of prayer, calls for concrete action on gun control in the face of mass shootings are a new challenge to these cultural norms. In the wake of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting,  the New York Daily News ran this cover:

Now, in press conferences and on the floor of Congress, more political leaders are openly saying that thoughts are prayers are not enough to solve this problem. Sociologists know that the ways we frame issues matter, and here we might be seeing a new framing strategy emerging from the gun control debate that could reshape the role of religion in American politics in the long term.

 

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

A new study tackles the media landscape building up to the election. The lead investigator, Rob Faris, runs a center at Harvard that specializes in the internet and society. He and his co-authors asked what role partisanship and disinformation might have played in the 2016 U.S. election. The study looked at links between internet news sites and also the behavior of Twitter and Facebook users, so it paints a picture of how news and opinion is being produced by media conglomerates and also how individuals are using and sharing this information.

They found severe ideological polarization, something we’ve known for some time, but also asymmetry in how media production and consumption works on either side. That is, journalists and readers on the left are behaving differently from those on the right.

The right is more insular and more partisan than the left: conservatives consume less neutral and “other side” news than liberals do and their outlets are more aggressively partisan. Breitbart News now sits neatly at the center. Measured by inlinks, it’s as influential as FOX News and, on social media, substantially more. Here’s the  network map for Twitter:

Breitbart’s centrality on the right is a symptom of how extreme the Republican base has become. Breitbart’s Executive Chairman, Steve Bannon — former White House Chief Strategist — calls it “home of the alt-right,” a group that shows “extreme” bias against racial minorities and other out-groups. 

The insularity and lack of interest in balanced reporting made right-leaning readers susceptible to fake stories. Faris and his colleagues write:

The more insulated right-wing media ecosystem was susceptible to sustained network propaganda and disinformation, particularly misleading negative claims about Hillary Clinton. Traditional media accountability mechanisms — for example, fact-checking sites, media watchdog groups, and cross-media criticism — appear to have wielded little influence on the insular conservative media sphere.

There is insularity and partisanship on the left as well, but it is mediated by commitments to traditional journalistic norms — e.g., covering “both sides” — and so, on the whole, the left got more balance in their media diet and less “fake news” because they were more friendly to fact checkers.

The interest in balance, however, perhaps wasn’t entirely good. Faris and his co-authors found that the right exploited the left’s journalistic principles, pushing left-leaning and neutral media outlets to cover negative stories about Clinton by claiming that not doing so was biased. Centrist media outlets responded with coverage, but didn’t ask the same of the right (it is possible this shaming tactic wouldn’t have worked the other way).

The take home message is: During the 2016 election season, right-leaning media consumers got rabid, un-fact checked, and sometimes false anti-Clinton and pro-Trump material and little else, while left-leaning media consumers got relatively balanced coverage of Clinton: both good stories and bad ones, but more bad ones than they would have gotten (for better or worse) if the right hadn’t been yanking their chain about being “fair.”

We should be worried about how polarization, “fake news,” horse-race journalism, and infotainment are influencing the ability of voters to gather meaningful information with which to make voting decisions, but the asymmetry between the left and the right media sphere — particularly how it makes the right vulnerable to propagandists and the left vulnerable to ideological bullying by the right — should leave us even more worried. These are powerful forces, held up both by the institutions and the individuals, that are dramatically skewing election coverage, undermining democracy, and throwing elections, and governance itself, to the right.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Mild Spoiler Alert for Season 3 of House of Cards

Where is Rachel Posner?

Representations of sex workers on popular shows such as Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, and, of course, any version of CSI, are often stereotypical, completely incorrect, and infuriatingly dehumanizing. Like so many of these shows, House of Cards offers more of the same, but it uses a somewhat different narrative for a former sex worker and central character, Rachel Posner. Rachel experiences many moments of sudden empowerment that are just as quickly taken away. She is not entirely disempowered, often physically and emotionally resisting other characters and situations, but her humanization only lasts so long.  

The show follows Rachel for three full seasons, offering some hope to the viewer that her story would not end in her death, dehumanization, or any other number of sensational and tumultuous storylines. So, when she is murdered in the final episode of Season 3, viewers sensitive to her character’s role as a sex worker and invested in a new narrative for current and former sex worker characters on popular TV shows probably felt deeply let down. Her death inspired us to go back and analyze how her role in the series was both intensely invisible and visible.  

Early in the show, we learn that Rachel has information that could reveal murder and corrupt political strategizing orchestrated by the protagonist Frank Underwood.  She is the thread that weaves the entire series together. Despite this, most characters on the show do not value Rachel beyond worrying about how she could harm them. Other characters talk about her when she’s not present at all, often referring to her as “the prostitute” or “some hooker,” rather than by her name or anything else that describes who she is.

The show, too, devalues her. At the beginning of an episode, we watch Rachel making coffee one morning in her small apartment.  Yet, instead of watching her, we watch her body parts; the camera pans over her torso, her breasts in a lace bra, and then her legs before we finally see her entire body and face.  There is not one single scene even remotely like this for any other character on the show. Even the promotional material for Season 1 (pictured above) fails to include a photo of Rachel while including images of a number of other characters who were less central to the storyline and appeared in fewer episodes. Yet, whoever arranged the photoshoot didn’t think she was important enough to include.

Another major way that Rachel is marginalized in the context of the show is that she is not given many scenes or storylines that are about her—her private life, time spent with friends, or what’s important to her. This is in contrast to other characters with a similar status. For instance, the audience is made to feel sympathy for Gavin, a hacker, when an FBI agent threatens the life of his beloved guinea pig. In contrast, it is Rachel’s ninth episode before the audience sees her interact with a friend, and we never really learn what motivates her beyond fear and survival. In this sense, Rachel is almost entirely invisible in her own storyline. She only exists when people want something from her.

Rachel is also made invisible by the way she is represented or discussed in many scenes.  For instance, although she’s present, she has zero lines in her first couple scenes. After appearing (without lines) in Episodes 1 and 2, Rachel reappears in Episode 7, although she’s not really present; she re-emerges in the form of a handwritten note to Doug Stamper (Underwood’s indispensable assistant).  She writes: “I need more money.  And not in my mouth.” These are Rachel’s first two lines in the entire series; however, she’s not actually saying them, she’s asking for something and one of the lines draws attention to a sexualized body part and sexual act that she engaged in with Doug. Without judging the fact that she engaged in a sexual act with a client, what’s notable here is the fact that she isn’t given a voice or her own resources. She is constantly positioned in relation to other characters and often without the resources and ability to survive on her own.

This can clearly be seen in the way Rachel is easily pushed around by other characters in the show, who are able to force their will upon her. When viewers do finally see her in a friendship, one that blossoms into a romance, the meaning that Rachel gives the relationship is overshadowed by the reaction Doug Stamper has to it. Doug has more contact with Rachel than any other character on the show; in the beginning of the series, he acts as a sort of “protector” to Rachel, by finding her a safe place to stay, ensuring that she can work free from sexual harassment in her new job, and getting her an apartment of her own. However, all these actions highlight the fact that she does not have her own resources or connections to be able to function on her own, and they are used to manipulate her. Over Rachel’s growing objections, Doug is able to impose his wishes upon her fairly easily. The moment she is able to overpower him and escape, she disappears from the show for almost a whole season, only to reappear in the episode where she dies. In this episode, we finally see Rachel standing on her own two feet. It seems like a hard life, working lots of double shifts and living in a rundown boardinghouse, but we also see her enjoying herself with friends and building something new for herself. And yet, it is also in this episode where she has leveraged her competence into a new life that she also meets her demise. Unfortunately, after seeing this vision of Rachel on the road to empowerment, more than half of her scenes relate to her death, and in most of them she is begging Doug for her life, once again reduced to powerlessness. 

Every time we begin to see a new narrative for Rachel, one that allows her to begin a life that isn’t entirely tethered to Doug Stamper and her past, she is almost immediately drawn back into his web.  Ultimately, in this final episode, she can no longer grasp her new narrative and immediately loses hold of it.  In her final scenes, after kidnapping her, Doug temporarily lets her go.  She begins to walk in the opposite direction of his van before, only moments later, he flips the van around and heads back in her direction.  The next scene cuts suddenly to her lifeless body in a shallow grave.  The sudden shock of this scene is jarring, yet oddly expected, given how the show has treated Rachel’s character throughout the series.  It’s almost as if the show does not have any use for a sex worker character who can competently manage their own affairs.  Perhaps that idea didn’t even occur to the writers because of the place in our society in which sex workers are currently situated, perhaps it disrupts the fallen woman narrative, or perhaps for some reason, a death seems more “interesting” than a storyline where a sex worker has agency and takes an active role in shaping her own life and affecting those around her.  Whatever the reason, House of Cards ultimately fails Rachel and sex workers, in general.

Paige Connell is an undergraduate sociology student at Chico State University. Her areas of interest include intimate relationships, gender, and pop culture. 

Dr. Danielle Antoinette Hidalgo is an Assistant Professor in Sociology at California State University, Chico, specializing in theory, gender and sexuality, and embodiment studies.

Originally posted at Discoveries

Punk rock has a long history of anti-racism, and now a new wave of punk bands are turning it up to eleven to combat Islamophobia. For a recent research article, sociologist Amy D. McDowell  immersed herself into the “Taqwacore” scene — a genre of punk rock that derives its name from the Arabic word “Taqwa.” While inspired by the Muslim faith, this genre of punk is not strictly religious — Taqwacore captures the experience of the “brown kids,” Muslims and non-Muslims alike who experience racism and prejudice in the post-9/11 era. This music calls out racism and challenges stereotypes.

Through a combination of interviews and many hours of participant observation at Taqwacore events, McDowell brings together testimony from musicians and fans, describes the scene, and analyzes materials from Taqwacore forums and websites. Many participants, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, describe processes of discrimination where anti-Muslim sentiments and stereotypes have affected them. Her research shows how Taqwacore is a multicultural musical form for a collective, panethnic “brown” identity that spans multiple nationalities and backgrounds. Pushing back against the idea that Islam and punk music are incompatible, Taqwacore artists draw on the essence of punk to create music to that empowers marginalized youth.

Neeraj Rajasekar is a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of Minnesota.