Cross-posted at The Russell Sage Foundation.

Claude Steele and his colleagues have found ample evidence of “stereotype threat” in test-taking situations.  Stereotype threat occurs when people worry that poor performance on a task will inadvertently confirm a negative stereotype applied to the group to which they belong.  Their worry depresses performance, thus creating outcomes consistent with the stereotype. Stereotype threat depresses the performance of high-achieving African American students on difficult verbal tests as well as accomplished female math students on difficult math tests.

Not all stereotypes are negative, however, suggesting that certain stereotypes might also enhance performance.  With Min Zhou, I looked into how the stereotype that Asian Americans students are particularly smart and high achieving — as illustrated in this TIME magazine cover from 1987 — might shape their performances.

We argue that Asian American students benefit from a “stereotype promise”—the promise of being viewed through the lens of a positive stereotype that leads one to perform in such a way that confirms the positive stereotype, thereby enhancing performance.  The Chinese- and Vietnamese-Americans students we studied described how their teachers assumed that they were smart, hard-working, and high-achieving, which affected the way that their teachers treated them, the grades they received, and their likelihood of being placed into the most competitive academic tracks, like Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors. For many students, stereotype promise exerted an independent effect, and boosted performance.

For example, Ophelia is a 23 year-old second-generation Vietnamese woman who described herself as “not very intelligent” and recalls nearly being held back in the second grade. By her account, “I wasn’t an exceptional student; I was a straight C student, whereas my other siblings, they were quicker than I was, and they were straight A students.”

Despite Ophelia’s C average, she took the AP exam at the end of junior high school, and not surprisingly, failed. Nevertheless, she was placed into the AP track in high school, but once there, something “just clicked,” and Ophelia began to excel in her classes. When we asked her to explain what she meant by this, she elaborated, “I wanted to work hard and prove I was a good student,” and also added, “I think the competition kind of increases your want to do better.” She graduated from high school with a GPA of 4.2, and was admitted into a highly competitive pharmacy program.

Once she was placed in a more challenging setting, then, where teachers’ expectations and peer performance were elevated, she benefited from stereotype promise. Ophelia did not believe at the outset that she was academically exceptional or deserving of being in the AP track (especially because she earned straight C’s in junior high school and failed the AP exam), but once anointed as academically exceptional and deserving, the stereotype promise exerted an independent effect that encouraged her to try harder and prove that she was a good student, and ultimately enhanced her performance.  While it is impossible to know how Ophelia’s academic performance would have differed had she stayed on the school’s “regular track,” that she was given the opportunity to meet her potential attests to the advantage that Asian American students are accorded in the context of U.S. schools.

In future research, I plan to study in what institutional contexts “stereotype promise” may emerge, for which groups, and in what domains. For example, males may benefit from stereotype promise in certain occupational niches where stereotypes about gender and performance prevail.


Jennifer Lee is a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, specializing in intersection of immigration and race and ethnicity. She wrote, with Frank Bean, a book called The Diversity Paradox, that examines patterns of intermarriage and multiracial identification among Asians, Latinos, and African Americans.

Read a Q&A on with Jennifer Lee about “stereotype promise” at the Russell Sage Foundation.

The phrase “Magical Negro” refers to the phenomenon in which a white character in a tv show or movie finds enlightenment through the wisdom of a Black character.  It is widely considered an offensive trope in which Black people — imbued with special spiritual, religious, or primitive powers of insight, often ostensibly due to some disadvantage like poverty — serve only to support a white person’s transformation.  The white person, and their ultimate redemption, remains the central story.

I couldn’t help but think of this when I watched the trailer for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, sent in by Katrin.  In this trailer, the Magical Negro isn’t a Black person; it’s not even a person.  It’s the entire country of India.

See if you see what I saw:

For examples of the Magical Negro, see our post on The Secret Life of Bees, the Magical Negro at Ikea, and the Magical Aboriginal Child in an Australian tourism ad.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Last Wednesday, January 20 18, over 7000 websites participated in a massive protest opposing bills H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). While these bills aimed to curb online piracy, many fear that they also pave the way for widespread internet censorship. Although consideration of SOPA and PIPA has now been “postponed,” the bills and the protests raise the issue of who has the authority to control access to knowledge. The different visual and technological ways that websites protested SOPA and PIPA demonstrate the importance we as a culture place on unfettered access to information. In imagining what a censored internet might be like, the protests also show how much the medium — in this case, technology — shapes our individual and collective knowledge and what kind of a threat censorship would be. In additional to concerns about free speech and access to information, the protests also remind us how many profitable businesses are based on assumptions that those things will remain uncensored.

Many sites (such as Craigslist, Pinterest, and icanhascheezburger, screencaps below) took a traditional web protest approach by posting informational messages encouraging visitors to take action against the bills:

Other websites (WordPress, Wired, Google), along with Facebook status updates and Tweets, visually depicted what internet censorship would look like. This kind of protest is particularly visually powerful — stark black blocks out the text, making the message unreadable:



Others shut down altogether (like Wikipedia, Reddit, MoveOn, and Mozilla), essentially removing their website’s resources and information for 24 hours:

Many of us are fortunate to take for granted open, easy access to information, including open access to everything on the internet (though the continued existence of a digital divide makes such information more available to some than others, and school districts routinely censor online content for students). The protests of SOPA and PIPA illustrate how much we rely on technology for access to information by raising important questions about what censorship would mean for access to knowledge. Seemingly boundless information is at the tips of our fingers everywhere we go:

(Via Shoebox Blog.)

As the cartoon shows, our knowledge is shaped by what medium is physically available to us for seeking new information. Students in my classes can’t fathom a time when they couldn’t look up any bit of information they needed on Google.  They can’t imagine the way I used to do research for a school paper– by consulting my family’s dusty encyclopedia set, or heading down to the library. Though their experience is physically removed from the research librarian’s desk, they have access to much more information than I ever did in my local library. The protests against SOPA and PIPA — the website outages and blacked out texts — make real the idea that if the internet were censored, our avenues for learning would shrink.

Updated; originally posted July 2009.

Americans are notorious for their ignorance of global issues and international news.  This may be because Americans aren’t interested or it may be that our news outlets feed us fluff and focus us only on the U.S.  Probably it’s a vicious cycle.

This month, for example, Time magazine’s cover story is about the political strife in Egypt… everywhere except the U.S. that is.  Americans get “pop psychology” (via Global Sociology):

It turns out you can go to the Time website and compare covers from previous issues going back a long ways.  Here are some more examples from the last couple years (I cherry picked just a bit):

Dmitriy T.M. sent in these previous examples a while back.

The cover story for Newsweek magazine’s September 2006 edition was “Losing Afghanistan” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “My Life in Pictures,” a story about the photographer Annie Liebovitz in the U.S. (via):


The cover story for Newsweek magazine’s October 2006 edition was “Global Warming’s First Victim” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “Off Message,” a story about Republican Congressman Mark Foley’s sexually suggestive emails and IMs to teenage boys (via):


The cover story for Time magazine’s April 2007 edition was “Talibanistan” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public Schools” in the U.S. (via, also see Time):


As SocProf writes:

Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy: Americans are assumed to not be interested in international and global affairs… ergo, Time decides to replace a perfectly legitimate and newsworthy cover on a significant event in Egypt with some pop psychology item. As a result, Americans are less informed and knowledgeable on global affairs because they do not get intelligent coverage on that topic.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Click here to see a flickr slide show of dozens of people, starting with those below, with their BMI label (“underweight,” “normal,” “overweight,” “obese,” and “morbidly obese”). There’s something about seeing all these nice looking people with these judgmental labels applied to them that reveals that the BMI is a social construction. Also it’s a good illustration of the Foucauldian idea that knowledge (discourse, or even “science”) is used to label and control people, especially when it is internalized.

Erin Nieto’s project, How Much Do You Weigh, also puts the body front-and-center, challenging us re-think what numbers mean.  She counterposes photographs of volunteers with the number on the scale.  These women model a refusal to be embarrassed by their weight and show us the imprecision of the number itself.

See more images at Nieto’s tumblr.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Post under “No comment” by Sarah Richardson at Ms.:

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

A QR, or Quick Response, code on a bulletin board of a college campus:

Steve Grimes shared this image and some interesting thoughts about how Quick Response codes, or QR codes, can contribute to inequality. That is, QR codes such as these serve to make certain content and information “exclusive” to those who have smartphones. He states,

There is a general thinking that technology can create a level playing field (an example of this is can be seen with the popular feelings about the internet). However, technology also has a great ability to create and widen gaps of inequality.

In a practical sense the company may be looking for students who are tech savvy. Using the matrix barcode may serve that purpose. However, the ad also shows how technology can exclude individuals; primarily in this case, students without smart phones. Ironically it is especially the students who need work (“need a job”) who may not have the money to afford a smart phone to read the ad.

Grimes’ thoughts are judicious, and reveal the inherent structural difficulties in alleviating inequality.  QR codes are one form of “digital exclusivity,” the tendency of technology to re-entrench (mostly) class disparities in access to information. Though they may be able to access the information later when they have access to a computer, the person who has the smartphone is certainly living in a much more augmented world than the person without.

If we take as our assumption that access to information is a form of capital, than we can easily see how such technologies are implicated in the field of power. We can also see how digital exclusivity can contribute to the larger digital divide. In this sense, digital exclusivity, as a characteristic of particular technologies and forums (in this case as an access-point to particular forms of knowledge and information), contributes to larger inequalities of power and access to information in the digital age.

QR codes, though, may not be the best example of a digitally-exclusive technology. That is, QR codes have yet to serve as a common conduit of important information—access to such information has similarly meant little in terms of social or economic capital. It turns out that even most people with smartphones don’t know what they are or aren’t interested in using them. Grimes’ understandable frustration the digital divide, combined with the uneven usage of QR codes among mobile phone-using countries, leads us to believe that those black and white squares do more to instill a feeling of digital exclusivity than anything else.


David Paul Strohecker (@dpsFTW) is getting his PhD from the University of Maryland, College Park. He is currently doing work on the popularization of tattooing, a project on the revolutionary pedagogy of public sociology, and more theoretical work on zombie films as a vehicle for expressing social and cultural anxieties.

David A. Banks (@DA_Banks) is a M.S./Ph.D. student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  His research interests include space, place, cyborgs, and networked bodies.  He is currently working under the NSF’s GK-12 fellowship program, teaching science in urban school districts and developing new learning technologies. More at

Strokecker and Banks both blog at Cyborgology.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

That’s Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and, behind him, his “law of information sharing.” The equation and graph illustrate, in his own words:

…that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before.

The norms surrounding privacy are changing and new apps and services for us to display ourselves are being invented. Because of this, Zuckerberg predicts that we will share more and new types of information as time passes.

Facebook and the rest of social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and so on) need us to share more and more information. Facebook, for instance, uses our personal information to attract advertisers who want to better “target” their advertisements to us. Change your relationship status to “engaged” and you may be quickly targeted with wedding ads.

So what? 

Karl Marx said that we are “exploited” when we are not paid in wages the full value of our labor (our bosses, instead, skim some off the top).  Since our sharing makes Facebook valuable, it is our work that makes it the digital goldmine that it is (valued at around $84 billion). We, in turn, are paid no wages at all.

Should the average Facebook user feel exploited? 

Facebook users get non-monetary rewards from using the site, such as self-expression and socializing with others.  Perhaps personal connection or social attention is just another type of currency, one that Marx didn’t fully account for.  Then again, Marx never argued that workers weren’t compensated at all, only that their compensation was not equal to the value they brought to the employer.

So, what do you think? Is Facebook exploitative? Are monetary and social currencies fundamentally different?

Does a Marxist analysis work on Facebook? Or do we need a different theory to make sense of it all?


Nathan Jurgenson is a graduate student in sociology at the University of Maryland and co-edits the Cyborgology blog.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.