Where is your nearest garbage dump? Where does the local factory go when it needs to get rid of some particularly toxic chemicals? If there was a disaster, would you have to move? Could you?

Sociologists use shorthand terms like “environmental racism” to draw attention to the fact that poor communities and communities of color are often more likely to be exposed to hazardous materials, and cases like the Flint water crisis drive this point home.

Of course, housing inequality also means that nobody has to dump anything to put poor communities in hazardous positions. One recent example of this is the flooding in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Over at Socius, Yuqi Lu gathered data on the median household income in neighborhoods across the Houston area from the American Community Survey and matched it with land elevation data from Google Maps.

In general, poorer neighborhoods in Houston sit at lower elevations, and thus are more susceptible to flood risks. This relationship is strongest in less-densely-populated areas, such as rural and suburban neighborhoods, but additional analysis in Lu’s article shows the relationship is robust.

The latest reports are in on human caused climate change. Regardless of whether we can act to turn it around in time, we’ll also have to recognize the fact that not everyone faces the same fallout from environmental hazards and natural disasters.

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

Originally Posted at There’s Research On That! 

Photo by Tom Lee, Flickr CC

If you like Halloween, you know that witches are a popular costume choice and decoration this time of year. But the history of witches involves much more than bubbling cauldrons and flying broomsticks. Social science shows us that witchcraft has a long history of empowering marginalized groups, like women and sexual minorities, who question more traditional religious practices.

While popular images of witches often focus on magic spells, brooms, and pointed hats, witchcraft and other forms of neo-paganism have historically been used by women to push back against male-dominated religions. More traditional, hierarchical interpretations of religions like Christianity and Islam often place women in a subordinate role to men, and research finds that many women are drawn to witchcraft and other alternative spiritualities because they emphasize female empowerment, embodied rituals, and sexual freedom.

People who practice witchcraft and neo-paganism typically see sexuality and gender as key sites for social transformation and personal healing, pushing back against the Christian idea that sex and bodies are sinful. Since neo-paganism values sexual freedom and sexual diversity, LGBTQ folks and people practicing polyamory often feel a sense of belonging that they don’t find in other religious spaces.

This has also been true for young adults. In general, young adults practice religion and spirituality differently than do older generations. For example, millennials are the least likely to participate in traditional religious institutions or identify with one single religious belief system, but many still desire some combination of spirituality and community. The increase in portrayals of witchcraft and other neo-pagan religions in popular media has exposed younger generations to these communities, and research finds that teens are more often drawn to these alternative spiritual practices as a means of self-discovery and community, rather than the promise of magical powers.

Allison Nobles is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota and a member of The Society Pages’ graduate editorial board. Her research primarily focuses on sexuality and gender, and their intersections with race, immigration, and law.

Jacqui Frost is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota and the managing editor at The Society Pages. Her research interests include non-religion and religion, culture, and civic engagement.

The staff at How Much recently visualized summaries from a Federal Reserve analysis showing how much a college degree can matter for your net worth. It turns out education can really pay…if you’re white.

This illustrates an important sociological point. When we talk about structural inequality, critics often note that we shouldn’t disregard individuals’ efforts to work and earn a better life. Getting a college degree is one of the centerpieces of this argument. These gaps show it’s not that effort doesn’t matter at all, but that inequality in social conditions means those efforts yield wildly different outcomes.

Want to read more on higher education and America’s wealth gap? Check out Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed, Thomas Shapiro’s Toxic Inequality, and Dalton Conley’s Being Black, Living in the Red.

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

Content Note: Some slurs in historical context below the break. 

Since the white nationalist march on Charlottesville, VA, in August, many cities in the South are grappling with what to do about Confederate monuments in their public spaces. The argument, which I agree with fully, is that Confederate monuments celebrate people who dedicated their lives to the oppression of people of color and should be removed. While there is support for removing Confederate statues among many Northern liberals, treating Confederate generals as the only obvious indicators of state-sanctioned racism perpetuates the notion of Southern exceptionalism. 

The truth is that you do not need a white hood or the Stars and Bars to be a white supremacist. In Philadelphia, the debate over a monument is not about the statue of a general from 1865 but about a 1972 Democrat Mayor.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Across the street from City Hall, right in the entrance of the Municipal Service Building, a statue of Frank Rizzo towers nine feet high. Frank “The General” Rizzo served as Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner in the late 1960s and early 1970s and as the Mayor of Philadelphia from 1972 to 1980. Rizzo was known as a pull no punches kind of guy. During his reelection campaign of 1975 he famously told his adversaries, “Just wait after November, you’ll have a front row seat because I’m going to make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.” His brutal, and racially motivated, legacy on the Philadelphia Police department is still felt to this day.

Rizzo was born and raised in South Philadelphia in a home with a beat cop father. After dropping out of high school and briefly joining the navy, Rizzo joined the Philadelphia police, making a name for himself as “a no-nonsense cop who swung first and asked questions later.” In 1967, Rizzo become police commissioner. A year after he led police officers to a school administration building where black students were protesting for black history in their school curriculum. Rizzo told the cops, “get their black asses.”

The image that best captures Rizzo’s tenure as police chief is from 1970. A week before a Black Panther convention that was intended to take place at Temple University, police officers raided a group of Panthers and conducted strip searchers on the activists in the streets. The picture (content warning) was printed on the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News the day after.

In 1972, after a campaign in which he was endorsed by a KKK spinoff organization in Pennsylvania and in which his slogan was “vote white,” Frank Rizzo assumed the office of the Mayor of Philadelphia. The tenure of Rizzo as mayor could be thought of a series of civil right lawsuits. In 1975, the court issued a consent decree after a suit against Rizzo and the city for the failure to hire black fire fighters. In 1976, Rizzo was sued for violating the Fair Housing Act. In 1979, the Department of Justice filed what was called “an unprecedented civil suit” against Rizzo and the city for “condoning systematic police brutality.” These are just a few examples.

In 1978, the KKK awarded Rizzo the “Racist Hero of the Month award.”

After a long and failed campaign to seek a change in the City’s charter that would allow him to run for a third term, Rizzo left office in 1980. He continued his career as a “guardian of white rights.”

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym tweeted: “All around the country, we’re fighting to remove the monuments to slavery & racism. Philly, we have work to do. Take the Rizzo Statue down.” This wasn’t the first time that a call was made to remove the Rizzo statue in Philly. Groups of activists have been protesting the statue every Thursday for the past year.

Southern exceptionalism is the notion that the group of Southern states of the United States, the former Confederacy, is an exceptionally racist entity that America battles with every few generations. By blaming the South for racism while ignoring the way the establishment, law-enforcement, and large parts of white America in the North treated people of color, Northern liberals absolve themselves of any moral wrongdoing. Historian Clarence Lang writes that Southern exceptionalism “celebrates the inevitable triumph of U.S. democratic values, and ignores the structural role of inequality in building and maintaining the U.S. nation-state.”

We cannot allow the conversation around confederate monuments to ignore the racism of America as a whole and scapegoat racism on the south. 

We must expand our political and sociological imagination about racism and white supremacy beyond the South and the Confederacy. Philadelphia is doing exactly that. Recently, the Office of the Mayor of Philadelphia published a call for ideas on what should be done with the problematic statue. The call received hundreds of ideas and now Philadelphians wait for a decision on the statue’s future.

At the end of the day, changes in law, policies, practice and wealth distribution will dismantle the legacy and presence of racism and oppression in the United States. Taking down monuments is a way to publicly  affirm a commitment to that goal.

There is no Confederate statue in Philadelphia, at least none that I know of. Taking down the Rizzo statue in the city of brotherly love will be a victory for progressives everywhere. Just as white progressives from the North support struggles to remove monuments in the South, they must identify the “Rizzo statue” in their towns and remove it.

Abraham Gutman is an Israeli writer and economist currently based in Philadelphia. His writing focuses on Israel/Palestine, race in America, policing, and housing. Abraham currently works at the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University where he conducts research on housing policy. All opinions are his own. Follow him on Twitter @abgutman.

Human research subjects are all over popular media. Lab rats, guinea pigs, and even the obscure “Pharmer’s daughter” (From The Facility, 2012) all refer to people who participate in biomedical research as test subjects—often ingesting experimental drugs to test their toxicity or therapeutic effectiveness.

The clinical trial industry has decried the representations of human subjects in the media for being fantastical and overly dramatic. The concern is that portraying human subjects in a negative light hurts their ability to recruit participants, test experimental products, and profit from approved drugs.

But how are human research subjects actually portrayed?

In two new publications, my co-author Jill Fisher and I look at how human subjects are represented in popular entertainment media. We analyzed 65 television shows and films like Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Grey’s Anatomy, The Facility and The Amazing Spiderman.

We find that human research subjects are predominately white men from lower socio-economic backgrounds. When women are represented, they are more likely to be shown being coerced into research (rather than enrolling for therapeutic or financial reasons).

2 Broke Girls is actually an outlier in this regard. In this show, Max and Caroline were not coerced but financially motivated to participate in clinical trials—or as Max likes to call it: “getting paid $500 to roll the side effect dice and hope it lands on hallucinations! [audience laughter]”

Indeed, films and shows did use fantastical and dramatic representations of side effects—from discussions of men growing breasts, limb regrowth, and fits of rage and violence—and death and injury were common. Most of these medical studies failed—and failed in spectacularly horrific or comedic ways.

While negative, this portrayal is not necessarily wrong or bad:

Importantly, negative outcomes of fictional medical research are not the same as negative depictions of science… There are real risks to research participants who enroll in medical studies as well as high rates of scientific failure (Fisher and Cottingham 2017:575–76).

While industry representatives may dislike portrayals for their inaccuracies, the fact that many clinical trials do fail and have serious potential to harm subjects cannot be absolved by painting subjects as “medical heroes” as some have tried (Peddicord 2012).

What do human subjects think of these portrayals?

We took the study further by looking at how human research subjects themselves use film and television to understand clinical trials. Surprisingly, the discussion of dramatic side effects were common among their responses. As one participant noted: 

Like I never heard of this [clinical trials], and ‘They do what?!’ You know, you gonna grow an extra eye, you gonna grow, you-you know, you hear all these things, you know. – Rob

And yet, after they had participated in a clinical trial and saw that the more common side effects listed in the informed consent documents included dizziness, headaches, nausea, and fatigue, they became less concerned about the risks of clinical trials. Rather than scaring these participants away, representations in the media seemed to make the mundane and ordinary list of potential side effects (even cardiac issues!) appear even more acceptable.

We frame media portrayals and participant perspectives on the risks of clinical trials as collective and individual efforts to manage the anxieties surrounding the risks of experimental biomedical research. As a society, we have come to accept the fact that experimental research requires risking human welfare and comfort, but remain ambivalent about the idea that science is inherently good and linked to social progress.

Collectively, we manage this ambivalence by dehumanizing research subjects or indulging in tales of science gone wrong. At the individual level, research participants use media portrayals of “lab rats” and “guinea pigs” to manage the fears and anxieties of the research they undergo. No one has grown a third arm, had their penis shrink, or turned blue in a Phase I clinical trial, so it must not be too harmful…right?

Read More Here:

Cottingham, Marci D. and Jill A. Fisher. Forthcoming. “From Fantasy to Reality: Managing Biomedical Risk Emotions in and through Fictional Media.” Health, Risk & Society 1–17.

Fisher, Jill A. and Marci D. Cottingham. 2017. “This Isn’t Going to End Well: Fictional Representations of Medical Research in Television and Film.” Public Understanding of Science 26(5):564–78.

Peddicord, Doug. 2012. “Television’s Assault on Medical Research.Huffington Post.

Marci Cottingham is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses on the sociology of emotion, social inequalities, healthcare, and biomedical risk. More on her research (including the two papers discussed here) can be found on her website.

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.