Who among us this election — except perhaps that elusive undecided voter — has not turned to a politically aligned friend and said, from their heart of hearts, “I just can’t understand how anyone could vote for Clinton/Trump”? The sheer mindbogglingness of it, the utter failure of so many Americans to even begin to fathom voting for the other candidate, is one of the most disturbing features of this election. We all seem to be asking: What could the other side be thinking!?

left: flickr photo by Sarah Hina; right: flickr photo by Darron Bergenheier.

left: flickr photo by Sarah Hina; right: flickr photo by Darron Bergenheier

Perhaps what we need is a “sociology of thinking.” And we’ve got one; it’s called cognitive sociology.

One of the foundational texts in the subfield is called Social Mindscapes. In it, the sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel argues that we think as individuals (we are all alone in our brains) and we think as human beings (with the cognitive processes that humans have inherited from evolution), but we also think as members of social groups. Our thinking, then, is not only idiosyncratic (i.e., “individual”), nor universal (i.e., “human”) — though it is both those things — it’s also social. Our thinking is influenced by the groups to which we belong, what Zerubavel called “thought communities.” These are the people with whom we enjoy a meeting of the minds.

By this, Zerubavel doesn’t simply mean that our social groups shape what information we get and what arguments resonate, though that’s true. He and other cognitive sociologists argue that our thought communities shape cognition itself, that the brains of people in strongly divergent thought communities literally work differently. To Zerubavel, the idea that many Democrats can’t begin to understand Republican thinking — and vice versa — isn’t a surprise, it’s a hypothesis.

Research on sensory perception is fun evidence for their claims. Researchers have shown, for example, that our language categories influence not just how we describe the world we see, but how we see it. The Himba in Namibia, for example — who have one word for blue and some greens and another word for other greens, reds, and browns — are better than English speakers at differentiating one shade of green from another, but worse at differentiating green and blue from each other. Likewise, Russian speakers are better than English speakers at differentiating shades of blue because they have more than one word for the color and English speakers, in turn, are better than Japanese speakers at recognizing the gradations between blue and green, because the Japanese have traditionally used only one word to describe them both.

If our membership in thought communities is powerful enough to shift our very perception of color, then it must be able to influence our thinking in many other ways, too. In Social Mindscapes, Zerubavel shows that what we pay attention to, the categories we use, what we remember, and even our perception of time are all shaped by our thought communities.

Accordingly, cognitive sociology would predict that the rising polarization in politics and the fragmentation of media will make it harder and harder to understand each other, not because we don’t agree on the facts or because we have different political interests, but because our brains are actually working in divergent ways. That is, what we’re experiencing with this election is not just political disagreement, it’s a total breakdown in functional communication, which sounds about 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.

Modern journalism is reliant on the idea of objectivity. Even when truth is elusive, if journalists write a balanced story, they can be said to have done a good job.

But what if a story doesn’t have two sides? Sometimes journalists continue to write as if they do, as they did in regards to human caused climate change for a decade. Other times they do so wholly disingenuously, counterposing authoritative voices against ones they know carry no weight with their audience, as they did and still do with coverage of female genital cutting. At still other times, they abandon objectivity altogether, counting on a national consensus so strong that no one could possibly accuse them of being biased, as many did after 9/11.

I think this is the source of some of the discomfort with the media coverage of this election.

What does a journalist do when the editorial board of the Washington Post calls one candidate a “unique threat to American democracy”; the New York Timescalls him a “poisonous messenger” appealing to “people’s worst instincts”; the Houston Chronicle’s calls him “dangerous to the nation and the world,” a man that should “make every American shudder”; and the far-right National Review’s calls him a “menace”? What does a journalist do when conservative newspapers like the Dallas Morning News call him “horrify[ing]” and endorse a Democrat for president for the first time in almost 100 years? Is this still the right time to be objective? Is this a 9/11 moment?

I suspect that journalists themselves do not know what to do, and so we are seeing all of the strategies playing out. Some are trying hard to hew to the traditional version of balance, but covering asymmetrical candidates symmetrically makes for some odd outcomes, hence accusations of false equivalence and misinforming the public. Some are counting on a consensus, at least on some issues, assuming that things like constitutional rights and anti-bigotry are widespread enough values that they can criticize Trump on these issues without seeming partisan, but it doesn’t always work. Still others are aiming down the middle, offering an imbalanced balance, as when journalists reference the support of David Duke and other white supremacists as their own kind of dog-whistle politics.

Meanwhile, readers each have our own ideas about whether this election deserves “balanced” coverage and what that might look like. And so do, of course, the thousands of pundits, none of whom are accountable to journalistic norms, and the millions of us on social media, sharing our own points of view.

It’s no wonder the election is giving us vertigo. It is itself out of balance, making it impossible for the country to agree on what objectivity looks like. Even the journalists, who are better at it than anyone, are failing. The election has revealed what is always true: that objectivity is a precarious performance, more an art than a science, and one that gains validity only in relation to the socially constructed realities in which we live.

It’s just that our socially constructed reality is suddenly in shambles. Post-truth politics doesn’t give us a leg to stand on, none of us can get a foothold anymore. Internet-era economic realities have replaced the news anchor with free-floating infotainment. Political polarization has ripped the country apart and the edifices we’ve clung to for stability—like the Republican Party—are suddenly themselves on shaky ground. The rise of Trump has made all of this dizzyingly clear.

We’re hanging on for dear life. I fear that journalists can do little to help us now.

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.

As the 2016 presidential campaign enters the final stretch, Donald Trump has doubled down on his hard-line stance on immigration. In his August 31st immigration policy speech, Trump proposed implementing extreme vetting and employing a deportation force, and opposed amnesty for more than 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. Polling by Latino Decisions, a leader in Latino political opinion research, indicates Trump’s current poll numbers among Latinos have slipped to 19%. However, given Trump’s proposed policies and charged rhetoric against Latinos, it might seem perplexing that even that many Latinos still support Trump.

Recently on MSNBC’s All in With Chris Hayes, Joy Reid asked Latinos for Trump co-founder Marco Gutierrez whether Trump’s immigration policies would fundamentally drive Latinos away from the Republican party. Gutierrez replied that Trump’s message was “tough” but necessary; asked to clarify, he responded with the comment that immediately spawned a new internet meme:

My [Mexican] culture is a very dominant culture. And it’s imposing. And it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re gonna have taco trucks every corner.

Gutierrez defended his assessment, saying “you guys defend a Mexico that doesn’t exist anymore. There is a new Mexico that’s rising with crime and we need to stop that. And that stops right here [in America].”

His comments illustrate important concepts related to the psychology of ethnic identity. First, people differ in how strongly they affiliate with their Mexican or Latino identity; some feel more strongly identified and others less so. Second, Latinos in the U.S. navigate two cultural identities: their ethnic identity and their American identity. And these identity differences are linked to political ideology.

My co-authors and I asked 323 U.S.-born Mexican Americans about their political ideology and socioeconomic status, the strength of their identification with Mexican and American cultures, and their attitudes toward acculturating to American culture. Those who strongly identified with Mexican culture were more likely to support the integration of both their Mexican and American identities into one unified identity, such as maintaining their own cultural traditions while also adapting to Anglo-American customs. These leaned more liberal. In contrast, those who held weak Mexican identification were more likely to support full assimilation to American culture. These were more moderate or conservative in their ideologies.

Their socioeconomic status also influenced their political ideology. Those with higher socioeconomic status were significantly less liberal, but this was most true for those participants who both belonged to higher social classes and had the weakest identification with Mexican culture.

This may explain why some Latinos aren’t put off by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. Latinos who support Trump may feel less strongly identified with their ethnic culture and have a stronger desire to identify with American culture. They probably also believe that other Latinos should assimilate fully into American culture and minimize ties or connections to their heritage culture. These beliefs comport with Trump’s message that immigrants need to “successfully assimilate” in order to join our country.

Given that Mexican Americans with a strong ethnic identification were more likely to be liberal and support biculturalism over assimilation attitudes, it’s quite unlikely that Trump will be successful in winning over many Latino constituents who don’t already support him. In fact, being photographed eating taco salad and exclaiming “I love Hispanics!” could backfire with  conservative Latinos who do support him because that type of appeal makes salient a cultural identity that is unimportant to them, or worse, lumps them into a cultural group they have actively sought to minimize.

Laura P. Naumann, PhD is a personality psychologist who teaches in the Department of Social Sciences at Nevada State College. Her research interests include the expression and perception of personality as well as individual differences in racial/ethnic identity development. You can learn more about her here.

Flashback Friday.

Is it true that Spanish-speaking immigrants to the United States resist assimilation?

Not if you judge by language acquisition and compare them to earlier European immigrants. The sociologist Claude S. Fischer, at Made in America, offers this data:

The bottom line represents the percentage of English-speakers among the wave of immigrants counted in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 census. It shows that less than half of those who had been in the country five years or less could speak English. This jumped to almost 75% by the time they were here six to ten years and the numbers keep rising slowly after that.

Fast forward 80 years. Immigrants counted in the 1980, 1990, and 2000 Census (the top line) outpaced earlier immigrants by more than 25 percentage points. Among those who have just arrived, almost as many can speak English as earlier immigrants who’d been here between 11 and 15 years.

If you look just at Spanish speakers (the middle line), you’ll see that the numbers are slightly lower than all recent immigrants, but still significantly better than the previous wave. Remember that some of the other immigrants are coming from English-speaking countries.

Fischer suggests that the ethnic enclave is one of the reasons that the wave of immigrants at the turn of the 20th century learned English more slowly:

When we think back to that earlier wave of immigration, we picture neighborhoods like Little Italy, Greektown, the Lower East Side, and Little Warsaw – neighborhoods where as late as 1940, immigrants could lead their lives speaking only the language of the old country.

Today, however, immigrants learn to speak with those outside of their own group more quickly, suggesting that all of the flag waving to the contrary is missing the big picture.

Originally posted in 2010.

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.

Flashback Friday.

U.S. women of color have historically been the victims of forced sterilization.  Sometimes women were sterilized during Cesarean sections and never told; others were threatened with termination of welfare benefits or denial of medical care if they didn’t “consent” to the procedure; teaching hospitals would sometimes perform unnecessary hysterectomies on poor women of color as practice for their medical residents.  In the south it was such a widespread practice that it had a euphemism: a “Mississippi appendectomy.”

Interestingly, today populations that were subject to this abuse have high rates of voluntary sterilization.  A recent report by the Urban Indian Health Institute included data showing that, compared to non-Hispanic white women (in gray), American Indian and Alaskan Native women (in cream) have very high rates of sterilization:

Iris Lopez, in an article titled “Agency and Constraint,” writes about what she discovered when she asked Puerto Rican women in New York City why they choose to undergo sterilization.

During the U.S. colonization of Puerto Rico, over 1/3rd of all women were sterilized.  And, today, still, Puerto Rican women in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. have “one of the highest documented rates of sterilization in the world.”  Two-thirds of these women are sterilized before the age of 30.

Lopez finds that 44% of the women would not have chosen the surgery if their economic conditions were better.  They wanted, but simply could not afford more children.

They also talked about the conditions in which they lived and explained that they didn’t want to bring children into that world.  They:

…talked about the burglaries, the lack of hot water in the winter and the dilapidated environment in which they live. Additionally, mothers are constantly worried about the adverse effect that the environment might have on their children. Their neighborhoods are poor with high rates of visible crime and substance abuse. Often women claimed that they were sterilized because they could not tolerate having children in such an adverse environment…

Many were unaware of other contraceptive options.  Few reported that their health care providers talked to them about birth control. So, many of them felt that sterilization was the only feasible “choice.”

Lopez argues that, by contrasting the choice to become sterilized with the idea of forced sterilization, we overlook the fact that choices are primed by larger institutional structures and ideological messages.  Reproductive freedom not only requires the ability to choose from a set of safe, effective convenient and affordable methods of birth control developed for men and women, but also a context of equitable social, political and economic conditions that allows women to decide whether or not to have children, how many, and when.

Originally posted in 2010. Cross-posted at Ms. 

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.

A Pew study found that 63% of white and 20% of black people think that Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Darren Wilson was not about race. This week many people will probably say the same about two more black men killed by police, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

Those people are wrong.

African Americans are, in fact, far more likely to be killed by police. Among young men, blacks are 21 times more likely to die at the hands of police than their white counterparts.

But, are they more likely to precipitate police violence?  No. The opposite is true. Police are more likely to kill black people regardless of what they are doing. In fact, “the less clear it is that force was necessary, the more likely the victim is to be black.”

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That’s data from the FBI.

This question was also studied by sociologist Lance Hannon. With an analysis of over 950 non-justifiable homicides from police files, he tested whether black people were more likely to take actions that triggered their own murder. The answer was no. He found no evidence that blacks were more likely than whites to engage in verbal or physical antecedents that explained their death.

There is lots, lots more evidence if one bothers to go looking for it.

Castile and Sterling, unlike Brown, were carrying weapons. People will try to use that fact to justify the police officer’s fatal aggression. But it doesn’t matter. Black men and women are killed disproportionately whether they are carrying weapons or not, whether carrying weapons is legal or not. Carrying weapons is, in fact, legal in both Minnesota and Louisiana, the states of this week’s killings. What they were carrying is no more illegal than Trayvon’s pack of Skittles. Black people can’t carry guns safely; it doesn’t matter whether they are legal. Heck, they can’t carry Skittles safely. Because laws that allow open and concealed carry don’t apply the same way to them as they do white people. No laws apply the same way to them. The laws might be race neutral; America is not.

Revised from 2014.

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.

Democratic members of the US House of Representatives sat in on the floor of the House, demanding recorded votes on gun control measures. Rep. John Lewis (Georgia) made the speech that launched the effort, and was framed at the center of most of the photos; after all, he has an unrivaled record for participating in such efforts that dates back to the sit-in movement of 1960.

Click image to watch the video:

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They’re grandstanding, hoping to the play to the crowd by violating the norms and rules of the House where, under normal circumstances, a member of the minority party can’t do much on matters of policy. Appealing to the public is their best shot to get a vote, but it’s not a very good one; and it’s extremely unlikely that anything gun control advocates in the House want could win majority support in that body. The members sat on the floor in the well of the House, likely the most comfortable surface Rep. Lewis has ever protested on, without much fear of arrest or violence. The presiding officer, always from the majority party, adjourned the session, turning off CSPAN’s cameras – seeking to deny Democrats the audience they seek. But the protesters are livestreaming on a variety of social media. It’s not quite so easy to control the flow of images and information anymore.

The Democratic revolt in the House is yet another response to the mass shooting in Orlando, which once again reminded Americans – and their representatives – that it’s very easy for dangerous people you don’t like to get powerful weapons. The sit-in is also an attempt to escalate the political conflict and make more of the generally fleeting moment of public attention that follows such a tragedy. We’ve all seen it many times before: a mass shooting captures public attention and sets the agenda, but only briefly, and a familiar political ritual plays out: Advocates of gun control hold vigils and make speeches; advocates of gun rights mostly stay silent on matters of policy, and offer thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families. And the moment passes.

In normal political life, when  everyone isn’t talking about guns all the time, the gun rights side of the debate enjoys a substantial advantage, particularly visible in the National Rifle Association, which deploys more money, more active membership, and calls upon more well-positioned allies than its opponents, who come and  go. Gun control advocates have been “outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned” (to quote Hamilton).

Since the tragic massacre of school children in Newtown, Connecticut, gun control advocates have been building organizations and  an infrastructure for action. They have been better able to exploit the moment of a massacre, and less willing to allow their opponents to stall until concern passes.

Last week, Senator Chris Murphy, who previously represented Newtown in the House, staged a filibuster of sorts in the Senate, monopolizing the floor while standing, not sitting, and talking about the need for action. In the upper house, a Senator can hold the floor as long as he can stand and talk. Most Democrats, and a couple of Republicans, joined Senator Murphy for part of 15 hours, offering sympathetic questions and taking up some of the talking. The leadership agreed to hold votes on four gun control bills, and Murphy stopped talking. The next day, the Senate rejected all of them.

Movement on policy? Not so much, and not so fast, but all of this sets up further contest in the November elections.

Meanwhile, other advocates are prospecting another strategy that operates with different rules and on an alternative schedule. Parents of some of the massacred students at Sandy Hook Elementary School have filed a product liability suit against Remington Arms, the company the  manufactures and markets the AR-15 Bushmaster, the weapon used in the mass murder. (See Evan Osnos’s report at The New Yorker.) By pursuing their argument about deceptive marketing, they hope to publicize the workings of the arms industry, contributing to a political debate that’s only slowly emerging. America offers many outlets for people to try to organize for change, none of them very easy or fast.

Nothing gun control advocates have tried has affected national policy for more than twenty years. As public concern and political resources grow, however, they keep trying to innovate new approaches, hoping that something works before the next time.

David S. Meyer, PhD, is a professor of sociology and political science at the University of California, Irvine. He blogs at Politics Outdoors, where this post originally appeared, and where he offers comments on contemporary events informed by history and the study of social movements. 

NPR recently aired a story about female lawmaker’s representation state by state. According to the story, Colorado has the most women; female lawmakers make up 42% of that total. Wyoming had the least, with women only representing 13% of state lawmakers.

NPR’s experts suggested that term limits in Colorado and a female-friendly party leadership were behind their high number of female legislators, whereas a change in Wyoming from multi-member to single-member district in the 1990s was unfavorable to women (because voters have to pick only one and tend to lean toward men when they have to make hard choices). The story also mentioned voting rules and the difficulty of balancing home, work, and lawmaking responsibilities.

In fact, sociologists have been studying this issue in depth for some time and a few years ago Deborah Carr summarized the reigning wisdom on why women are less likely to be politicians. She highlighted six factors to explain the gender gap in the US Congress:

  1. Women have to face sexism (e.g., glass ceiling – Nancy Pelosi used the term marble ceiling in her inaugural speech as Speaker in 2007), especially voters’ sex role stereotyping “what women can and should be.”
  1. Women are not in the “pipeline,” suggesting that not enough women are in careers that have historically led to political office.
  1. Because of gendered wealth and income inequality, women don’t as often have enough money to run multi-dollar campaigns, nor access to social networks full of big donors.
  1. Women have different interests, focusing on “issues related to family and social welfare, rather than national defense and international relations.”
  1. Women are less likely to be risk-takers than their male counterparts, perhaps explaining why women must be asked several times before they seriously consider launching campaigns.
  1. Women opt out of politics because of family responsibilities.

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To improve female participation in politics, we should promote more gender-neural political environments. Political parties should take further steps to recruit and support female candidates, as Colorado seems to be doing. We should repeatedly encourage women to run for office since they take a lot of encouragement before they seriously consider launching candidacies. More importantly, we need to seed the pipeline by encouraging young girls to get involved in student government and see governing as compatible with their interests and abilities.

Sangyoub Park, PhD is a professor of sociology at Washburn University. His research interests include social capital, demographic trends, and post-Generation Y.