Recently Lisa posted some photos of what resource extraction looks like. I thought I would show a different side of this phenomenon: what an oil bust looks like. I grew up in the Middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma. The area has been through two oil booms, one in the 1920s and one in the 60s through the 80s.

But with any energy boom eventually comes the energy bust. I took some photos I took showing what communities looks like if their economy is disproportionately based on oil and the oil companies leave, which were reproduced at Business Insider.

Oil wells that have never been installed sit around on empty lots, slowly rusting. Many oil wells that were in use at one time now sit motionless. Because of high oil prices in the last few years, some oil wells have been put back in production; it’s the first time since I was a kid that you can look across pastures and see many of the oil wells actually pumping. Pipes crisscross the landscape, often slowly tumbling downhill from lack of maintenance. When they get old and rusty enough they start breaking apart, leaving jagged edges that occasionally lead to trips to the doctor for a tetanus shot. An old storage tank, long past any usefulness, slowly rusts.

In an energy bust, real estate prices plummet. If there aren’t many other industries in the area, there’s no way to attract buyers, and houses flood the market as people move looking for work. Houses, many of them perfectly serviceable, slowly decay from lack of upkeep. Families that became wealthy from oil lose their fortunes. The house below was owned by a family that became wealthy from the 1920s oil boom. When that oil bust hit, they lost everything. Their house sits far out in the country and slowly crumbles. Downtowns die and the buildings sit empty and deteriorate over time. Towns don’t have enough children to run independent schools, so rural school districts consolidate. This school was sold off and a local resident told me that it has been, at various times, a bed and breakfast, internet cafe, and beer-only bar, between bouts of sitting empty.

Ponca City is centered around the Continental refinery plant. Continental was owned by Conoco until 1984. There used to be a significant Conoco presence in the town, and as with Bartlesville, it has faced hard times since the Conoco-Phillips headquarters moved to Houston. Some neighborhoods were polluted by the refinery, leading the company to buy out homeowners and tear down the houses (some owned by private individuals, others by the Ponca tribe). In one area where this occurred, the land is now a park. Local residents have heard that Conoco is planning to tear down a lot of its old administrative buildings so it doesn’t have to pay insurance or maintenance costs, meaning there will be even more large swaths of empty land scattered around the city.

There’s nothing exceptional about the experience of these communities. They simply represent a story played out in many towns as oil booms fade and corporations move their headquarters to larger cities. Now, as the Keystone XL pipeline project goes forward, many such communities gear up for their next ride on the energy roller coaster.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

One topic we cover in my sociology classes is the way the nature vs. nurture debate treats those two categories as though they are completely separate entities: “nature” is this fixed biological reality and “nurture” is all the social stuff we use to tinker around with nature as best we can. I point out to students that biology isn’t as fixed as we often think it is, and that seemingly “natural” processes are in fact often highly influenced by social factors.

One good example of this is the age at which girls have their first periods (menarche). In the U.S. today, the average age at menarche is a little over 12 years (see source here), and that seems normal to us. But historically, this is odd; until quite recently, girls did not begin menstruating until well into their teens. Because girls have to develop a certain amount of body fat in order to menstruate, access to food affects age at menarche. And access to food is generally an indicator of all types of social factors, including societal wealth and the distribution of wealth within groups. In general, economic development increases access to sufficient levels of food, and thus reduces average age at menarche.

This graph of average age at menarche in France from 1840-2000 (found on the French National Institute for Demographic Studies website here) shows a clear decline, starting at over 15 years and now standing at under 13:

Below is a bar graph showing average age at menarche for a number of countries (found here; age at menarche is the grey bar); we see the oldest average age is 13 and a half years, in Germany. Note that the data are not all from the same year, and while most report mean age at menarche, some report median age, so though they show a general trend, they are not stricly comparable:

However, these average ages obscure the fact that access to resources is not equal within nations, and as we would expect, though average age at menarche has fallen for most nations over the past century, we continue to see differences in average age among groups within nations that seem to mirror differences in wealth. For instance, this graph (found at the Museum of Menstruation website here) shows differences in average age at menarche between urban and rural areas in several countries:

The example of the quite dramatic fall in average age at menarche, as well as continued differences within societies, is a very helpful example for getting across the idea that biology is not fixed. I explain to my students that though we have many biological processes (i.e., the ability to menstruate), social factors such as economic development and social inequality affect how many of those processes are expressed (i.e., how early girls being to menstruate, on average). For other examples of how social factors affect biology, see this post on average lifespan and this post on increases in height over time.

I’m currently pairing these images with the chapters “The Body’s New Timetable: How the Life Course of American Girls Has Changed” and “Sanitizing Puberty: The American Way to Menstruate” from The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, by Joan Jacobs Brumberg (1997, NY: Vintage Books) in my women’s studies course. Brumberg argues that the decreasing age of menstruation has created new social pressures as there is an increasing gap between girls’ biological maturity (that is, being able to get pregnant at age 12 or so) and their mental and emotional maturity (they’re still 12 year old girls), a point activists were trying to make in these misguided PSAs about statutory rape. Brumberg argues that just as this was happening, American cultural understandings of menstruation turned it into a hygiene problem, not a maturational milestone, meaning we give girls information about tampons and sanitary pads but not much about what these changes really mean.

Just for fun, here is “The Story of Menstruation,” an animated cartoon put out by the Disney company in 1946. Millions of girls learned about menstruation from it in the ensuing decades, including that they could throwing their schedules off by getting too emotional or cold and that it’s ok to bathe as long as the water isn’t too hot or cold. It illustrates Brumberg’s point about how discusses of menstruation turned to scientific explanations of what was happening and advice about what was and wasn’t ok to do while menstruating, while mostly ignoring it’s emotional or social significance.

I also like the explanation at the beginning of why we refer to “Mother” nature–because she does all her work without anyone even noticing, just like moms. How nice.

Z from It’s The Thought That Counts sends us this figure showing the wage gap between various types of groups.  The point is to show that wage differentials are most extreme across countries, not within them.  In an article, Kerry Howley writes:

Wage gaps between observably identical Nigerian workers in the United States and Nigerian workers in Nigeria (same gender, education, work experience, etc) are… considerable. They swamp the wage gaps between men and women in the US. They swamp the gaps between whites and blacks in the US. Actually, they swamp the wage gaps between whites and blacks in the United States in 1855. For several countries, the effect of border restrictions on the wages of workers of equal productivity “is greater than any form of wage discrimination (gender, race, or ethnicity) that has ever been measured.” The labor protectionism that keeps poor workers out of rich countries upholds one of the largest remaining price distortions in any global market.

Click here for the full research report.

Ben O. sent in the video for “Take You There,” by Sean Kingston. Ben said, “The premise of Sean Kingston’s song ‘Take You There’ is that driving through slums is a great idea for a romantic date.”


My original thought, before I watched the video, was that maybe Kingston (who, according to Wikipedia, was born in Miami but mostly raised in Kingston, Jamaica) was trying to humanize the kinds of low-income neighborhoods that non-residents often believe are uniformly terrifying and that anyone who would venture there is going to their certain death. Or, if not that, maybe to show some of the horrid realities of living in economically devastated areas.

Then I watched the video. What struck me is how every resident is portrayed as glowering, threatening, and angry; they’re all the stereotype of the aggressive Angry Black Man.

The other thing that’s interesting is the gender elements. First, here are some of the lyrics:

We can go to the tropics
Sip piña coladas
Shorty I could take you there
Or we can go to the slums
Where killas get hung
Shorty I could take you there
You know I could take ya (I could take ya…)
I could take ya (I could take ya…)
Shorty I could take you there
You know I could take ya (I could take ya…)
I could take ya (I could take ya…)
Shorty I could take you there

Baby girl I know it’s rough but come wit me
We can take a trip to the hood
It’s no problem girl it’s my city
I could take you there
Little kid wit guns only 15
Roamin’ the streets up to no good
When gun shots just watch us, run quickly
I could show you where

As long you’re wit me
Baby you’ll be alright
I’m known in the ghetto
Girl just stay by my side
Or we can leave the slums go to paradise
Babe it’s up to you,
It’s whatever you like

So rather than having any real commentary on slums, the slums become a site to reinforce the idea that women should align with a man to protect them. The slums are just a backdrop for Kingston to impress a hot woman by being able to take her into an exotic world and keep her safe…from all the aggressive, mean Black men they encounter.

Ben continued,

My friend is traveling in Uganda and was reminded of this song when staying in Atiak, site of a gruesome massacre…His comment was: “I thought of Lam, who has dedicated his life to improving this place, to giving his people a future, and finally, of [Sean Kingston], whose highest ambition is to impress girls by taking them on a tour of places like Atiak. What a stupid song.”

Thanks, Ben!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

In this series, I offer a typology reflecting the ways in which people of color are used in advertising aimed primarily at whites (see the first and the second in the series).  In this, the third edition, I suggest that sometimes people of color are included because the idea of “diversity” triggers the related ideas of “cool,” “hip,” “urban,” and “youth,” which also invoke “modernity” and the idea of being “global,” “cosmopolitan,” even “progressive” politics.

In this ad, a mix of races are used.  Notice that the ad also happens to include, in the bottom image, photography, what looks like a dark beer, and espresso (all “upper class” “sophisticated” interests) and, in the top image, we see that the woman who appears Asian is an art dealer.

In this next ad, again, we see a mix of races enjoying what looks like a train ride (how European!) with hard liquor.  The text:

The shortest distance between two places isn’t nearly as interesting.

I think it is no accident that “interesting” and racial difference are both present in this ad.

In this next ad we see a racially ambiguous male and a black woman.  Notice the clothes that they are wearing (casually sophisticated) and the delicate nature of their coffee cups.  This is leisure, not some working-class Joe with a cup o’ joe.  Text:

3658 miles from the coffee fields of the Columbian Andes.  But still the perfect climate for Colombian Coffee.

The idea of travel, of course, invokes a certain degree of cosmopolitan-ness and wealth.  And the “perfect” climate refers not just to weather, but to the kind of company Colombian Coffee drinkers keep.

This ad for H&M is a bit different.  Instead of invoking sophistication and cosmopolitan-ness, I think it invokes who and what is “hip” and “cool” and “diversity” is used as a signifier. The text:

H&M is Europe’s leading fashion retailer [Europe again], with over 850 stores worldwide [a reference to being “global”].  Offering high-fashion [i.e., “sophisticated?”] and quality for men, women and children at great prices.

These last two ads, instead of using people of color to emphasize being “hip” or “sophisticated,” use them to signal “youth” and what being young represents.  Young people are on the forefront of “cool,” of course, and also, in some sense, define “progressive” in that they herald a more “diverse” and “tolerant” future (hello, Obama). 


Next up: Including people of color so as to trigger the idea of human diversity.

Don’t miss the others in the series:

(1) Including people of color so as to associate the product with the racial stereotype. 
(2) Including people of color to invoke (literally) the idea of “color” or “flavor.”

The “MANtage”:

The comedy troupe goes by “Barats and Bereta.” Enjoy their youtube site.

Thanks Kyle S.!

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.