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For many Americans, anti-Semitism seems like a thing of the past, a topic for high school history classes and discussions of the Holocaust. But anti-Semitism has returned abruptly to the front page in recent weeks, with over 160 threats against Jewish community centers and synagogues since January. At times, such threats are paired with symbolic shows of force, as was seen when over 100 headstones in a Missouri Jewish cemetery were damaged or destroyed. For many this has been unexpected, but this is not necessarily true for social scientists who have been studying anti-Semitism over the last decade.

Recent survey-based studies have sought to assess anti-Semitic sentiments over time. Some scholars argue that anti-Semitism shifted into the more accepted form of anti-Israeli sentiments, with others arguing that the two issues are not necessarily related. However, most scholars seem to agree that public acceptance of anti-Semitism moved from the mainstream to smaller, more extreme groups throughout this period.
Social scientists have also looked at anti-Semitism using methods that look past publicly shared opinions, and these studies find slightly different results. Studies show that when questions focus on positive or “neutral” stereotypes, individuals are more likely to express them, possibly revealing that other, more negative  prejudices exist that they are less willing to share. This phenomenon helps explain why anti-Semitism seems to be increasing so quickly; as rhetoric against Jews and other minority populations becomes less stigmatized, people who quietly hold these views may feel more comfortable sharing their opinions. The  increase in hate crimes and threats within the United States and around the world may not reflect a cultural change in sentiment, but rather an increased willingness to share and act upon these previously held beliefs.

 

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With the recent discovery of numerous Earth-like planets orbiting the same star, Elon Musk’s promise to send citizens to the moon, and increased politicization surrounding the science of climate change, many Americans are looking to the stars for potential solutions and possible new homes. And the nascent NewSpace movement — made up of entrepreneurs and advocates looking to commercialize outer space — promises to push space exploration forward at a rapid pace. While it certainly requires rocket science to get to space, social science is beginning to weigh in on what it might mean for social life.

The privatization and commodification of public spaces is now moving beyond Earth as governments struggle over control of the atmosphere and outer space. And as new entrepreneurial space companies seek to privatize the sky and profit from new resources and new planets, some worry that existing structures of class and racial inequality will be repeated or even intensified with space colonization. Others, like anthropologist David Valentine, see potential for progressive re-imaginings.
Sociologists highlight how inequalities shape the way people are experiencing this increasing “humanization of the universe.” Wealthy elites relate to the universe as an object to dominate, funding new “space tourism” programs and hoping to extend the workings of capitalism to the Moon and beyond. Less wealthy and marginalized communities, however, experience the universe as a dominating and mystifying force, and many feel that space colonization will only make them more powerless.
Since women and people of color are still less likely to pursue careers in science or technology, they are less likely to have a voice in these new projects. But this is not the only thing keeping them from the conversation. For example, women have historically had a difficult time qualifying for space travel. Fears about menstruation, pregnancy, and hormones in outer space have significantly hindered research into how women’s bodies are affected by space travel. The result is that women’s bodies are constructed as problematic and essentialized in opposition to male bodies, keeping many women from successfully joining space missions.
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The election of Donald Trump has brought new people into politics and re-ignited activists. As people on the left aim to resist what they view as Trump’s dangerous and harmful policies, and people on the right try to sustain political engagement after the election, both sides are debating about the effectiveness of various political strategies. For example, Indivisible, a guide compiled by Congressional staffers on tactics for opposing President Trump, spread quickly across the internet as people grappled with how to effectively influence policy-making.

Contacting legislators is one of the most common forms of political engagement in the United States. Hearing from constituents, particularly in face-to-face meetings and phone calls, can influence politicians’ action on an issue. The greatest impact, however, is when the contact is outside of routine communications and part of a collective campaign. Social scientists have found that politicians are more likely to react to new information that indicates a change in the political landscape and ties their stance  to their electability. An organized effort can demonstrate that a group has powerful resources, such as volunteers and donations, which in turn can affect politicians’ ability to get re-elected.
Legislators are not always just responding to public opinion either. They are also influenced by lobbyists, political donations, personal political views, and party platforms. Nevertheless, popular opinion may play a larger role in shaping elected officials’ positions when it signals a dramatic shift and the public feels strongly on one side of an issue. Thus, political organizations and concerned citizens can influence policy by raising and changing public awareness, and then explaining these popular sentiments to politicians who learn about their constituents attitudes.
The effectiveness of contacting politicians also depends partially on the party and race of the official and the constituent. People are more likely to contact a politician from their own political party, so contacting leaders outside of one’s own party disrupts political norms — which is sometimes effective and sometimes discounted. The response of elected officials to the public is also shaped by racism. For example, a real-world experiment found that white legislators discriminate against emails and calls from black constituents.
Although calling and writing legislators has a role in democracy, historical research shows that sustained mass social movements are what drive major changes in society and politics. Large popular movements that use tactics like protests, boycotts and strikes can disrupt the status quo and garner public attention. For example, during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, sit-in protests increased the likelihood of desegregation in a city. The effectiveness of mass mobilization depends on the political and social context, but can transform political possibilities and lead to policy change.  
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The United States and the United Nations have had a closely intertwined relationship since the organization’s founding in 1945. The UN deals with a broad range of issues around the globe, and its widespread influence is often controversial. However, the influence of the United Nation continues to be instrumental in promoting crucial human rights causes, and the reach of its aid is arguably beyond compare. Despite its numerous shortcomings, the UN plays a crucial role in promoting human rights norms across the globe.

Throughout the 1990s in particular, the United Nations took on a central role in the global justice process. It organized and funded international courts following episodes of mass violence, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and it made indictments for egregious crimes possible for the first time (including the crime of genocide).  Sociologists find that the existence of these courts have a global impact in providing justice, and the trials seem to have a positive effect in reducing human rights violations in the long run.
The judicial process alone cannot adequately address global human rights issues — humanitarianism and diplomacy also play key roles. The United Nation arguably plays the most dominant global role in these initiatives, with monumental campaigns addressing topics like hunger, refugee needs, and climate change. The UN has been criticized for showcasing Western ideals and not taking into account cultural contexts, such as early endeavors to reduce female genital cutting. However, the UN has made improvements and when programs are approached as an opportunity for partnership and not dominance, the outcomes can be quite positive. For example, the agency has taken great strides in promoting gender equality and access to education.
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President Trump and his administration have insisted that there was massive voter fraud in the 2016 election, although evidence has not supported this allegation. Instead, the evidence points  to significant issues surrounding voter suppression in the United States.

One contributing factor is felon disenfranchisement — when people with a felony conviction permanently lose the right to vote. Since the late 1860’s, U.S. states with the largest non-white prison populations have been more likely to implement voting restrictions for felons. Today, formerly incarcerated persons constitute the largest portion of the disenfranchised population, which also includes people with disabilities and those without valid forms of identification. Importantly, restrictive voting laws have actually altered political outcomes. For example, it is estimated that Al Gore would have won the 2000 presidential election if formerly incarcerated persons in Florida had been allowed to vote.
After the 2010 midterm elections, there was a wave of laws that seemed to bolster voting requirements, such as new ID laws and proof of residence. And while strengthening voter requirements may seem benign at first, these rules restrict access to people who are less likely to have identification and proof of residence — people of color, the elderly, and the poor. In essence, such laws make it harder for only some people to vote. Research suggests that Republican leadership and legislatures are more likely to push for these laws, an irony when we consider that the President Trump is alleging that there were too many votes.
Caracas (Venezuela), April 19, 2013. Photo by Cancillería del Ecuador, Flickr CC

President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela is doing what many learn at a young age not to do — being a copycat.  Since Hugo Chavez seceded power, Venezuela’s current president lacks Chavez’s beloved “Chavismo.”  Maduro’s own brand of charisma and populist reform has not connected with the people as he expected, which has led him to use more extreme political measures in the hopes of garnering respect. This has led to unrest in Venezuela, highlighting the instability of charismatic-based politics.

As Max Weber famously described in his theories of social and economic organization, charismatic leaders are often able to create a unique bond with their citizens. But if that charisma fades, it can create instability. This is also evident when there is a transfer of power from a beloved charismatic leader to a new leader. 
Research finds that charismatic leaders are often good at mobilizing people to join social movements, but that the charismatic bond is often short-lived and unable to be transferred to other individuals. When charisma fails to motivate support, leaders often turn to more conventional measures to reach their political goals, which can lead to disenchantment and unrest among the citizenry.
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Uber has been having a bad time. From reports that venture capital has been propping up a flawed business model, to evidence of racial bias in pickups, rate cuts during a New York taxi strike leading to the #DeleteUber movement, and recent accounts of sexual harassment alongside conflicts with drivers, the romance of Silicon Valley innovation and “disruption” in the company is on the decline. But while this may seem like a fall from grace, research shows these problems are tragically normal. They often plague a wide range of companies because of their organizational structures, and tech start-ups are no exception.

Classic research shows that when a founder also acts as the CEO, it can cause trouble for a company. While they may have a knack for developing innovative products or services, founders don’t always have the management skills to run a large, successful business as a complex organization.
While teams of entrepreneurs can start a businesses together, they often choose who will ultimately run the company. This process is not neutral. Gender inequality in business leadership can emerge from these decisions because friends and family members in these teams often take gendered assumptions for granted.
Racial and gender discrimination in hiring and promotions plagues a wide range of organizations, especially because opportunities for promotion tend to favor homogeneous social networks. These problems also plague organizations and could indicate other organizational troubles, as firms that engage in hiring discrimination are more likely to go out of business.     
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Donald Trump recently falsely stated that the murder rate “is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” Scholars of crime have been energetic in countering this claim with evidence that the violent crime in the U.S. peaked in the early 1990s and has steadily declined since. Although recent data suggests murder has increased in certain cities, Trump’s characterization of the murder rate is way off. But the sentiment behind his statement in some ways reflects a fearful popular discourse about crime rates and “tough on crime” public policies. 

Even after accounting for other relevant factors, people in neighborhoods with higher crime rates are slightly more fearful about crime. While crime fears also vary along demographic lines and victimization experiences, scholars have emphasized the robust effects of social environment as drivers of crime fears. Collective efficacy — the perceived social cohesion of a neighborhood and the willingness of neighbors to intervene on others’ behalf — is a strong predictor of lower crime fears, whereas the perceived level of disorder (e.g. vandalism) is associated with greater fear.
Scholars have noted that popular discourse around crime has revolved around talk of “random violence,” which deemphasizes patterns of crime and victimization and focuses on the claim that everyone is equally at risk. This rhetoric maximizes public concern and favors policy strategies that include individual law enforcement tactics (“tough on crime”) as opposed to changes in structural conditions (e.g. neighborhood dynamics, class) that are correlated to crime and victimization.
Research on the relationship between fear of crime and the emergence of “get tough on crime” policies explores whether the origins of the punitive turn in crime control resulted from the general public’s fear of crime rates or political strategies that influence the public’s perceptions of crime. Some scholars have found that, in combination with increased media coverage, political initiatives surrounding crime (and not actual crime rates) fostered increasing public concern about crime and drugs during the 1960s and 80s.
Others have recently challenged this notion, arguing that punitive public sentiment is what motivated policymakers to develop tough on crime policies. Regardless of this “chicken and egg” dilemma, crime issues developed into a key political strategy. This “governing through crime” expands racial divisions rather than increasing security for American citizens. The concentration of mass incarceration in impoverished minority communities is evidence enough that crime as a political strategy has important repercussions for American notions of equality and liberty for all.
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A recent study in the medical community has shown a decrease in teen suicide, particularly among high schoolers who are sexual minorities, since same-sex marriage was legalized. This is evidence that change in social policy impacts health outcomes among those who experience discrimination. This is important because social science has documented the negative impacts of gender and racial discrimination on mental and physical health.

A person’s status as a racial or sexual minority impacts their exposure to stress through perceived discrimination — a key way that racial, gender, and class inequalities in physical and mental health occur. The centrality and/or visibility of racial or sexual differences in a person’s life affects if and how often discrimination is perceived — the higher the salience or visibility of one’s racial or sexual identity, the higher level of perceived discrimination and the higher level of stress that person experiences.
Those who are disadvantaged in multiple ways, like being both a racial minority and a sexual minority, find themselves at higher levels of exposure to discrimination and have higher rates of depression and worse self-rated health.
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Public housing has a long and troubled history in the United States. In recent years, the demolishing of public housing in cities like Chicago has been one of the most prominent images of decline. For sociologists, it is important to understand not just the problems with and eventual failures of post-war public housing, but also the social forces and sentiments behind their creation.

Consider why the federal government would even see a role for itself in the building of public housing structures in the first place. The origin of public housing legislation can be traced back to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, a series of laws and executive orders focused on providing more basic necessities for the poorest in America.
However, public housing would eventually become associated with racial segregation. The design of public housing projects ultimately worked to concentrate poor non-white communities into relatively cut-off neighborhoods in the middle of cities. This segregation, combined with heavy degradation of the buildings and a lack of proper care from government officials, led to a heavily stigmatized view of public housing buildings.
Given the sheer intensity of racial segregation and concentrated poverty in public housing, many housing advocates and public officials have declared these programs a failure, leading to the demolition of old public housing facilities. But there have also been various proposals to renew public housing initiatives that look to learn from the mistakes of the past while keeping to the goal of housing the poor. One of the largest programs, the federal HOPE VI program, is an ongoing federal project to revitalize public housing areas with architecture focused on crime prevention. This focus on crime prevention is inspired by Oscar Newman’s ‘defensible space’ concept — the idea that if people feel more ownership over a space, they’ll be more watchful over how their neighbors use it, thus curbing crime.